I must state now that this is a difficult area to approach, I am going by own experiences not those of anyone else. So I wholeheartedly apologise in advance if anything in this blog article upsets or causes any distress to you dear reader. The blog title credit goes to a good friend, you know who you are and thank you!
I will start at the end.
On the 13th of December 2009 many people were sat watching the X Factor finale show, it was the one with Olly Murs and Stacey Soloman (yeah that bird from Dagenham). I was one of the many people watching and waiting, I remember wishing Stacey or Olly would win. In fact it was almost time for the winner Joe to be announced, much to my disappointment (sorry Joe). I had my phone on silent but could see a call from my mum on the screen. I was too engrossed in X Factor to answer so I thought I would wait until the whole show had finished. I was also painfully aware that on the Monday I was having a colonoscopy at a hospital that was miles away. My mum kept ringing. I knew something was wrong as the calls were non-stop, I remember 23 calls in total with 18 text messages. On the 24th call I answered and heard an upset Mother saying that her Mum, my Grandmother, had passed away around 2 hours ago. I did not know what to say other than “She is in a better place now” and that “She is with the angels and her beloved Julie (my mum’s big sister who had passed away from breast cancer in 2002)”. When the call ended I cried. There was something different about these tears, they were tears of relief. Why the tears of relief? My maternal grandmother had battled Alzheimer’s Disease for well over a decade. As anyone who has experience of AD will know you experience so many emotions on a daily basis.
My grandmother was buried 3 days before Christmas 2009 with the majority of her family present. I was, sadly, too unwell after a recent hospital trip but had already said my goodbyes years ago when she first made the journey into what would be the hardest thing my Grandfather would ever deal with.
Alzheimer’s can affect anyone, and at any age. I am not qualified in medicine despite having a vast knowledge of certain conditions I did have to look up what the main symptoms are (thanks Google).
Symptoms include confusion; irritability; aggression; mood swings; trouble with language and long-term memory loss to name but a few.
It caused all the aforementioned symptoms within my maternal grandmother. She was officially diagnosed in 1998, shortly before my 17th birthday in fact. I knew what dementia meant as my 100-year-old great-grandmother (paternal side) had been diagnosed with it 3 years before.
As well as the AD my grandmother experienced a number of strokes between 1998-2009. By 2005 her quality of life was poor and she did not have a clue who anyone was. She would call her husband Daddy, her children were all called Betty and she kept calling me Maud. It was hard on her children as well as her husband, it affected us grandchildren too (there were a lot of grandchildren). Eventually it was decided to have a DNR, Do Not resuscitate, put on her medical notes. Initially the home she was in ignored such an order but when she was moved to a lovely private care home it was adhered to thankfully.
There were incidents aplenty both before she moved into the care home and after. She would be found walking around at 3am after telling my grandfather (in a whisper I hasten to add) she needed to feed the chickens – despite not having any chickens as they lived in a town. She would go to the local public house and down shots with the locals – she used to have a sherry a week so this was very out of character. She would spend £500+ on irrelevant and pointless purchases – this would sometimes be all they had left in their bank account after bills etc. She would gamble on the horses – again out of character because she hated it when my mum got a part-time job for a bookmakers whilst studying. She would swear so much – this was a woman who found the word bloody offensive but had turned into a foul-mouthed wotsit (I must add I did laugh at times but there is a limit).
When she moved into the second care home I was advised by my Gran’s doctor that I should, whilst she had some sort of memory of who I was, say goodbye and allow myself to grieve. It felt weird grieving for someone who was still alive. My friends at work and college comforted me when the waves of grief hit me.
I last saw my Grandmother, the way she was before this evil disease took hold properly, in 1997. That is how I remember her. She was a beautiful young woman in her heyday and served in the WRAF during WW2. She had 6 children, one of them my mother. She was an amazing cook. Her presents were always thoughtful. She would always listen to me as I babbled on about how much I loved the Take That concert I had been to the night before. She had a gorgeous Cockney accent with the slight Derbyshire twang. She would go to church every Sunday and always have a roast dinner cooking whilst she was out. She was always one to crack a joke, it would never be rude as the ruder things would come from my grandfather back then. She was so full of love for her brood. With 6 children who produced 21 of their own babies it was always a noisy event when we all got together for New Year’s. That is how I choose to remember her, not the weak and childlike person who resembled my grandmother and sounded like her.
Everyone who experiences AD, whether it be a parent; spouse; friend or even child, will know that you will always have their ‘before’ memories. It is hard knowing that they do not know you, it is hard knowing that they will go never knowing who you truly are, it is hard knowing they are incapable of even making their own decisions anymore but I think the hardest thing will always be that the sufferer does not know their own history. They revert back to childhood or maybe even their early 20s.
So Grandma, I miss you with all my heart. I have missed you for years. I love you for who you were as a person. I mourn for that person as opposed to the person you were at the end. RIP Flora.