The most heartbreaking part of losing her was watching her final years. I lost her to Alzheimers. A most cruel, horrible and degrading illness imaginable. She no longer recognised me when I visited. She was unable to speak. She was in every sense like a baby, in an adults body. She had a glazed look in her eyes, completely unaware of everything going on around her, and unable to even understand a conversation let alone take part, not that bright sparkle I knew and loved. That person had long gone. In her working years, she was a mental health nurse, and as a young child I even remember hearing her say 'if I lose my mind, finish me off, please' to my aunt (her sister in law) who was also a retired mental health nurse (they'd worked together). The pair of them had a pact. Whether they would have seen it through or not, I really don't know. That strong willed and very alert person became a vegetable. It didn't happen over night, it happened over quite a few years. The early stages distressed her no end, as at times she seemed to know she was having problems. As time went on, she knew less and less, which in a way is a blessing for her. For those of us who watched though, it was hell on earth. At least, it was for me.
I've never known what the mother-daughter bond is like. I think I know, through the relationship I had with my Grandma. She took the place of a mother, and did everything a mother normally does, so I think I know what that bond is. Maybe the bond I shared with her was even stronger (if that's possible) as she chose to bring me up. I feel privilidged in that I was brought up by both a mother and grandmother figure. I really did have the best of both worlds. I had the motherly love, support, guidance, but I also had the grandparents spoiling me. Not all the time, of course, but it was definitely there. I wouldn't change a thing for the world, even if I could!
Many years ago, I worked in a nursing home as a care assistant. You'd think that can prepare you for something like this, mentally. It can't. As horrible as this may sound, when you see it daily as part of your job, you learn to switch off. At least, mostly. I am human, and sometimes I'd have a cry at something that happened in the nursing home, but mostly you accept it as being your job and don't allow yourself to get close to anyone. It does happen, of course, but you cannot show it, and you have to carry on. I attended a funeral for one of the residents who'd passed away. She was a younger resident, with a disability rather than old age/dementia problems. She was one of the residents I had grown close too (all the staff had!). I cried at her funeral, which was very unprofessional but I couldn't control it. The lady's husband actually comforted me, and said she wouldn't have wanted any of us to be upset, and that in his eyes, he'd lost her many years before. He lost the women he married to her illness. She was no longer that person he once loved and knew. He said all that in such an easy fashion. He seemed cold and heartless to me, but of course I couldn't say anything. Only now do I partly understand what he meant. As before my Grandma passed away, that was exactly how I felt. I thought I was prepared for it if/when the day came. I thought I'd already accepted the person I knew and loved had already gone. When I got that phone call though, my whole world fell apart. I hadn't accepted it at all. When that news is broken to you, it is so final. Before then, although deep down, you know your loved one can't bounce back from something like Alzheimers, there's always that glimmer of hope that it's all a big mistake, or that some medical miracle will happen, or simply that it's all just a bad dream and you'll wake up soon. Denial. Of course, even growing up, I always knew I'd lose my grandparents probably before most of my friends lost their parents, so I was always aware that that day would come, probably sooner rather than later for me. Yet you still assume they'll be there forever. You never imagine them to go to such a horrible disease either. No illness is ever pleasant, but had she been aware of how she was, she wouldn't have wanted to have been here still. That was unbearable. It leaves you so powerless. All you can do is sit back and watch. I watched her fade away before my eyes. It took about 10 years from when she really got bad and went into a home. Some days I'd visit, and she'd recognise me. Others, and she'd comment on my hair looking like that of her grandaughters (I have long red hair, so quite noticeable!). Then over time, even that disappeared and there was no recognition at all. This was the very person who brought me up, wiped my tears, protected me, and I had to watch her in such a state, unable to do anything. You can't even comfort somebody who is distressed with dementia problems as they don't understand what's going on. The early stages when she used to get upset, distressed and anxious about what was wrong with her were the worst. Even towards the end, whenever I visited there were always the same questions in my mind 'dost she know who I am', 'does she understand what I'm saying to her', does she know what's going on'. Those questions were always unanswered. Sometimes I think I told myself she did recognise me, when probably she didn't. There might have been times that she truly did, but couldn't communicate, and I missed the signs of recognition. Who knows. There were times I just wanted to scream at her to 'pull herself together' in the hope she'd look up, know it was me and do just that. Of course, I never did that, but the overwhelming urge was always there. Other times, I'd be fighting back the tears so she wouldn't see and know something was wrong. Saying goodbye was always heart wrenching. It was always in the back of my mind that it might be the last goodbye....yet still I'd get no reaction or recognition from her at all. I'd give her a kiss on the cheek, and she'd even flinch sometimes. I was nothing more than a stranger to her. They were tough moments, visiting.
To the person who means so much to me. Always did, and always will. She was one in a million. I don't know if there is a God, or if she is in a better place. One thing I do know though, is that she is with me in my heart constantly. That will never change.