If someone said count your blessings now, ‘fore they’re long gone.

We came. We made it. Sort of.

Technically Nana is still alive; her heart beats, she draws breath. Her breathing is laboured and there are gaps, huge pauses when I do not know if she will take another breath. And soon I expect she won’t.

Her body is stiff and her face skeletal. Her mouth fixed open in a grotesque caricature of her former self. I take photo’s of my crying children, but I cannot take any of my Nana like this. This is not my Nana. This is a shell she is breaking free from, a cocoon she is shrugging off.

We touch her and talk to her and tell her we love her. My Daughter Number Two walks around Nana’s room, looking at photo’s of us all with Nana. She looks at photo’s of the sister she will never know outside of other people’s memories and she says that she wishes her sister had not died so early. She cries for her Nana, she is sad that she is dying. She is at an age where she can comprehend death and she speaks with a matter of factness that both saddens and comforts me. I ask if she is scared. She answers no and she isn’t. She sees death as a part of life. And it is.

When we talk to Nana, and touch her, she makes guttural sounds with her exhaled breaths. Is it coincidence? Is it her way of telling us to leave her to rest or is she just letting us know she hears us and she knows we are there? I don’t know. The nurses say she can hear us and I think where ever she hovers between life and death she probably can.

The staff are amazing, as they always have been. There is an oil burner going in the room and a soothing cd. They have made Nana as comfortable as possible. While I am there a nurse tells me she had looked after Nana during some of her time there, that she is a lovely lady. She puts her palm on Nana’s head and simply says to her ‘It was nice to meet you’ before leaving us in private.

It is hard to be there, and hard to see my Nana like this, and Son Number Two crumples with the weight of his grief. It is infinitely preferable to have this time though, to say ‘I love you’, to be there, to bear witness. Infinitely preferable to how we have done death before. In death, in dying, there is the possibility of dignity. A luxury not afforded many of us throughout our lives. And after life there is no more suffering. Of this much I am sure.



Three states, three time zones, planes, trains and automobiles. It has been a long day.

I listened to music on the plane over and my mind drifted. I thought about lunchtimes and how much I loved the whole ritual. Every single little aspect just filled me with such delight but more than that, with peace. I miss that. Oh, how I miss that.


We crossed the country by plane and then took a train two hours down the coast. For the last leg of our journey a friend drove up to collect us and bring us to Nana. Whatever troubles I have in my life I have been blessed with the most phenomenal friends. For all of you who made today’s cross country trek possible, who’ve made it easier by travelling with us, who love us without reserve or condition – THANK YOU. You are my friends, you are my family of the heart.

My Nana, she is my family but more important than that, she is my friend. Please wish her, as I wish you, safe onward travel.



Will you still need me, will you still feed me…

A several weeks ago it was my Nana’s 86th birthday. My sister was lucky enough to call early in the morning catching Nana at her best to wish her Happy Birthday. Daughter Number Two and I arrived after lunch and although it was a pleasant enough visit I was still thrown a couple of times.


Punch to the guts number one came shortly after our arrival. Daughter Number Two ran into to Nana’s room, and spying two photo’s of Daughter Number One said excitedly ‘There’s my Sister! There’s my Sister.’ Nana remarked ‘Oh, she knows her does she?’ To which I replied ‘yes’. Nana continued ‘Where is she now?’ As I reeled from the emotional body blow she followed with ‘Did she die?’ in a tone of voice appropriate to enquiring if someone had moved house. Don’t get me wrong, this is far preferrable to me than the complete shock and raw grief that was her reaction last time we had this conversation, but still surreal, as was the lack of her reaction when I responded ‘Yes Nana, she died.’

My second moment of pause came when Nana lifted her shirt, flashed me her bra and said ‘I’ve got a bra on today!’ Thank heavens for that thought I as I struggled for the appropriate response. ‘Yes, you do.’ I managed before she continued, still with her shirt bunched around her neck ‘Of course I couldn’t have worn one if it had been raining.’ As I tried to make sense of Nana’s looking-glass world a nurse came in and said to Nana ‘Oh, you’re not flashing those again are you?’ Again? My Nana has done this before? My Nana ? Oh no.

Lastly after giving Nana her birthday gift, which was a framed portrait of myself and my children, Daughter Number Two was pointing to everyone in the photo and calling them by name. When she said ‘That’s Mummy!’ Nana said ‘You know, when I opened that I thought that was me in the photo.’ Which went a long way to explaining why she gasps in horror and refuses to look at recent photo’s of herself when I bring them to her. She does not recognise her older self.  

Sometimes I understand how she feels. As much as I love and care for the Nana I have now I still miss the Nana she used to be.



You’re one hundred and two.

My Nana’s birthday is two days before mine. When I mentioned to her that she had a birthday coming up she waved a hand in the air and airily said ‘I lose track.’ I then remarked that my birthday was two days after hers. ‘I know that!’ she said slightly defensively. ‘Do you know how old I will be this year Nana?’ I asked, ‘Thirty- nine years old!’. She looked me straight in the eye and completely deadpan said ‘How sad.’


We were eating homemade orange cupcakes with delicious chocolate icing at the time. The cake of the day at Nana’s Aged Care Facility. She was sipping her usual latte. The activities room was set up with a golfing game and participants slowly ambled in. As I was ordering our morning tea I  had noticed Nana talking to a gentleman with a walking frame. When I came back to the table I was introduced to Tom, who then excused himself. Nana proceeded to tell me what a lovely man he was. She gestured to the male staff member who takes her for her walks and said ‘He’s lovely too.’ followed by ‘I am surrounded’. ‘Not a bad way to be Nana’ said I.


After downing her latte and cupcake in record time Nana started to get fidgety. I wasn’t sure if it was the golfing game she wanted to join in with but things became much clearer when she said ‘You have to go now don’t you? Because I’ll just go and sit with Tom.’  Well, ok Nana, if you insist! So I took myself off to her wing to pick up the photo’s of Nana participating in activities and to drop off her new clothing. The nursing staff actually cheered when I said it was wash and wear!


Yesterday I again went clothes hunting and found exactly one pair of long pants that were suitable. Another consideration in this mission is the climate. It is warm here for most of the year and the climate inside the Aged Care Facilty is obviously controlled, so something that covers paper thin skin is good but in a lightweight material. I’m looking for things like polo shirts but the ones I found in Target yesterday were gathered down the front and had a low neckline, so no thankyou! The plain ones had none left in her size. I feel like I am on a quest for the Holy Grail!!  But if that is all I have to complain about then I guess it was a pretty good day.






Take the Pressure Down

Things have been so full on since I returned from my stay with the Current Person of Interest. Before this weekend there has been only one day that I haven’t had an obligation outside the house. It was so bad that late last week Daughter Number Two would start moaning ‘I need to get home’ every time we went somewhere. I was in silent agreement with her!!


There were visits to Nana, and Baby Daddy, and appointments galore. There were shopping trips to buy new clothes for Nana which is more challenging than it sounds and which I have yet to finish. I thought that it would be a snap. I love shopping, and I’m good at it. I realised though as I waded through racks and racks of clothes that buying for Nana was a different task. Firstly, I needed to buy something wash and wear as she has been refusing to wear anything that has not been ironed, which is a little beyond the scope of the staff at the Aged Care facility. I saw for myself on Melbourne Cup day how much the whole non-ironed thing bothered her so it will be good to remove one trigger for anxiety if possible. Then I had to get a style and colour that would be acceptable to Nana, easier said than done. And of course it all had to be in the right size. It was just so terribly time-consuming!! I am only about half done, but I have managed to pull together three full ensembles, which I have to drop off to be tagged with her name during the week. Then I will head back into the trenches.


In the midst of all the running around Son Number One has still been having seizures. Last Thursday I was out paying bills, grocery and Nana shopping and delivering Daughter Number Two for a Baby Daddy visit when I received a phone call from Son Number One’s school to say he’d had a Grand Mal or Tonic Clonic seizure, only his second in his life. He’s had plenty of others, and in fact had a Complex Partial the day before at school also. This only strengthened my feeling that the changes to his medications were not working for him.  Anyhow, I had to race around grabbing what groceries I could- the cupboards were pretty bare so I had to do some shopping- before grabbing Daughter Number Two and jumping in a taxi for home. I walked in the door, phoned Son Number One’s school to let them know I was home, and they could bring him home now and hung up. The phone rang. It was Son Number Two’s school!


He had been beaten up and although they thought he was ok to continue at school for the day he had expressed a desire to speak to me!! I am very proud of Son Number Two because it wasn’t actually a fight he was in. An older student had been picking on a friend of Son Number Two and my son had told the other student to leave his friend alone. The mini thug then turned and beat my son around the head and body. Son Number Two did not retaliate though, which would have meant disciplinary consequences for him also. Anyhow, when he arrived home that afternoon he had various bruises about his person and a bruised , swollen and weepy eye.  


The day after was Friday! Praise be! I had to run around like a mad thing for most of the day doing things I hadn’t managed the day before. Although I still feel an inner peace, and did not feel overwhelmed, I slumped into the weekend feeling absolutely shattered. Today is Sunday and I am still exhausted even though I have been getting adequate sleep at night. We still have lots to do away from home next week, but I am determined to make the schedule a little less demanding. There are always things that are outside my control but I am going to try not to run myself ragged this week.


That’s the plan anyhow!

Misty Water-coloured Memories

I had a good visit with my Nana yesterday. There was lots of repetition  as usual.  Yesterday was Melbourne Cup day here. It is a big horse race that most of the country stops to watch. Nana has the soul of a gambler and has loved going to the races during her life so it was a big day for her. There was lots of Cup talk, activities planned, and the staff were all dressed up for the occasion. Nana also was dressed in a fetching  and festive outfit. I admired it when I arrived, and kept doing so, because she was preoccupied with the notion that the skirt had not been properly ironed. It was her loop of the day. I just don’t iron- full-stop, or once every six months if hard pressed (Ha!) so whether or not it was ironed sufficiently was really beyond my level of expertise. However, as I repeated many times to Nana, it was a fabric that could get away with looking like it was meant to be a bit crushed, so the few creases did nothing to diminish the overall effect. She was very cheerful and animated. It was a morning visit, her best time of the day.


On arrival Nana was out having a stroll, but I was assured she’d be back any minute so I busied myself reading the notice board. It is just such a relief that Nana is happy, and so gratifying to see.


There were only two times my eyebrows raised. Both were connected to the unironed skirt loop. At one time Nana gestured to a towel that was folded on the table and said ‘Well, I could have just worn that.’ and another time she plucked at her short-sleeved shirt and said ‘ I could take the skirt off and just wear this.’ In earlier days I would have just assumed she was joking but the delivery told me she wasn’t. Also the fact that a little while later she looked at the towel and remarked ‘Oh, that’s a towel.’


Still, all in all it was a great visit. We spoke for about half an hour without any anxiety on her part that she was missing something better, which often happens.  We even manged a few jokes, some hers, some mine, but all with laughter from both of us.


The Alzheimer’s is always there, like a cloud hovering overhead. But sometimes the sun peeps out from behind it, and those are very good days.

Into the Mystic

I finally was able to visit my Nana yesterday. It had been a few weeks and the guilt was eating me alive.  In my defence I did attempt to visit twice only to find her out on activities but I really like to see her once a week at least. It’s just with Daughter Number Two and the Current Person of Interest violently ill I thought I should steer clear of the Aged Care Facility for a while. Then it has been one thing after another, including two unsuccessful visit attempts.


Anyway, yesterday I made it. Nana was at an in-house exercise class. When I tapped her on the shoulder she smiled at me, and said ‘Hello’ and then her attention drifted back to the class and she continued on with her exercises like I popped up at her shoulder everyday. With some encouragement, from me and a staff member, she was persuaded to join me for a coffee at the little cafe there that opens twice a week. I indulged her with a caramel tart topped with real cream. She was very pleased with it. The cream, by her account, was delicious and she remarked that she had never had a little tart like this before. She also told me she can’t remember the last time she was sick and how lucky she is to keep good health. I guess that is the upside to the Alzheimer’s game. Every caramel tart is the first one she’s ever had and she really cannot remember being in ill health. Not a bad deal.


I am always heartened that she remembers us when we visit. I fear the day when she won’t. For the moment though there is comfort in her recognition of us and in her enjoyment of little things. She introduced me to a friend, Lillian, three times. Lillian stopped off at the table to tell me how lucky I am to have such a lovely lady for my Nana and I agreed with her that I was. I am glad Nana has found a friend but not surprised at all!


When I walked Nana back to her room it was lunchtime and she was not keen on joining everyone for lunch at all. She became quite childlike but I remained firm- a caramel tart and a coffee does not lunch make! When she finally gave in to my persistent encouragement she poked her tongue out at me before grumbling all the way to the table. ‘But Nana, it smells so nice! I can smell mashed potato!’ ‘Oh, potato? Ugh!’ I didn’t stay long enough to find out what the rest of the meal would be- I had to pick up Daughter Number Two- but I’ve found that if something is put in front of her she will eat it, especially with the peer pressure of people eating at the same table. While I don’t like to nag or baby Nana I also don’t like her skipping meals, she is so very frail now there is really nothing in reserve.


One day at a time. One visit at a time. Yesterday was a good visit and it was really great to finally see her.

Snap back to reality…

We’ve been away for a few days, celebrating Son Number Two’s birthday in  style! The trip also served as a long goodbye to the Current Person of Interest as we were in his neck of the woods, and when all good things came to an end we both went our own ways home.


I live in a paradise, in a seaside town with all the services and shops you want, but that still has a small town vibe. It is a stunningly beautiful place with mild weather. It is a great place to bring up kids. However, at heart I am a city girl. I love the anonymity. I love the bustle. I love the sights and sounds and smells. I love looking out and imagining all the thousands and thousands of people going about their separate lives, but all interwoven and connected in their humanity. So, we were in the big city and I soaked it up and it soothed my soul.


We were lucky enough to connect with my beautiful sister Doctor Di (www.doctordi.wordpress.com) while in town, as well as Daughter Number One’s best friend who I love. These connections are also food for the soul and I am extremely grateful for them. A good time was had by all, and that’s not even counting the plane rides there and back!!


I knew that on my return home I would have to start getting serious about getting Son Number One back to school. The outcome of the meeting with his school was that they feel they can no longer meet his needs. They had suspended him rather than expel because at his age ( 15 years) he is legally able to leave school, and with an expulsion on his record there would be no obligation for any other school to take him and no responsiility for the Education Department to find him a place.  Today I have made contact with the local Special School and tomorrow we will be going to check it out. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I am excited at the thought of getting him back to school and the programs and emphasis of this school sound ideal for Son Number One. On the other hand there is some grieving around the thought of him going to a special school, some adjusting of my perceptions and hopes and dreams. But I’m sure I will get over myself soon enough. There seem to be more positives than anything else, and in some ways there is some relief in knowing the constant struggle of swimming against the mainstream tide is over. It really can only be up from here.


Because it never rains but it pours, pours, pours in my life,  while I was in the City I had a phone call from the Aged Care Facility Nana had originally stayed at for respite. This was my dream choice of facilities for her. They had a place for her and would we like it? After a little hesitation about what this may involve and the impact on my already crushing schedule, plus a short consultation with Doctor Di, I decided yes, yes we did want it. Only I’m a plane ride away. No problem! You can have until 11am on the day after you fly home to get her here. Oh great! Thanks! No pressure then, excellent.


So, today I moved Nana. It took me half an hour to throw her entire worldly possessions into garbage bags and small carry bags, which all fit into the boot of my Father’s small hatchback and strip her small room bare. In the process I discovered Nana has developed an incontinence problem. Old age is so relentless and brutal. Then I literally whisked her away from her cup of coffee and into Dad’s car for the short trip to her new home. It was slightly mind blowing how much this didn’t phase Nana but hey I’m thankful for small mercies. The staff at St. A’s fell over themselves to welcome her back- they genuinely remembered Nana and seemed sincerely pleased to see her again. Remarkably the place seemed familiar to Nana and she even remembered some of the faces. For me St. A’s just seems to have more life about the place. Not so much like a waiting room for the Reaper. Nana seemed more engaged when she was there, doing more activities, given more attention. Those are the things I want for her. So, I hung her paintings and put out her photo’s and admired the little garden outside her room and made sure she got a replacement cup of coffee before hurrying off to get back to Daughter Number Two and Son Number One.


Before we check out the Special School tomorrow I will be going to visit Nana and see how she’s doing but I am confident this will be a good thing for her. As a bonus St. A’s is around the corner from the Special School and is much easier for me to get to for visits. Anyway, it has been a big start to the week, but we seem to be on the right track. I’ll keep you posted!