It doesn’t seen possible somehow that it’s been two years already, so much of that final week seems so fresh in my mind still but today I am trying to remember happier times and there were so many. We laughed a lot, my mum had a fabulous sense of humour and an infectious laugh. Growing up we were a little unit, just the two of us and she was my best friend and my hero.
Just over two years ago I wrote this post about my mum and the awfulness of watching her disappear to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. It was at a time when she had taken another dip, this time she had started to turn down food and I had horrible visions of what may lay ahead. Over the twelve years since her diagnosis I had spent many hours reading and researching and I knew the awful things that could be ahead. More refusing to eat possibly followed by refusing to drink, I knew could lead to a very miserable end to my mums life and it was with that in mind that I wrote my previous post about her.
What I didn’t know was that just six days later I would receive a phone call that would lead to the most traumatic 10 days of my life, two years ago today my mum had what was believed to be a stroke.
I remember that evening so well, the dinner I was just about to eat, the phone call from the care home, the mad dash to the hospital. I remember as I was driving there pleading with family members already past to just take her, to not drag out what was only going to be more suffering. When I arrived at the hospital I was sent to wait outside the resuscitation area, I sat by the door listening to the beeps of machines beyond, unsure which tones were good signs and which were bad until eventually someone called my name. At the other end of the corridor was a young doctor who suggested we go into the relatives room, I remember the panic running through my head, going to the relatives room was never a good thing was it. By the time we had taken a seat I was sure she was going to tell me that mum had died but I was wrong, she was still alive but very sick and the reason we were in the relatives room was so she could talk to me about DNR.
The DNR discussion was just the first of many difficult conversations I had to have with different doctors over the next few days and my first of three visits to different relatives rooms. The DNR was followed a couple of days later by three different conversations about treatment or rather the stopping of it, palliative care was the only sensible option.
And so that was it, after 12 years of watching her slowly disappear it had come to this but she wasn’t going to slip away peacefully in her sleep oh no! Any time a nurse or I tried to offer water on a sponge she would clamp her mouth shut. She couldn’t move her arms, legs or head but somehow she managed to close her mouth. It was her final bit of control I guess and in some ways was a comfort that she was still in there, behind the Alzheimer’s, the paralysis, that strong stubborn woman I loved was there.
It took another week after moving to palliative care, I spent almost every waking hour at the hospital but typical of my mother she waited till I wasn’t there. As I got ready to leave for another day at the hospital my mobile rang and I knew, she’d gone. I drove to hospital and went to see her but she wasn’t there, physically she was but her, my mum, my idol was gone.
Two years on I thought maybe by now I would find these anniversaries easier to cope with, I expected the first year ones to be tough but the second years have so far been just as hard. My moods have been all over the place and I’ve started crying completely out of the blue several times but I know it will pass and I will go back to normal soon. Grief really does affect us all differently and we all learn different ways to deal with it, I’m not sure whether writing this will have helped me but it might and if it doesn’t that’s okay too.
When I started this blog my plan was it to be a place for me to write about anything and everything, whatever was in my head that I needed or wanted to get out. Up until now though I probably haven’t really done that but today I need to. I need to get out some of the thoughts banging around in my head in hope that it makes it easier and hopefully stop me being the blubbering mess I have been frequently over recent day, So for those of you that visit here for the odd bit of flesh or occasional dirty story this might not be for you and I promise I won’t be offended if at this point you click that little red cross in the corner and move on. For those of you still here, here goes…
My mum has Alzheimer’s disease, she was diagnosed in October 2002 but we had been seeing the very early signs since about 1998. She took the brave step in 2002 to take herself to the doctor, we had watched my nan suffer at the hands of dementia and so she knew the signs, She knew it wasn’t just that bit of forgetfulness we all experience at times and made the decision to do something while she was still in control. She was only 64 when she received her diagnosis which is really no age at all.
People who have never experienced knowing or loving someone with dementia often still think that it is just something that makes you a bit forgetful. I remember hearing people say things like “we all go a bit doolally in our old age” but that really is only the beginning of this awful disease. The disease is categorised as having 7 stages and once you get past stage three we are talking about a whole lot more than forgetting things. I won’t bore you with all the symptoms as we go through the stages but if you would like to read them you can find them here.
I’ve watched my mum go through these stages, each new decline tearing me to pieces as I watch her disappearing. We’ve been through most now and are teetering on the edge of stage 7, she hasn’t know who I am for the last three years, she seems to occasionally seem like she has some recognition but I think that is more I have learnt a way to approach her that she responds well too. She is doubly incontinent and is becoming more and unstable on her feet but the scariest new drop is that she is beginning to refuse food.
At the moment she will usually still eat her breakfast and sometimes a couple of spoonfuls of whatever pudding is that day. Her preference for sweet foods suggests that the disease is attacking how she processes tastes, this isn’t uncommon with dementia sufferers but we won’t know if the disease will continue to attack the same area of her brain so that no food tastes nice. Unfortunately even if it doesn’t do that at, some point it is probable that she will lose the ability to swallow food anyway and all these new drops mean we are coming closer to the end. It still may take a long time but just like with every other decline I have watched happen I know that it moves us a step nearer to her death.
I know we are supposed to outlive our parents, we expect that will even though we can never really prepare ourselves for it but for me it’s not so much about the dying as it is about the how. My mum was my idol, she was a strong independent woman who didn’t conform to what society expected of her and being born in 1938 that wasn’t as common as it is now. I could go on and on about the wonderful things we shared together and amazing things she did but instead I’m going to add into the bottom of here the life history I was asked to write for my mum when she moved into her care home in 2009, they seemed a bit surprised when I turned up with four pages. If you’ve stuck it out this far into this post and make it through the rest maybe you’ll understand why it makes me so angry that such an amazing woman has been stripped away by this dreadful disease.
Dee’s Life History
Dee was born on the 30th April 1938, this first child of Dorothy and Edward Duffy.
She has two sisters, Nadine who is two years younger and Lesley who is twelve years younger.
Dee and her family lived in Northwood, Middlesex and being on the outskirts of London experienced many close shaves during the war. One day when the air raid siren went off Dee and her mum with baby Nadine in her arms ran for shelter under their kitchen table, which had fold down sides. The bomb dropped on the house opposite theirs and it blew all the windows in their own house inwards. Thanks to their fold down table they all survived uninjured apart from Dee’s mum having a cut on her finger where she had been holding the tables flap down.
Dee went to Emmanuel primary school just around the corner from her house and then onto Potter street secondary, she did well at school and after leaving secondary school spent a year at Kilburn Polytechnic learning secretarial skills.
Both her mum and her dad came from big families both being one of 9 children so she grew up surrounded by family which she always enjoyed. Her mum’s family always spent Christmas together; her and her sisters would sleep in the loft of their auntie’s house on Christmas Eve with all their cousins whilst the adults got the beds. They would all be tucked up in sleeping bags apart from whoever got the short straw and would have to sleep in the old padded flying suit brought home by her uncle after the war. No one wanted to sleep in it because once you got inside it and zipped up you couldn’t get out and had to get someone else to unzip it. Also no one wanted Dee’s sister Lesley to get in it because she needed to get out going to the toilet every five minutes!
Despite learning secretarial skills, her first job was as a trainee hairdresser a skill she kept up throughout her life. Her early jobs also included office work in Selfridges in London and being a book-keeper for the local golf course.
Dee has always enjoyed dancing especially the jive and would often be found in the dance halls as a young woman. She has also always enjoyed jazz music, Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday being her favourites.
Dee got married at the age of 21 to Dave, a lovely and handsome man four years older. Despite her and Dave wanting to have a quiet wedding in the local registry office preferably in a pair of jeans rather than a dress, her mum would only give her blessing if they agreed to a church wedding.
Dee has always had a passion for animals and after marrying Dave and moving out of her parent’s house she was finally able to begin living this passion and bought her first of many dogs. Her first dog was a German shepherd called Hayley, who turned out to be rather crazy and quite a handful. With a lot more knowledge gained she bought two more German Shepherds called Marni and Jane. She went to weekly obedience classes and began competing in her first dog shows. This went well and many prizes were won over the years. She bred from her Shepherds creating many beautiful puppies along the way. Around this time she also had another dog, a Sheltie named Sarah and there were probably some cats thrown into the mix too.
Dee’s love of animals also opened up a fantastic job opportunity and she and Dave moved to Nottingham to Run the RSPCA at Radcliffe on Trent. This job really let her live in her element, surrounded by more animals than she could dream off. It was a hard job at times encountering many animals poorly treated and quite often having to put animals to sleep. These were of course outnumbered by the many animals she managed to save and help find new homes. She rescued young lambs that she had living in the house with her as the needed regular feeding and also a family of ducklings that would follow her around waddling behind her as if she were their mother.
While Dee was at the Rescue centre the RSPCA saw her potential and offered to put her through university to train as a vet. She turned the offer down as she felt she would be too old when she qualified, a decision she long regretted as she would have only actually have been about 40 by the time she would have qualified.
When she left the RSPCA she and Dave moved to Midhurst in Kent where she took up the job of manager at Quarantine kennels. She would often have to travel to docks to collect cats and dogs arriving from abroad who had to spend 6 months in quarantine before being allowed to join their family. On one occasion she had to collect a dog from the QE2 but was struggling to find the ship in the docks, she parked her van up and asked someone working there if they could tell her where the QE2 was docked. The man laughed and informed her that if she moved her van 6 inches forward she’d hit it! It turned out the wall she thought she had parked against was actually the side of the ship!
Unfortunately while her career was going from strength to strength her marriage was beginning to struggle, Although Dee still loved Dave very much his constant laziness was becoming hard to live with and something that despite best efforts caused them to separate. Although they separated and began divorce proceedings they never actually did divorce.
A few years after separating from Dave and in a new job at another kennels Dee met John. John was 7 years younger than Dee and for a time they were happy. Unfortunately John began stealing money from Dee as well as becoming violent. On one occasion John hit Dee and damaged her retina, she has had to wear glasses ever since. Thankfully Dee got out of this situation when she found out she was pregnant at the age of 40!
Dee had been told when she was in her 20’s that she couldn’t have children, it had never bothered her as she was always more interested in having animals than having babies so to find out she was pregnant came as quite a shock. Being in her 40’s when she became pregnant meant she was monitored closely. She continued to work throughout her pregnancy lifting big heavy dogs in and out of a bath so she could groom them and was half way through finishing some dog’s trims when she had to go for a check up. She got another member of staff to watch the dogs while she went but when she got to the hospital for her check up she was told she would have to stay in as her blood pressure was too high. Knowing that she still had a couple of dogs to get finished she managed to convince them to let her go home to collect some clothes etc. On the condition she came straight back. At which point she rushed back to work and finished off the dogs before getting her clothes and heading back to the hospital.
Once back at the hospital they tried to induce her labour as they were worried the baby was getting distressed, unfortunately the induction didn’t work as Dee went to sleep like she always does if she’s ill or in pain and this stopped the labour from proceeding and the same thing happened the next day when they tried it again. Eventually after the failed second attempt they decided to opt for a caesarean, this came with its own set of problems and Dee needed a blood transfusion. When they gave Dee the transfusion they made an error with her blood type and gave her the wrong blood plasma making her very poorly, so for the first week after giving birth she was too ill to see the baby. Thankfully after 10 days Dee and baby Louise were well enough to go home.
Dee remained in Kent with Louise and all her animals (by this point she had 3 standard poodles that she was showing and breeding) for another 10 months before returning to Northwood as her dad was very ill. She went to live back at her mum and dad’s until she could find somewhere for her and Louise to live. Her mum had never been a fan of animals and made her get rid of all her dogs which broke her heart and made an existent rift with her mum become even more apparent.
Dee’s dad died a few months later in 1981; she was very fond of her dad who she said was always very loving and caring.
Dee and Louise moved into a house in Ruislip the following year and began to recreate her collection of animals. This time her focus was on Persian cats which she began to show and breed. At one point she had 10 cats along with 3 dogs and kittens frequently arriving.
After Dee’s dad’s death her mum became very depressed and was put on anti-depressants, after being on them for several years it was found that this had caused drug induced Parkinson’s disease. In addition to Parkinson’s Dee’s mum also developed Alzheimer’s disease, she was poorly for quite a few years with many trips in and out of hospital. Dee’s mum died peacefully in 1991.
Sadly later the same year Dee got the devastating news that Dave had terminal cancer. She went to visit him while he was in hospital having not seen him for over ten years, they still obviously meant a lot to each other and thankfully she was able to see him one last time after this before he passed away in October 1991.
Dee continued her life with her animals and her daughter but never found a new man, she always seemed happy without being in a relationship and was always busy with either her family or friends. She continued to breed her Persian cats and was very proud when a cat she had bred for her sister Lesley excelled in the show world winning many certificates and rosettes. Through her animals she built up a great friendship with another cat lover and breeder Audrey. Audrey and her husband Colin were great friends for many years. Sadly Audrey developed bowel cancer and after a gruelling 8 year battle Audrey died in 1996.
She worked hard to provide a good life for herself and Louise, finding the money to keep Louise in her swimming club for many years. Driving her to training sessions night after night and even early mornings when Louise was in her borough squads with training sessions starting at 5.30am!
Dee became a grandmother in 2003 when Louise gave birth to her first child and is now nanny to three.
Dee’s animals really have bought her an incredible amount of joy through her life at last count she had had 15 dogs and 13 cats plus many more fostered animals along the way and plenty of little critters too! She devoted her life to her animals and her daughter.
Above all Dee has always had a fantastic sense of humour and has thankfully passed that on to her daughter and her grandchildren. Even through the toughest times we have always tried to find a way to see the funny side where possible and long may that continue!