The gradual disappearance of Ma

Today I placed Ma in respite care for three weeks.  I walked out of the facility bawling my eyes out, feeling like a failure and that I’d let Ma down.

I no longer like the person I’ve become.  I don’t recognise myself.  I’m a cranky, horrible person with a short fuse and I can’t seem to stop being like that.  It’s like I’m standing outside of myself watching myself having a breakdown while telling myself to stop… but I don’t.  I’m mean to Ma and have lost the patience I once had.

I look over the last twelve months and look at the parts of my Ma that I have lost.  The thing about Ma’s ‘diminishment’ is that it is a gradual insidious thing that you don’t really notice until you look back.  When I look back and compare the then with the now it breaks my heart.

Ma used to love reading Mills and Boons.  The house is choc a block full of them.  Over the years I’ve picked them up from fetes and bought her new ones each month.  She collected books by her favourite authors.  Now she no longer reads them.  Not even her favourites.  She now reads and re-reads and re-reads her complete collection of Kerry Greenwood books.  She fixates on them, counts them, hides them and writes in them, then tells you it’s a new book she hasn’t read before.  I’m not sure how much she even takes in.  She will sit for hours pouring over the pages of her books.

Ma can no longer turn the stove on or make herself a hot drink.  She can’t prepare herself food.  The other morning I found her eating chocolate because she had no other food and didn’t know the way to the kitchen (I prepare all her food and mostly serve it in her bedroom). She still insists on telling me she doesn’t like chocolate…

Her tastes have changed… for the last few years she has told me she doesn’t like spaghetti (her recipe) so I’ve only made it for myself.  In the last few months spaghetti and pizza are two of her favourites.  Dessert is still top of her list… that hasn’t changed!

We have gone from small ‘drip tray’ incontinence pads to the heavy duty pull-up pants that she wears day and night.  I look back at her transition into the pull-up pants and remember how frustrating it was finding the right product.

Bowel accidents are not uncommon.  I’m now so anal about her bowels (sorry) it must drive her to distraction.  It’s a fine line getting it right.  Anything over two days and her confusion and hallucinations start to increase and her stomach distends to epic proportions.  Her bowel also starts pressing on her bladder which means we’re up 4 times or more a night and she leaks like a sieve.

We now live with Ma’s ‘friends’.  I made Lammos (Lammingtons) for Australia Day and put her in charge of coconut covering.  When she came out for dinner she noticed that none of the Lammos had been eaten and said, “Didn’t anybody like my Lammingtons?”  As there is only the two of us in the house most of the time it’s always interesting when ‘the others’ make an appearance… or won’t eat my Lammos!

Her strength and walking has deteriorated so that she barely shuffles along on her walker. I now allow 20 minutes to get her out the door and down the stairs into the car.  She is so hunched over it’s like she is bent double.  Most days she doesn’t get dressed preferring to stay in her nightdress and dressing gown.

She finds it difficult to make decisions over what to wear or eat.  She just lets problems slide.  It’s like she’s in a bubble where nothing can penetrate.

Ma used to be able to find her way around the house.  Her bedroom was, her bedroom.  It’s now somebody else’s bedroom.  The house doesn’t belong to her, nor does her clock radio.  The house she has lived in for over 50 years is the house she has only been in for a few weeks.  The town is unfamiliar and her sense of direction has disappeared.

People are starting to slip from her memory, especially those she doesn’t see very often.  It’s sad having to explain who her granddaughters are.  Memories are eroding and being replaced with different ones.  Her new reality of being nearly drowned and burnt during her last stay in hospital in September stays with her even now.

I think part of my anger is over the loss for the Ma I once had.  I’m losing her slowly but surely.  Our relationship has been changed forever.  I hate being strong when all I want is my Ma to make everything alright.


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