Life isn’t a fairy tale. Sure, we hope for lots of magic moments and wonderful happy endings but it isn’t always like that. Sometimes it’s downright shitty. Bad things happen and endings aren’t perfect.
This week was my mother-in-law’s 91st birthday. What a great innings – 91 is amazing! And she is an amazing woman. She raised five children – it’s thanks to her I have my fabulous hubby who’s the baby of the family – and has ensured a lasting legacy in her grandchildren and great-grand-children.
She lost her husband of sixty plus years earlier this year. She’s had to move into aged-care, leaving the house she’d lived in since the 1950’s. Her life has turned upside down. She now lives in a high-dependency unit – colourless, linoleum floors, wandering patients, locked doors. You see she has dementia. I’m not sure – Alzheimer’s, general deterioration with old age? – whatever it is, it came on slowly in the last year and has moved rapidly in the last 3 months.
When I visited a fortnight ago, for the first time she didn’t recognize me, although after some prompting it came back. The family all took her out for dinner last week – four generations celebrating the milestone she’d achieved. I sat next to her during the meal and spent most of the time reminding her of the names of her sons because she kept mixing them up, forgetting who they were and getting upset about it. In tears, she asked if I could write them down for her so she’d remember next time. Towards the end of the night she finally asked where her husband was. It was a night of celebration and tears, sadness and happiness. The look of sheer joy on her face when the cake amassed with sparklers was brought out is something I will remember for a long time. Sadly I don’t think she will.
This week I came across the song written by Glen Campbell, his last song and video, I’m Not Gonna Miss You. Glen now lives in an Alzheimer’s facility. He is a high-profile example of how this disease can take away so much. But this effects so many people and their families, particularly as our population ages.
I know that watching what has happened with my mother-in-law has reinforced how much we need to love those close to us and spend time with them while we can. No matter how busy life is, we need to ask questions, listen to their stories and make the most of the time with them while they are physically and mentally here. Because one day we might not have the chance.
I’ll leave you with the wonderful music of Glen Campbell and the message this song delivers.