The Stranger in Our House

THE STRANGER IN OUR HOUSE

 The day starts early,

Sweeping the kitchen floor

Because of the ants.

My mother is still asleep, but drenched in sweat,

When she wakes up I will help her out of bed

Despite the pain,

Strip her down,

Find a fresh nightgown for her,

Put her in the shower and see she doesn’t fall as she cleans herself.

 

I’ve already had breakfast,

So I make her some.

But she doesn’t eat it.

She’ll be dead soon, she says, so what’s the point?

 

The cat has been fed and watered,

So I put the laundry on,

Since her sheets needs washing after the night-bathe of sweat.

Dressing her takes a while

Because she can’t get her arms above her head,

Because of the pain,

Because the new underpants are the wrong colour.

 

I hang up the sheets,

Put her in front of the television after swallowing pills

And giving her a heat pack

Because of the pain.

Kneeling before her to tie the heat pack on is like doing worship.

 

She falls asleep in front of the television,

Which gives me a little while

To do the things that must be done

For me.

 

We spend the afternoon among her hallucinations,

Discussing her friends and our family,

Whose side am I on?

(I’ve no idea,

Since there are no sides.)

“I’m on your side, of course.”

She asks me why my mouth is black

(It isn’t, but this is her fantasy, remember)

So I wipe my mouth.

She wants to know why there were only six roses

On the cat’s grave.

(The cat is curled up asleep at her feet,

Alive and well.)

 

I make dinner, and she goes to bed early

As usual.

I keep her door open and the bathroom door and my own.

So she can wake me in the middle of the night

To help her out of bed.

 

At two o-clock we are awake again

Because her room is full of spiders

That aren’t there.

—Russell Proctor

http://www.russellproctor.com

Life and Death

My mother is dying.

This isn’t an easy concept to come to terms with. The woman who gave me life is coming to the end of hers. She has Alzheimer’s, which for those who have never experienced such a thing is utterly incomprehensible. You can learn about Alzheimer’s, you can read about it. But the only way to know it is to go through it.

It’s probably one of the worst diseases of all. Here in Australia there used to be a TV series called “Mother and Son”, in which Ruth Cracknell played Maggie Bear, a woman with senile dementia. Her son, played by Gary McDonald, spent many “hilarious” episodes dealing with his mother’s affliction in such ways as caused much laughter.

Fuck off.

Alzheimer’s is a shit disease. There’s nothing funny about it. Nothing at all. While we’re at it, let’s laugh about cancer. Let’s laugh about 89 people killed in a Paris nightclub by terrorists. That’s the amount of fun Alzheimer’s disease is.

My mother is dying, and there’s nothing I can do about it. And it tears me apart, because the disease causes disruption between myself and my mother. I’m not angry at her, I’m angry at the disease which is killing her mind. But she does things which make me angry, things neither of us can do anything about.

The worst thing is, my father had Alzheimer’s too. And my mother had to look after him for the last four years of his life. Now she has it, and while I would willingly give my life for hers, that is a totally useless gesture in the face of this killer disease.

My mother is dying.

I will be the one to discover her corpse. That sounds horrible, doesn’t it? One morning I will walk in to discover my mother dead in her bed. That’s not something I’m looking forward to, but it’s going to happen. Each morning I wake up and check on my mother sleeping in her bed and make sure she is still breathing.

Life and death. And love. Because that’s all I have left.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

I Forgot I Had Alzheimer’s

It’s an old joke, of course. A man is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but his doctor tells him to go home and forget about it.
Ha ha.
My father had Alzheimer’s. He died in 2007 having forgotten his family and himself and just about everything else. It was tragic, given that he had had such a marvellous mind throughout his life. He was a psychiatrist and a good man who helped a lot of people.
My mother has now been diagnosed with the same disease.
In case you don’t know, Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of dementia. The victim forgets who they are and who everyone else is and can’t properly look after themselves. There is no cure.
I remember what my mother went through when Dad was diagnosed and slipped away from us. I was living in another town at the time, 600 kilometres away, but I visited them as often as I could. Dad became increasingly needy, eventually unable to care for himself and even, on occasion, wandering off. Mum found it enormously difficult and eventually Dad had to be put in a nursing home.
One time I visited him and he had forgotten who I was. His speech became increasingly difficult to understand. We knew he was desperately trying to communicate with us but at the end we couldn’t understand a word he said. That was frustrating for him as much as us. He even asked me on one occasion if Mum was angry with him, because she had sent him away to live apart from her. He had the idea there had been a disaster and he and “these other people” (his fellow patients in the nursing home) were trapped in a cave. Did I know the way out?

AD_Brain_0_1

I believe that my father died twice. Once when he lost his mind, and once when he lost his life. He died from septicaemia. We thought it was best to just let him go, so asked the doctors to fill him full of morphine so he could die in peace. At his funeral, my brother gave a eulogy in which he documented my father’s life and achievements but refused to deal with the last few years when he no longer in charge of himself. “That,” said my brother, “was not who Dad was.” My own eulogy avoided the subject, too. I focused on Dad’s wonderful sense of humour and how loving he had been to his family. That’s the father we want to remember.
I now live with Mum. And she is going to go through the same process, apparently. She is ok so far, but the first signs are there. I am trying my best to look after her, but I am gaining a vivid picture of what she went through with Dad.
As I said, there is no cure. It is a terrible disease without hope at the moment. I fully intend to leave everything I have to Alzheimer’s research in my will. There has to be something done about this.
Of course, I should also be worried for myself and my brothers. Are we likely to suffer the same thing because both our parents have had it? I don’t know. Having witnessed (and now witnessing again) the effects of this disease makes me feel uneasy for my own future.

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If you know someone, or have a family member with Alzheimer’s, I know how you feel. I know what you are going through. It is a shit of an illness. My heart goes out to you. Maybe there will be a cure for this horror someday. But it isn’t here yet.

Be strong. Be loving. The person needs you more than anything.

–  Russell Proctor. http://www.russellproctor.com