Home' Intouch : In Touch Spring 2015 Contents 14 In touch spring 2015
Between now anD gooDBye
aLZHeimeR’s aUstRaLia nsw Dementia aDvocates woRK to Raise
awaReness aBoUt Dementia in tHe commUnity anD meDia.
From left: James noonan with his
mother, Vicki noonan.
My family are big on letter writing.
At every key moment in my life –
graduating university, moving out of
home, travelling overseas for the first time
– my parents have thrust a loving note
into my hand, my pocket, my carry-on
luggage. Each is a goodbye of sorts, and
all are good lucks. The kind of letters that
shrink the world and slow things down
long enough for you to appreciate all you
have. The kind worth keeping, as i have
done over the years, inside a dusty old
shoebox in my cupboard. They vary in
content and in length. some are on lined
paper, others simply on post-its or torn
bits of cardboard. One’s even scrawled
on the back of a bookmark. But they
are all straight from the heart, and no
matter how torn or crinkled the materials
become, the words live on – they endure
– a s a powerful reminder of the kind of
love i have in my life.
i received probably the most
heart-rending letter to date upon leaving
for an American adventure in early 2013.
i sat in the departure lounge of Melbourne
Airport and wept quite openly as i read my
mother’s words. Her letters had always
been difficult to read – charged with the
kind of emotion and truth that is hard
to express in person – but this one was
different, grimmer in tone, with a greater
sense of finality. The goodbye contained
within seemed more of a farewell.
When i returned to Melbourne three
months later, i was met by my parents.
They wanted to stay with me for a few
days; they had something to tell me.
After they allowed for my jet lag to
subside, they sat me down and informed
me that Mum had been diagnosed with
early- onset Alzheimer’s disease. The
words didn’t really sink in, but i thought
“early onset” sure sounded like a benign
form of the disease. My parents soon
dispelled this hope though, explaining that
the word “early” relates not to the stages
of the disease’s progression, but to the
age of the patient. This wasn’t the same
as when Mum had had a couple of mini
strokes, episodes which were moderate
compared to many similar, fatal cases.
There was simply no downplaying her
current diagnosis. Mum had a disease that
would, by all means, end her life.
Admittedly, i had known something
was amiss; Mum had been on the decline
ever since her strokes in the early 2000s
– loss of memory, reduced ability to
calculate sums and make decisions – but
this revelation still stunned me. i must
confess i didn’t know much about the
disease at the time; up until then i had
associated it entirely with the elderly.
i’d seen and heard horror stories of nasty
old men and women, totally detached
from reality, rotting away in a nursing
home. This couldn’t possibly be what
was in store for Mum, could it?
My parents interrupted my train of
thought with assurances that both my
older brother and i were in the clear: the
form of dementia in question wasn’t
genetic. That was their greatest fear,
that the disease could have been passed
on. For me it didn’t even factor in – my
thoughts never left Mum, if only briefly
to land on my father, so steady and
unflinching by her side.
it’s been a gradual process coming to
terms with Mum’s condition. i slid into
a depression soon after learning of the
diagnosis – though to be fair i had been
sliding for many months; the news was
but the final straw. Cocooned within
my own world, i shut off from reality,
refusing to deal with the day-to-day.
One thing i simply couldn’t fathom was
not having my mum in my life. Or our
relationship changing in any way. i’d be
lying if i said i didn’t often think ahead to
the day when the light in her eyes fades
and she no longer recognises me. What
an unconscionable notion to consider,
your very best friend in this world, your
confidante, your inspiration, your rock –
reduced to a mere stranger.
i also worried – and continue to do
so – about my father. For he’s the one
who sees it all, on a day-to - day level.
My brother and i are often spared the
harsh realities of Mum’s condition, but
my dad bears the brunt. He sees what
others fail to – beyond the mask that Mum
puts on to the rest of the world which
convinces people that “she’s doing so
well”. He is privy to her lows, the ease
with which she falls to pieces, sometimes
over the smallest of things – a forgotten
phone number, a missing item of clothing.
He has had to assume full responsibility
over her decision making – her daily
regimen, medication, financials and
health. An extraordinary task.
What outshines my concern, however,
is the sheer admiration i have for the man
who has supported Mum every step of
tHeRe was no way
HeR Diagnosis. mUm
HaD a Disease tHat
woULD enD HeR Life
James noonan – tHis piece oRiginaLLy appeaReD in tHe sUnDay teLegRapH , sUnDay 10 may 2015
the noonan family: James with his parents, Vicki and Graeme, and his brother, David.
7/08/2015 1:01 pm
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