On 4 January last year I posted this on Facebook:
That horrific moment in the long Alzheimer’s journey when you sit opposite your mum and realise that you’re no longer her daughter, but some random stranger come to visit 🙁
And it’s taken from that day to this to write this blog.
For the first few months, I literally couldn’t put into words what it felt like.
For the next few months, I struggled to go and see mum with the knowledge that it seemed as if I was no one more special to her than the tea-lady.
Then a few months after that two special things happened that changed my perspective and allowed me to move forward.
Rewind to that fateful day, though, and I was visiting mum after being overseas for a few weeks over Christmas.
It’s funny now that it took me more than 15 minutes to realise that she seemed to have no idea who I was.
We were chatting, or the semblance of chatting that it had become, about inane bits and pieces.
I was happy to see her, and she seemed happy to see me.
Then my mother said to me: “I haven’t seen Nicola for a while.”
I am Nicola, which I said to her, as I tried to comprehend that the day I had been dreading had come to pass much sooner than I was prepared for.
Mum looked at me long and hard and said nothing.
I couldn’t let it go so I repeated, “It’s me mum. I’m Nicola, remember?”
But no matter how many times I tried to convince her of the truth, that I was indeed her daughter, there was silence and she just stared at me or off into that distance that only people with dementia can see.
My car was packed for a surfing trip and I vaguely remember leaving her seemingly nonplussed with what had just occurred and deciding to still drive to the coast.
Along the way, I rang my sister and cried long and hard as I navigated the open road towards the waves that I hoped would heal me.
By the time I arrived, it was too late to surf, so I sat in my hotel room and tried to keep busy.
I opened my laptop and keyed in my password, but it appeared it was wrong.
So, I tried again and again and again, but that password of many years standing had been deleted from brain.
The same with passwords for this blog and my online banking accounts.
Like some kind of wild woman, I tried to force myself to remember them and was scribbling ridiculous combinations of passwords on my notepad, until my youngest brother – who was abreast of what was going down… my sanity – told me to pull up stumps and go for a walk.
It’s raining I text him. Take an umbrella, he replied.
And, so I did.
I walked around that seaside second home of mine for an hour or more and then was overcome with an unusual tiredness because it was only 7pm.
So, I went to bed and dreamed of passwords that weren’t correct when I tried again the next morning.
I grabbed my board and went out in the water.
My surfing skills were crap, but the meditation of the waves made me feel slightly saner.
I got out confident that my passwords had been reinstated inside my brain – they weren’t.
After a few more vain attempts, I decided that it wasn’t worth giving me a stroke, so I gave up.
My fingers were rested on the keyboard in that final act of submission and that was the moment when they moved – I’m sure of their own volition – and I was soon staring at the wallpaper of my laptop.
Not long after I was logged into this blog and my bank accounts simultaneously, too.
Fast forward several months, and as I battled with this new era of my mother no longer recognising me, a random encounter gave me a new perspective.
I was telling the story to a friend of my neighbours who was house-sitting.
I had never met him before and have never seen him since.
He listened as I recounted the worst day of my life and he simply said: “It’s like your brain had to reset to the new version of your relationship with your mum.”
He was right. It was the new dawn. One that I’d long known would arrive, whether I was ready or not.
A few months later, I was visiting mum and had quite a bad hangover from a very long business lunch the day before.
My sister, the first person I called on that darkest of days, was visiting from overseas and was due to meet me there but hadn’t arrived yet.
Mum was lying in her bed as she does most of the time these days.
Her bed looked very comfortable to someone like me whose head felt like all the liquid had been sucked out of it and my brain was banging drily against my skull.
So, without a second thought, I lay down next to my mother and automatically swung my arm over her, too.
Immediately, she maternally started stroking my forearm – just like she used to do when I was a kid in her arms and needed my mother to comfort me when I was distressed.
And then I knew.
The new dawn was not about my mother not remembering who I was, because she does.
I know it.
She simply can’t say my name anymore.
And I’m finally alright with that.