How My Mum’s Battle With Alzheimer’s Led To An Important Lesson In Human Connection

Author Keri Kitay opens up on how she has dealt with her mother's Alzheimer's diagnosis.

When we walked into Mum’s new home for the first time, it was a bit of a shock in comparison to her previous homes. When we’d originally looked at homes for Mum, they were dementia-specific homes, rather than aged-care homes. But this time, we were looking at aged-care homes and all-care type facilities, which was new to us.

It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, and if I’m completely honest, it was more that it was difficult for my family to accept that any place would be good enough – we always wanted the best for Mum.

This facility was also more confronting because it was permeated by a sense of finality. Typically, such places are a person’s last residence before they pass. Because of Mum’s age – barely 60 years old – it was hard to come to terms with the fact that she would now be living in this kind of home.

Author keri kitay with her family and mother with alzheimer's
Keri with family and her mum Terry. Image: Supplied.

The other residents were mostly quite a bit older than Mum and suffered from various conditions: some had dementia, one woman had Parkinson’s disease, and another woman had had a fall and needed assisted living. We were pressed for time, though, and no other suitable options had presented themselves. This meant the choice had kind of been made for us.

I’ll admit to having mixed feelings about Mum’s time in that home, but equally I’ll admit that it quickly became a place where we spent a lot of time and made some lasting memories.

Among all the sadness, we did have some beautiful moments with Mum. Taking her outside and sitting with her became an important part of our routine.

I loved sitting with her in the fresh air, even during winter – when it was cold, I’d take a blanket to cover her. Besides, there always seemed to be a spot of sunshine for us to sit in, and as the sun moved throughout the day, we would follow it.

When the grandchildren came to visit, which was most weekends, they would run straight to their bobba. They would all get the chance to push her wheelchair in the garden. The kids learned from an early age to always go and say hello and give Bobba a hug as soon as they saw her.

They also knew where the biscuits were and would inevitably have their treat in the sunshine with Mum. The kids seemed to develop a sense of empathy from a young age, a beautiful gift that I see them demonstrating in their lives today.

author keri kitay who wrote on her mother's alzheimer's
Keri Kitay is a communications professional and author who has a fulfilling career working in the health, fitness and sport industry with national and global brands delivering key events and campaigns. Image: Supplied.

Dad would keep some soccer balls in his car so that when the kids came to visit, they could spend hours kicking them around a patch of grass, challenging each other to mini soccer matches. That garden became their playground, and their memories of visiting Bobba are filled with hours spent playing in the open air, rather than sitting inside a depressing old-age home.

They would even bring their bikes and scooters and go riding around the outside paths, going faster and faster, seeing who could do the fastest lap. On weekends, Dad would always stop off at his favourite produce shop and buy dried mango and other fruit for everyone to enjoy; he loved spoiling the kids and seeing them share treats with Bobba.

It soon got to the stage where it was too difficult to take Mum out on her birthday or on Mother’s Day, so we celebrated these occasions, as well as anniversaries and Jewish holidays, at the home – we brought the celebrations to her. We would bring a cake or other sweets, or Dad would pick up fish and chips from a shop down the road.

On Kol Nidrei night, Dad and I would go and eat our last meal before the fast with Mum at the home. Even though she wouldn’t be fasting with us, it was important to us that she was still a part of our traditions.

We missed the food that Mum used to prepare for the occasion – chicken soup, roast meat and vegetables, and a round challah – but we’d have to settle for chicken that Dad would pick up from a Kosher place nearby.

A woman battling alzheimer's in hospital with her grandaughter
Keri’s mom Terry with her granddaughter Ali. Image: Supplied.

At times it felt like Mum’s battle with Alzheimer’s would go on forever, that there was no timeline. But while it could be all-consuming, the rest of life had to go on. I was building a career, having started my own business, and work was important to me.

When I was at work, I felt more or less in control, which was something I craved after spending time with Mum. I tried to stay social, too, and hang out with my friends when I could. And then there were times, after a long day of work, when I just wanted to go straight home and be alone, when I simply didn’t have it in me to visit.

I don’t regret that. While I had to sustain Mum, I knew I had to sustain myself as well.

One thing I did religiously was visit Mum every Saturday and Sunday. It became part of my weekend routine, and I looked forward to the afternoons we would spend together, and with the rest of the family. It was actually a time when Greg, Ricky and I could reconnect.

Over the years we’d split our time with Mum so she was alone as little as possible, which meant we rarely had quality time together as siblings.

Now we were spending much more time together as a family. I also think those afternoons with Mum at the home enabled me to take a break from everything else in my life, to simply stop and breathe, cosy in my family’s little shared bubble. I enjoyed the stillness of not doing anything, of not needing to rush, or to be anywhere else.

Keri Kitay’s book The Long Goodbye: Lessons on humanity from the grips of Alzheimer, Hachette, $34.99 is out now.

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