If you didn’t see last night’s story of Bill and Gladys on Channel Nine’s Sixty Minutes, take a look here. It focussed on the mind crippling disease of Alzheimer’s, Bill’s love for Gladys, and his determination to honour his wedding vow of “for better or worse” through Gladys’s suffering.
There were many take-away moments from the story but the one that stayed with me the most was Bill’s statement of “I don’t want to live until I’m 100, I just want to live one day longer than Gladys so that I can care for her until the very end“.
There was nothing martyr-like about Bill’s statement. Bill felt honoured to be able to love and care for his wife with whom he had already shared 65 years of marriage.
There were too many similarities between the story and my parents’ situation for me to be able to control my tears while watching.
Like Bill and Gladys, my parents have been married for 65 years. My extraordinary mum has been suffering Alzheimer’s for the last ten of those. Their relationship has done a 180. Whereas mum was once the major caregiver and spokesperson for the two of them, those are now my dad’s roles. The similarity that made me cry the most, was that Gladys wasn’t able to comprehend that she was beautiful.
Each time I visit mum, without fail, the first words she says to me are “you look beautiful“. It makes me smile and I look forward to hearing those words so much because I don’t believe it’s possible to lie when you have Alzheimer’s, so this must be what mum truly thinks each time she sees me, no matter how dishevelled I am from my day. Inevitably, brief discussion follows between us (where dad will answer on mum’s behalf, because she can’t) and then, when I say goodbye, I kiss mum and tell her that she is beautiful.
Without fail mum says “no I’m not“.
It breaks my heart, because she really and truly is beautiful, inside and out.
If I could restore anything in my mum’s broken mind, it would be the ability to feel love for herself.
She knows she’s not the same woman anymore.
This intelligent, amazing woman who left her homeland at a young age with her husband and two children under the age of three, to chance a better life in a foreign country without as much as a word of English, and certainly with few coins in her purse, now doesn’t understand the most simple of things. The disease has robbed her gradually of her memories. Eventually, she won’t know me. Eventually, she won’t even remember who she is.
Because she is aware that she’s not the same woman anymore, she curses herself. That’s the most painful thing for me.
Alzheimer’s gives mum headaches so bad and so persistent that her face contorts with pain. I wish I could ease that pain for her, but even more so, I wish I could take away mum’s sadness and confusion that results in her self-cursing and self-belief that she is not beautiful.
Without wanting to wallow in sentimentality, I have to give the utmost kudos to my sister, who has been with my parents every day for I-can’t-tell-you-how-long, to ensure that both mum and dad are in the best of care they possibly can be.
My sister has a strength and persistence that I don’t.
There is beauty in everything in life and moments like watching Bill and Gladys last night remind me love is selfless.
It’s never about our own pain.