Family

Why I am glad my mother has dementia

One of the earliest photos I have of my mother holding me, circa 1967.

One of the earliest photos I have of my mother holding me, circa 1967.

Upon first reading this title, I wouldn't blame you for thinking I must be some sort of terrible person and undeserving son for voicing such a sentence. I acknowledge that dementia is a traumatic and awful experience not only for the person suffering, but for their loved ones around them who are caught up in the painful journey.

But for me, my mother's descent into dementia has been the actual discovery of who she is (was?) as a real person. I have debated a long while about whether or not to publish this, but in the end, I feel that some of the darker sides of my family history probably needs to be told.

As a young person growing up in a close knit family, I was close to both my parents. I thought that they were the epitome of the perfect mum and dad, even though I was often troubled by some of the things my mother said and did.

You see, my parents had an arranged marriage, which is a common thing in my culture, and in Asia, where I grew up. My mother was the daughter of a well to do doctor, highly respected in the area, but unknown to most people, a demanding, controlling, tyrant around the house. For instance, my mum and her siblings were forbidden from speaking at the dinner table during a meal, and corporal punishment was dealt out to them with alarming frequency. This obviously had a detrimental effect on the emotional development of her, and her brothers and sister.

Her parents saw it fit to arrange her betrothal to my father, who was the son of a (lowly) clerk, but a brilliant, self made young man who was on the way to becoming a successful doctor in his own right. For some reason, this fact seemed to cause some sort of irrational anger in my mother towards any member of my father's family.

I mean, I think my mum and dad grew to actually love each other during their married years, but it seemed my mother always held a grudge against all members of my father's family - even those not involved in the decision around the arrangement of their marriage. As kids we were always discouraged from interacting with my dad's side of the family, and I think that grudge my mother had against them eventually was directed at me, because some of my most favourite uncles and cousins were on my father's side.

I was also lucky enough to be sent off to boarding school when I was about 15 years old. Being away from the direct influence of my mother for so many years, and getting to visit my friend's families on short holidays also helped to open my eyes that the sort of behaviour my mum exhibited was really out of the norm of what a caring, compassionate mother could be.

My returning home from my long stint away from my family is what started driving the rift into what was previously my close (almost to the point of being needy) relationship with my mother. I began to rebel against some of her more irrational methods of trying to drive wedges between extended family members, and that annoyed her because I was not being subservient and obeying her directions like my younger sister (who basically never left home) was.

Ironically, my time away from home actually made me closer to my father as I appreciated his quiet dignity and wisdom more as I grew older. And that also incurred the chagrin of my mother as she tried in many ways to curry my favour again and distance me from my father.

I tried to be the 'good son' and put up with this behaviour for many years, but it all culminated about a decade ago when my father suffered a stroke that took away his ability to communicate for a year before it degraded his health to such an extent that it eventually took his life.

Losing my father tore me up more than I expected. I realised that he was the rock that held the family together, and without him around, my mother's behaviour grew even more unbalanced as she sought to drive wedges even between my two beloved sisters and me. It made it worse when I discovered later that during my father's last year alive, when he was rendered helpless and immobile by his stroke, that my mother was regularly mentally and physically abusing him. I found out that neighbours would hear her screaming at him in frustration and called the authorities to the house on more than one occasion. I felt I could never forgive her for that.

After my dad passed away, my younger sister took my mother into their home to look after her. That act of compassionate kindness however, seemed to trigger a new level of irrationality in my mother, and she began a new complex theatre of emotional blackmail, lies and deceit to try and instil mistrust, fear and doubt in the minds of all family members. I began to distance myself from her day to day dealings as much as I could.

My visits to her were very infrequent, and would always be painful, as she struggled to weave the various fabricated stories, created to cause consternation and discomfort, together to try and trigger me. I realised that she had so many variations and lies on so many fronts, that it was getting increasingly difficult for her to make them consistent or even realistic any longer. I just sat and nodded most of the time and let her words wash over me. I long ago realised that trying to push back would just make her explode in irrational rage.

Soon, months would go by between my visits to her. I felt that whatever her love and maternal instincts were, they were simply absent from her personality now as she turned into a single minded person bent on the destruction of her own family unit who were only trying to be there for her.

In the last year or so, my sisters kept updating me on the deterioration of my mum's mental health. While she is still physically OK, she has been exhibiting the early onset of dementia.

I decided to resume my semi-regular visits to her. The first couple of times, I was amazed at the transformation. Her inability to recall her convoluted web of deceits meant that she simply did not bring them up at all, and simply chatted about meaningless, everyday stuff. That was such a relief for me. She simply could not remember, or summon the dark energy any longer to keep those machinations afloat, and that was a real blessing!

It actually made my visits to her pleasant again. I normally crave in depth intellectual conversation (like I had with my dad), but in this case, I was happy to just sit and chat about vacuous things like the weather and what was on TV because it didn't require the emotional wrangling of the past. I didn't even mind repeating the same stories or answering her same question repeated 3 times in the past 10 minutes, because suddenly my soul felt free again, and I felt that I was once again in the presence of my mother of old who was caring and protective over me.

My wife and kids have also resumed visitations, and they have all agreed with my sentiments that it is so much easier now to simply be with her and not have to be 'on guard' emotionally or watch what they say lest it be taken out of context and used against them.

I have noticed a gradual decline in her memory and mental faculties in the past few months, and I fear for where that will lead, but for now, at least she still remembers me and my sisters when she sees us, and while she cannot remember my wife and kids when they are not there and I visit her alone, when she sees them in person, she does recall who they are and I do see a delightful, genuine smile on her face when she sees her grandkids walk in.

The affliction that normally takes away all of a person over time has actually chosen to remove the darker aspects of her personality first, revealing the simple, but genuine soul beneath. I will cherish being in the presence of this part of her life before that too, is eventually gone.

Incredible Women in my Life

I know this is a bit late for International Women’s Day, but I thought I would post it anyway.

Some backstory - I used to do a lot of art and painting in my younger days, but haven’t really done anything for the past 3 decades or more. Work, life, music, everything else simply got in the way and I never put pen or brush to paper in all that time.

Until this year, when I decided to try my hand at painting again. But the next problem was - what subject matter? I decided that I would focus on women in my life who have had an impact on me. Not just my immediate family, which consists of strong women anyway, but rather my friendship circle, in which I have many women who I think are totally amazing.

(Note: I have held back from mentioning names in this post. Mainly because I want to protect the privacy of my friends. Most of them are really humble and wouldn’t like to be called out for their strengths, but I think their story deserves to be told).

Here are my (rusty) artistic impressions of my heroes:


IMG_0011.PNG

I first met E when she worked at a client site that I was doing some consulting work at. She always had the brightest smile and a genuine “Hello, how are you?” that went beyond mere politeness and showed an actual interest in the answer, which in turn showed the depth of her soul.

E does it hard raising two very young kids as a single mother, but she does not let that hold her back from showering her children with an abundance of love. And she always has time for others.


IMG_0017.PNG

J was a good friend of my younger sister and spent a lot of time at our house when growing up, and so I consider her another little sister of mine as well as one of my best friends. Many years ago, while in the prime of her life, she suffered an aneurism which nearly took her life. She still suffers many permanent after effects of that incident to this day, including short term memory loss, but she does not let that hold her back, and she still retains her delightful, happy personality.


IMG_0023.PNG

M was another client who turned into a friend. A few years ago she was diagnosed with having multiple brain tumours. Because she lived across the country, I could only follow her journey of fighting through this via Facebook, but I was amazed at her strength, resilience, and most importantly, her absolutely candid sense of humour while going through the worst of times. That is priceless in my opinion.

Even during her recovery, there was no hesitation in outlining funny things that happened as a result of the multiple surgeries and procedures that she underwent - for example, she suffered balance problems following her release from hospital, but she regaled us all with the funny story of how she tripped and fell flat on her face outside her favourite pub when she was on the way to celebrate beating those pesky tumours. It takes someone special to always see the funny side of something so serious. Thankfully M is doing well now and enjoying a full and healthy life.


IMG_0026.PNG

J is a long time business colleague whom I have a lot of respect for. I have known her for many years, which includes the time encompassing two marriages that didn’t work out. What I really admire about J is how she doesn’t let heartbreak hold her back. Every time she met a new love, she would throw herself heart and soul into the relationship with no cynicism or negativity. That kind of bravery, to risk your heart over and over like that, is rare.

More recently, J also came down with breast cancer and battled through that with silent courage. She is now in marriage #3 with her soul mate and is blissfully happy living the life of her dreams.


IMG_0030.PNG

S is a relatively new friend, but has already astounded me with her spirit of generosity and her willingness to go above and beyond to help a friend out. She is an avid traveller and is not afraid to explore the wilder side of places she visits on her own. She is a super smart former lawyer. She is also a former MMA cage fighter, so she is one tough lady that stands for no nonsense. A serial entrepreneur, I always enjoy spending time with her talking about startup life and travelling.


IMG_0033.PNG

D is another friend of my sister who is like a little sister to me too. Always ready with a delightful smile. She is a beautiful soul. She has 2 children with special needs, but I have never heard her complain once - she showers all 4 of her children with boundless love. Tragically, she recently lost her young son, and my heart goes out to her, because of all the people in the world, D does not deserve this. She also had her own personal battle with cancer a couple of years ago, but that never stopped her from being there for her own family. For me, D is proof enough that no higher deity exists, because any god that can put someone as amazing and compassionate as her through such life trials really does not make any sense to me.


I hope to add to this list over the coming months, and I am realising how lucky I am to be surrounded by such strong, inspirational women almost everywhere I go. They have all played a part in shaping me into the person I am today.

People have asked me “Aren’t there any men who have inspired you the same way?” and the short answer is yes, but apart from my own Dad, I really can’t think of any other male figure in my friendship circle who has been through the sorts of battles that the women above have. I am sure there are though, and as soon as I find them, I will do something similar.

On Friendship

Ned and Jane, high school friends whom I have known for over 30 years now…

Ned and Jane, high school friends whom I have known for over 30 years now…

I was lucky enough to have spent the Australia Day long weekend just gone hanging out and playing music with old friends. Strange to think that aside from 2 people who I only met in 2017 (you know who you are Kendra and Fiona), that most of my closest friends who I would consider in my ‘inner circle’, I have known for more than three decades. Some of them, over four decades!

I guess that is the nature of my personality. I find it hard to actually make friends in the first place, but once I do make friends whom I connect with, I would gladly take a bullet for them and will be friends with them until the end (or they do something to shatter my trust in them). Those in the ‘inner circle’ are as dear to me as family.

I met friends on the weekend that I hadn’t spoken to in over 10 years, but we still took up where we left off as if it was just last week. And that made me think how lapse I have been over the past many years keeping up contact with my old friends. I have just been too caught up with work and other things going on in my life, that the nurturing of old friendships has been left to wallow in the weeds.

To that end, in 2019 I am intending to put a lot more effort into (a) tightening the bonds of friendship with old friends and (b) casting out the line to create some new friendships with like minded people. As an introvert (INFP), I usually find it difficult to reach out and form new friendships, but I am determined to overcome that and end this year with at least one more person in my ‘inner circle’.

This means:

  • Keeping up with our Sunday picnic session on the clifftops at Nightcliff Jetty (as we did all last year)

  • Attending more functions and music festivals with friends

  • Inviting people around to our house for dinner more often

  • Calling friends out of the blue to go out for a coffee or a beer at a pub

I’ll update this post in 12 months to see how I’ve gone with this initiative.

It was so nice to get a handwritten dinner invite last week!

It was so nice to get a handwritten dinner invite last week!

Note that this means less social media. In the past, I have used Facebook etc. as a bit of a crutch and a passive way to keep up with what my friends are doing, but this year, I am actually going to eschew most social media for communication and get back to some old fashioned talking to people and writing letters.

The Folly of 'Unimportant Data'

CR-BG-Computer-Backup-System-Hero-08-16.jpeg

Having been involved in computers for nearly 4 decades now, I have a healthy view towards data backups. Both my Macs are backed up to a local Time Machine drive on my network, PLUS to Amazon Glacier. I also have important development & client files copied to Google Drive and DropBox on a regular basis. Onsite and offsite backup.

I backup nearly all my critical data that I work with daily. However, I also have a ton of data which (I thought) I consider unimportant. This comprises of:

  • Old videos that I have edited and uploaded to Youtube etc.

  • Copies of photos from my wife’s phone

  • Images for all software installers I’ve used while setting up my PCs

  • Interesting videos or lessons that I have downloaded from Youtube over the years

  • Collections of interesting guitar tabs I’ve found online, etc.

Basically, stuff that I thought I could find again later if I really needed them.

Then, this week, the 3TB external drive that I had all this stuff on finally gave up the ghost and died. “No biggie” I thought to myself. “It was nice to have, but I’ll just get a new drive and start accumulating this unimportant stuff again from scratch”.

But then, in that same week:

  • My wife asked about a photo from her old phone that she couldn’t find any longer, and was it in my backup?

  • My son called to ask if I had a raw copy of a video I had edited for him some years ago as he needed another section (that I had edited out in the final render) for an audition he had to do.

  • I found out I had to reinstall an audio plugin for one of my old recordings, and the original publisher no longer had the older version of the plugin (which I needed to match my audio project) available for download on their site any longer.

How coincidental was that? All of a sudden, I needed this “unimportant” data that I thought I could throw away.

So this week, I’ve sent the external drive away to a data recovery service to see what they can do about bringing it back to life. The offer a free inspection to examine the extent of the failure, and quoted my AUD$300 to recover the data if they can. I figure $300 is worth it to me to just have all that data at my fingertips again, and if I do get it back, I will immediately be setting up a Glacier backup for all of it.