In 2014, Sarah Stoner’s mum started acting differently and life has never been the same
A mother’s dementia diagnosis brings Christmas heartbreak
Christmas in our house has always been extravagant. Smoked salmon and eggs for breakfast, followed by turkey with all the trimmings and three desserts. my mum, Jane, was a trained chef after all. and when my brother, Clive, sister, Emma, and I grew up, mum still ensured Christmas was special for us and our dad Stephen. now I wish I’d ingrained every moment into my memory as, four years ago, Christmas for us changed forever.
By april 2015, after countless tests, she was given the diagnosis we’d all been dreading: vascular dementia. She was only 64. From that moment, mum deteriorated rapidly. Some days, she’d forget who my dad was, calling me in a panic to tell me a stranger had broken into her home. She became aggressive, too. Dad struggled to cope and, by Christmas, she’d been admitted to a psychiatric hospital while we tried to sort out medication to help level out her behaviour.
Doctors allowed Dad to take her home for a few hours on Christmas Day. They spent it with my sister, Emma, her husband, mike, and their two children, while I was with Chris and the kids at his parents’. Emma called me later that day to tell me that mum had tried to drink the candle they’d used to decorate the dinner table and spent all day asking if she could ‘go home to her parents’. when I saw her a few days later, I caught her in a more lucid moment. ‘I’m trying so hard to get better, Sarah,’ she said. The desperation in her eyes made me want to cry.
after spending the first part of the year in hospital, mum was allowed home. She had daily carers to help her take her medication but she was extremely confused on an almost daily basis. She’d have conversations with the kitchen bin, thinking it was a child, or we’d catch her stroking a tea towel thinking it was a baby. Knowing how much pressure Dad was under, his sister, Sheila, and her partner, John, invited mum and Dad to their house for Christmas. Sheila was great with mum, chatting away to her, even though mum wasn’t making much sense any more. Everyone had wanted a nice, quiet Christmas but mum spent most of it feeling disoriented. Back home, mum started locking Dad out of the bedroom every night – she’d almost completely forgotten him. I decided to start a blog about mum, it felt cathartic to write it all down, switch off the computer and, just for a second, forget.
By July 2017, Dad couldn’t cope with Mum at home any longer. She was struggling to even get out of bed or wash herself. Dad ended up hurting his back one day as he tried to lift her and we knew the time had come – Mum needed to be in a home. I think he felt like he failed her; after all, Mum was only 67, much younger than a lot of the other residents. Christmas came around all too soon and Mum didn’t even know who we were. I convinced Dad to stay with us for a few days, and on Christmas Eve, we went to watch the children perform the Nativity at our local church. Dad was quiet, and I could see him welling up during the hymns. ‘Mum would have loved this,’ he said. We spent Christmas Day at my brother Clive’s house. With eight grandchildren, it was hectic, and I knew my mum would have relished being in the middle of it all. All day, we were painfully aware that she wasn’t with us. We tried as hard as we could to have a nice day, raising a glass to Mum at the end of the meal but it was bittersweet.
This year, I am inviting Dad over to our house. It’s too difficult to contemplate yet another festive period without my lovely mum. now, almost four years after her diagnosis, she’s extremely unwell. She doesn’t talk much any more, and when she does, not much of it makes sense. The last few times I’ve been to visit, she’s been asleep. In all honesty, I’m waiting for a phone call to tell me mum has passed away. It’s inevitable and I’ve just about come to terms with it, but it’s Dad I worry about now. He’s so lost without mum. She was the matriarch of the family. Christmas without mum will never be the same, but I’m determined to find some of that magic again. It’s what she would want. Q To read Sarah’s blog, go to mycrazymum.com
Sarah (right) with her mum Jane and sister Emma in 1989, and (inset), Jane in 2014 with granddaughter Martha
Jane with husband Stephen and granddaughter Mabel
Sarah enjoys a festive walk with her dad, brother Clive and mum
The family tried to enjoy Christmas last year but it wasn’t the same without Jane
Sarah’s mum and dad this September