Custard on her chicken

2012-06-18 00:00

MY darling mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in December 2009. With sadness we watched this vibrant grandmother decline into a person who no longer knew who she was or recognised her family. Alice May became Alice in Wonderland. The award-winning baker, flower-arranger and artist faded. Her garden became unkempt and the bridge table collected dust.

Finally, in April 2011, we placed my mum in a highly recommended care centre close to her home, so that my dad could visit her. The conventional building with clinical rooms and passages, bright lights and uniformed staff provided a sense of security for us.

Every single item of her clothing and linen had to be marked. Boy, would my mum with her strict Scottish upbringing have cringed at the sight of my husband sewing labels on to her unmentionables. Nutritious meals were served at regular times, tea at 10 am and 3 pm, bed time at 9 pm.

My mum was assisted with dressing and bathing, her laundry was done and she was given her medication at regular intervals. Nappies were an essential part of her daily life. All the residents’ lives were regimented and they had to sit either in the lounge or the adjoining garden. The TV blared non-stop. There was no interaction with the caregivers.

My dad died in August without my mum being aware of this sad event. She no longer recognised her faithful and loving husband of 64 years.

The cracks began to appear when her possessions started to go missing, and grew bigger when my mum was no longer allowed to eat in the dining room as “she would make a mess”. She remained in the lounge and was forced to eat whatever was on her plate. Her caregivers were not caregivers. They certainly saw to my mum’s basic health needs, but that is where it ended. Flowers in her room were a no-no — in case she ate them.

Then an article appeared in The Witness on World Alzheimer’s Day, written by a woman whom I would come to call “My life-line”. This prompted me to call Ramona Alexander, who runs a home in Ixopo especially geared for Alzheimer’s sufferers. My husband and I drove the four-hour round trip to visit this haven one Sunday morning in September and we returned with my mum four hours later.

Unicorn’s Haven has no strict regular meal times, no mind-controlling medication, no white clinical walls, no commodes, no nappies, no TV, no nurses in starched uniforms, no walled garden and, best of all, no rules.

Here my mum was allowed to walk freely in the garden, feed the chickens, drive with Ramona to the dairy, pick flowers and even put custard on her chicken, if she so wished.

Ramona slept in the bed next to her, danced in the wee hours to Scottish tunes, dozed in the chair next to her in the sunshine, encouraged her to cut up her food and feed herself. Mum’s nails were manicured and her hair cut by Ramona. No longer did she suffer the indignity of nappies nor having to sit in a chair in the shower. She was given bubble baths and lovingly bathed in sweet herbal soaps.

The call came in early February. My mum had had a stroke. As per her wishes, we did not intervene. She lay in a cosy bed with a cat curled up next to her, fragrant flowers emitting their scent, dogs padding around her room, the curtains shifting in the breeze and roosters crowing outside her window.

Finally, two weeks later Alice May died with Ramona holding her hand, while Amazing Grace played softly. When the undertakers came to collect my mum she was dressed in her pyjamas and cosy socks. “I didn’t want her feet to get cold on the way back to Pietermaritzburg,” said Ramona.

My mum grew up on a farm where she awoke to the sound of roosters. She died to the same sound.

Ramona and Tyrone, you allowed my mum to put custard on her chicken and for this I am eternally grateful. If am forced to walk this path, I pray to be allowed the same liberty.

 

WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?

 

• Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that causes problems with short-term memory loss and behaviour.

• In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment.

• Alzheimer’s has no current cure and current treatments cannot stop it from progressing.

 

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