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Robert Barron Column: Living with dementia can be heartbreaking

Some of the earliest memories of my mother were of her bent over the stove cooking away for the many children that filled her kitchen each day.
Robert’s column

Some of the earliest memories of my mother were of her bent over the stove cooking away for the many children that filled her kitchen each day.

She had plenty of her own kids — seven including me — but our friends and others in the neighbourhood always knew my tender-hearted mother would never turn anyone away at meal time, especially if they were hungry.

And there were a lot of youngsters who lived in poverty in the small outport where I spent a part of my youth who just didn’t get enough food a lot of the time, so my mother would feed them as if they were her own.

She was also a great cook, which also helped fill the kitchen table.

Our house resembled more of an orphanage a lot of the time, but I don’t recall my mother ever complaining about all the work she did every day.

That’s the sort of woman she is.

My mother, Gertrude Barron, and my dad had to move our large family to a number of new communities as I was growing up as we followed my father’s career, and she did her best to make each of them a comfortable home for us.

I always knew she’s an incredible woman, and I love her humour and the enthusiastic way she embraced life over the years.

That’s why it’s been so hard on all her children and grandchildren as we watched our now 91-year-old family matriarch deteriorating mentally and physically as dementia takes her further away from us day by day.

Just a year and half ago, she had all her mental faculties other than the occasional loss of memory (which afflicts me from time to time I should add).

She still insisted at the time on making dinner every day for whoever wanted to show up to her suite in my brother’s house, where she and my dad lived for decades before he passed away in 2018.

But then the symptoms of dementia started taking over her life and, over time, she lost the ability to cook and, much worse, she started having trouble remembering who all of us are, even though she sees us almost every day.

One of her great joys as she aged was playing cards, but even that has been robbed from her as she has forgotten the rules of all the games she once played with us.

But she still wants to play every day, so we get out the cards each evening and guide her through each card game and that makes her happy.

But in recent months, she started to wander around my brother and sister-in-law’s house in the middle of the night looking for items that she had hidden (which is a classic symptom of dementia) and has even tried to head out the front door a couple of times before, fortunately, my brother heard her moving around in the front porch and gently guided her back to bed.

That’s when we realized that we had to make one of the hardest decisions in the life of our family and began looking for a care home where mom could be properly taken care of in a place designed to deal with people with dementia.

Mom was offered a place in Eden Gardens, a care home designed specifically for the needs of residents living with dementia, in Nanaimo and we moved her in there earlier this week.

It was a difficult process as, at first, my sweet mother felt she was being abandoned by her family but, as we explained why this was best for her, she slowly began to see the logic of the move.

Fortunately, the good people at Eden Gardens are fully trained to deal with people like my mom, and they provide a facility that works to engage with her at whatever level that they can.

But we still show up each evening after work to pretend to play cards with her.

Dementia is a difficult disease to deal with and my heart goes out to others who are also facing it in their lives.

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