Dementia – Are you still there mam?

Nancy Harmer Photo 5

To all those facing the heartbreak of watching a love one with dementia, this story is for you. My heart goes out to you as I too remember the challenges, sadness and loss. Yet there is a spark of light which I held onto and it brought a joy to my heart which I carried with me until my beautiful mother was called home.

Today, I read once more about a loved ones heartbreak and I decided to share my story with you in the hope that it somehow helps, even if just a little.

Over the years I have listed to, and read, many stories about dementia and how utterly heartbreaking it is to watch our loved ones retreat into their own world where, sometimes, they no longer remember us. Or do they?

For me the most devastating moment of all came during the winter of 2003. I will never forget standing outside the door of the nursing home trying to take a moment to prepare myself to see the woman I had called mother my whole life. I smiled remembering her voice and the million times she said, not only to me, but to anyone who would listen, that from the moment I was placed in her arms she knew God had sent her a daughter. She had been the nanny in Nazareth House orphanage dedicating her entire live to loving and caring for the vulnerable and needy children in the North East. I was the child she got to keep.

My mother and I had a life filled with love, encouragement, sadness, joy, challenges just as everyone else, yet I knew as long as she was beside me there was a strength, courage and most of all unconditional love surrounding me every moment of every day. Oh how I wish I could tell her now how much that meant to me.

It was a freezing cold day during the winter of 2004 and I was sitting watching the television with her. We were holding hands as she tapped her foot along to the music on the TV. I stroked her hand and she turned to look at me, still a twinkle in her beautiful bright blue eyes. She stared at me with a puzzled expression then turned back to the TV. I remember running out of the nursing home and sitting in the car breaking my heart sobbing. I had lost her already and the pain was too much to bear.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t visit for a few days after that. The pain was simply too raw.  I received a phone call one Thursday morning to say she was fine yet not quite herself. I gave myself a good talking to and decided to go and see her straight after work. When I arrived I found myself once more near to tears and knew I had to pull myself together. Please let her know me today, I prayed. I began to wonder what she remembered, did she still remember me and the granddaughter she adored. What happened to all her memories, where were they. Surely those precious memories must still be locked inside there somewhere.

I took a deep breath and pulled myself together and made my way into the nursing home. The first thing I heard was music and singing. The previous week they’d had a singer at the home and I was shocked as I watched her singing along. I remember feeling angry. How she could remember words to a song and not me. Instantly, I felt ashamed with myself.

Today, I stood at the doorway and looked at her. She was sitting in her chair with a smile on her face and looked up as though sensing I was there. I hurried over, gave her a hug, took her hand and sat beside her as the music started again. ‘I want Dean Martin next,’ shouted Jenny one of the residents. ‘I love him, I love him, I always have,’ she said waving her arms around.

As everyone laughed I turned to see my mam’s main carer walk into the room taking her coat off for the start of her shift. She joined in the laughter then turned to my mam and said, ‘hello there Nancy, come on then spill the beans, who was the love of your life.’

There was a pause and I never took my eyes off her as she turned to look at me, a smile upon her face and she lifted her finger and pointed at me.

‘You were,’ she said. ‘You.’

I was hardly able to breath and it took me a moment to realise there were tears pouring down my face.

You see, even though I didn’t know it, somewhere inside locked away were all her memories. She remembered after all, she just couldn’t find a way to tell me.

My mother told me many stories over the years about her time looking after her little ones in the orphanage nursery but today I was remembering something she told me many years ago. I closed my eyes and it was almost as though I could hear her voice talking.

‘As we look back over our lives and remember those we have lost, for many of us there is, and always will be, a part of us that will forever hurt. A small part of our broken heart that will not heal. We may smile and laugh at the memories of times gone by, then suddenly from nowhere tears spring into our eyes and we have to close them for a moment and wait for the pain to pass. Yet, somehow I believe there is a forever magic that we can trust in.

Listen to me, just imagine there is a magic that exists inside every single person? A magic we carry within and around us throughout our whole lives until we return home. It is then the magic becomes a beautiful energy to surround the ones we have left behind.

Real magic never stops, it is always there for you to see and feel. It is when you feel at your lowest, when despair and loss threaten to break you, that the magic will be most powerful. You see, when you love someone the magic binds you together and stays there for all eternity. Souls do not lose each other when they have shared a magical journey together. On leaving the magic is merged and binds us together forever. 

Forever magic is eternal.’

I held on to these words as she made her journey home believing with all my heart that no matter what the signs were she knew me and remembered our life together.

Is there such a thing as forever magic, oh I hope so don’t you.

With love to all of you who are facing challenging times, I hope with all my heart this helps.

Suzanne Lambert






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