I have written this story in the hope that the reader may learn or take away something from our experiences
This is a story about two Mothers in the declining years of their lives
Our mothers carried us for nine months, bore us with pain, fed us, nursed us and looked after us, looked after all of our needs until we left school and beyond, without ever a murmur of complaint.
My Mother, Frieda, was born in Wellington, Cape Province, South Africa on 4th April 1915. At a later date, the family, which included her elder sister, Helene, and younger brothers Arnold and Ewald, moved to live at Somerset West. Frieda grew up by the ocean at The Strand which is part of the Somerset West area and which she loved with passion. She excelled as a scholar and was a founding pupil at Hottentots Holland High School where she matriculated with the highest marks in the Cape Province for that year. She returned to Wellington as a Mathematics and English teacher after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Cum Laude) from the University of Cape Town, gaining distinctions in Applied Mathematics, English and Latin. She then attained her Teachers Diploma at Wellington Teachers College. She also taught at Pretoria Boys High School and Victoria West High School.
At age 27 she met Bernie Kempen at a New Year’s Eve Dance at Plettenberg Bay, where they were both holidaying. According to them it was love at first sight although they were both engaged to other partners at the time. They married in Rondebosch on 1 August 1942 and settled in at Victoria West, Cape Province where Bernie was the principal partner in the legal firm of Kempen and Kempen Attorneys. Frieda remained in Victoria West for 33 years. Three children were born. Willem 1943, Julian 1949, Bernie 1952. Frieda and Bernie were profoundly affected by the passing of Julian, the middle son, at the tender age of 9, whilst they were holidaying in Italy.
As Frieda emerged from her grief she focussed all of her energy and passion to help orchestrate the financing and building of a retirement home in Victoria West. When this establishment came into being, it was named Huis Frieda Kempen in her honour. She remained very active in the ACVV (Afrikaans Christian Women’s Association) for many years, and also taught English at Victoria West High School. She also assisted Bernie in the administration of the Andries Olivier and Willie Du Toit Educational Funds which sponsored students to the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch.
After Bernie’s untimely death in 1974, Frieda moved back to the Strand in 1975, where she could be frequently seen walking briskly on the beach, every day, at the edge of the ocean, where she had played endlessly as a child.
A Long Ten Years:
My story as I recall the events of that time.
Apart from letters written I used to ring my Mother once a month to keep in touch with her. I had been living in Australia since the late 1960’s with short term visits back to South Africa in the 1970’s and early 80’s. My younger brother, Bernie, was by then resident in the USA and so both children were living away from their country of birth.
I had noticed that my Mother was starting to repeat herself in our conversations and that she was becoming forgetful. This was brought to bear when we visited her in 1989. She was starting to forget names and places and happenings. We just put it down to old age and forgetfulness as Mother was 74 years of age by then. The next few years her memory declined even more. She was still travelling to the USA every two years to visit my brother. He also noticed the decline. Mother still had her car to get around in and we thought that it might still be good for her to have some independence so that she could move around freely. However, as her memory loss was accentuating itself, she left the keys in her car one day whilst visiting her local supermarket and her beautiful Turquoise Blue Ford Cortina got stolen. The car was eventually dumped and set alight and it ended up in a Police Compound for wrecked cars somewhere. This was a most traumatic time for her and added to her frustration of not being able to remember details. Luckily we were on our way from Australia to visit her and upon arrival we were able to sort the matter out after numerous phone calls and a letter to the Police Department asking them to dump the remains of the car. The car was insured but as it was now nearly 20 years of age and due to the fact that the insurance policy had not been upgraded we arranged for a claim to be made and small payout eventually was sent to Mother’s financial trustee.
A short while after our visit Mother decided on going to visit my brother in the USA. She became extremely confused on arrival at Kennedy Airport. Kind airport staff helped her on to her flight to San Francisco. Once there she would not get off the plane. My brother was making enquiries as to her whereabouts and was soon escorted on to the plane to help her off. In the hour drive back to my brother’s house from the airport he soon realised that something was amiss. Mother was speaking in riddles and getting confused with what was in her handbag and that the money she had changed looked strange. We learned much later on that airline travel may cause the acceleration of Alzheimer’s due the air decompression within the aircraft
I received a phone call from my brother a few days after Mother had arrived in the USA. He was in the midst of writing his legal exams and was at a loss as to how to deal with Mother who was getting more confused by the day. Could I come and help? This was easier said than done. I still had an open visa for the USA but now had to obtain a visa for South Africa. Consular staff of the South African Consulate in Sydney, were their usual casual self, stating that a visa would take two weeks to process. We managed to speak with a more senior official and explained the situation and stated that if I could not obtain a visa within two days the South African Government would have to provide an escort for my mother at their expense to accompany her back to her country of origin. This seemed to work alarm bells and within two days I had procured my visa and I was on a flight out of Alice Springs in Central Australia, where we were living at the time. I had to clear Immigration and Customs at Honolulu Airport. Here I was challenged by an immigration official who stated upon perusing my passport, that I had not left the USA since 1989 and how come I was entering again. They usually do not stamp your passports on a leaving a country. I asked to see the Supervisor and this person sorted the confusion out. But then I was asked why I had only hand luggage. I had to explain what I was doing and had to furnish names and addresses and eventually I was on a connecting flight to San Francisco.
On arrival at my brother’s house I found that Mother was in a state of confusion. Between the two of us we calmed her down however. A few days ensued and soon Mother and I were on our way back to South Africa with a 15 hour stopover at Heathrow Airport out of London. That wasn’t fun! After a time travel of 37 hours we arrived back at my Mother’s apartment at the Strand in South Africa both thoroughly exhausted and my mother more confused than ever. I was to spend the next six weeks with her.
Mother woke the next morning and looked at me and said “Who are you and what are you doing in my house” My heart sank as I now knew that I would need some resilience to get through the next few weeks. Over the weeks she lapsed in and out of reality and I soon learned to choose the right time to speak with her about important matters. Once she said “Look, you can go home now. I will be fine on my own” Unfortunately I had to be firm with what I had in mind and persisted gently in getting her to acknowledge that a change was inevitable for her. On another occasion she was puzzling over something and said “This great brain is dead!”
My Mother, in her wisdom, had foreseen a time when she may need to be cared for. When she made her move to the beach side resort of The Strand, she invested in an Aged Care Home stating that she would apply to become a resident when she felt that the time was right. The new home was filled immediately and my Mother’s name was placed on the waiting list. She came to the top of the list after about ten years but kept on putting the move off. Now, 17 years later, since she made the investment, the time had come to move in. Mother was very reluctant but I coerced her in to it gently but firmly. A small room with bathroom and toilet was available immediately and we took up the offer. The room faced north with a splendid view over the Hottentots Holland Mountains. Mother would have liked to have a view of the sea but this was not possible as the building was away from the beach sheltered by other buildings on the foreshore. I pointed out that she would be able to see the cloud mantle as it drops over the crest of the mountains when the Southeaster wind was blowing.
Getting mother to sign cheques was another marathon effort and took time in explaining over and over again what needed to be done. She baulked at the admittance deposit that had to be paid to the Aged Care Facility and it took two days for her to sign the cheque. I found that I had developed a patience that I did not know I had
I hired a small Pantech truck and a day-labourer and together we moved the necessary furniture to her room. The rest of her furniture and belongings which were no longer necessary I took to an Auction House in Somerset West for sale at a later date. Then it was necessary to get Mother in to her routine at the Aged Care Home. The staff at the home, were very helpful in reminding her when meal times were. A nurse also attended her every morning to see how she was doing. One of the positives about the move was that there were friends from long ago also lodging at this same home and so Mother had a connection. I returned to her old apartment at the beach, washed the floors and cupboards, painted the walls and handed the keys back to the Real Estate agents after an inspection.
Six weeks elapsed from my time of flying out to the USA to the day I arrived back home in Australia. I was totally drained of energy and took a week to recover from trying to deal with someone whose mind no longer followed a clear pattern. With me in Australia and my brother in the USA, the next five years proved to be a trying period for both of us.
At this point in time Mother was still coherent enough to manage her own affairs. She would walk down to the closest automatic teller machine and withdraw necessary funds or do her bank investments and transfers. I would ring her once a month to see how she was getting on. After about twelve months it became apparent that Mother needed help with her financial affairs and we consulted with our attorneys and they sent a representative around to collect Mothers books and bank cards to as to regulate her income and expenditure. He arrived there in the afternoon with his son who was now in his late 20’s and made the introductions. Mother knew these people but she had not seen the son for nigh on 20 years. After they had left with all of her personal financial details and access cards, Mother panicked and started ringing me. Luckily her telephone had an automatic number saving feature and all she needed to remember was to push that button on the phone. In Australia we had been out of range with our mobile phone and as we approached Alice Springs I turned my phone on and received no less than 16 calls from Mother. She kept on saying that a chap had come to her place and had taken all her bankbooks and cards and that he had his baby son with him. Although the son was now in his mid-twenties, all she could see of him was that he was four years of age. After a number of phone calls I managed to track down the details of Mother’s visitor, who to be an employee of the legal firm who was handling my Mother’s affairs. Brother Bernie and I had discussed the need for someone to control Mother’s investments as she was now prone to be taken advantage of by others.
Bernie consulted with friends in the legal fraternity in Cape Town and a suitable administrator was found for her estate. As there was no precedent to appoint an administrator legally, we had to obtain Mother’s consent to do just that. This proved a formidable task as Mother was very cautious when dealing with legal matters. After an exhaustive preparation of legal papers Mother signed her approval and we could rest easy with the knowledge that her affairs would be cared for professionally.
I kept up my letter writing every two weeks now and rang her once a month. Bernie and I visited South Africa on an alternate year basis.
We decided that Mother needed some help with her daily needs as the Aged Care Facility did not cater for this type of personal attention. So we put the word out and a suitable ‘carer’ was employed by the administrator. This lady came in three times a week and did shopping and other duties. Mother had been left some money in her bank account so that purchases of necessary stuff could be made. Life went on.
In 1997 we arrived in South Africa on a visit and the Manager of the Aged Care facility called me in as soon as she saw me. I was told that Mother was becoming a problem as she was wandering off and becoming difficult at meal times and that the home did not have the resources to cope with people with memory loss. I asked how long this had been the case and was told that it had been so for the past six months. I said that I could have been contacted earlier but the manager said the cost was too great to ring overseas. I ignored this comment.
What to do? Mother was clearly now in a state of distress as she became very confused about things. We hired a car and drove to my old hometown of Victoria West, 700km inland from the coast. We were extremely lucky to find a room for Mother in the Old Age home that bears her name and the decision was made to move her there. I consulted with my brother in the USA who was at first hesitant to let Mother make the move but eventually he saw the logic in it. So back to the coast we went.
Now, dealing with someone who has Alzheimer’s can wear you out very quickly. We had no consultation with any Healthcare Professionals. We would not have known where to start anyway, as we were in unfamiliar surroundings. We had to fly by the seat of our pants on everything we did. Mother would ask the same question over and over again and we had to be patient and give the same answer over and over again. A lot of our doings had to be subterfuge. We had Mothers Carer pack her bags and necessities and I slipped the cases down into the car when the coast was clear. We then suggested that we take a ride in the car to see the sights and to this Mother agreed to as she liked going for a ‘Drivey’. After about an hour we were approaching the Du Toitskloof Tunnel and Mother became apprehensive of going into a dark place (although the tunnel is lit up). I suggested that she closed her eyes and think of the sea for a few minutes and that way we averted a potential problem. But Mother was becoming agitated and so we suggested morning tea soon and luckily a roadside café loomed into view in the nick of time and we stopped for refreshments.
After leaving our morning stop Mother was alert enough to the fact that we were still moving away from the coast and questioned our motives and so we started espousing a little holiday in the country and that we would go and stay the night at the Lord Milner Hotel at Matjiesfontein, a place renowned for its opulent bedrooms and fine dining. Matjiesfontein is a unique little historic Victorian village at the Railway Siding comprising only a few residents. It was founded in 1884 by the Scottish railwayman James Douglas Logan. It was originally an outpost of the British Empire and Post Office and Loading place for sheep farmers in the surrounding country. This settled Mother down for a while and she enjoyed the scenery of the Matroosberge as we sped past on the N1. The evening at the Hotel was superb and Mother enjoyed herself but we had to order for her as she was not used to eating out.
The next day we kept on heading north and Mother was relaxed until the afternoon when she started asking difficult questions again. Luckily we reached the guest farm of Melton Wold Guest Farm about 30km to the west of Victoria West by mid-afternoon, and settled Mother down in a nice room. That evening I asked her if she would like a Whiskey….her favourite evening drink……and she said “Oh yes, if I am allowed to”
The following day we went into Victoria West to familiarise Mother with her surroundings. That maybe was not a good idea as Mother became disturbed by historic events. We were falling around and tumbling through space trying to figure out how to approach Mother in a kind and calming way and giving her pleasing answers. At Bernie’s grave she said “No one let me know he had died” and at Julian’s grave and that of Aunt Vera and Uncle Lex she did not know who they were. We took Mother for lunch at the Motel and then to sit quietly in the Lounge at Huis Frieda Kempen so that I could go and organise to get her furniture and belongs from The Strand.
I grew up with most of the business people in town and knew them well. Despite this I was unable to hire a vehicle anywhere. I eventually borrowed a ute (bakkie) from Shorty MacIntosh, a chap who used to work for the company I managed some years before, and a trailer from Besters Garage. The trailer was designed to carry motorbikes and did not have a spare wheel! And there was none to be had. Andre Bester said that they had never had an issue with the trailer and that the wheel-bearings were fine and it should work without hassles! The ute had a cracked windscreen and I wondered how I was going to explain myself should the Traffic Constabulary stop me. Then I found out that the ute didn’t have a jack. I borrowed one from a friend. As it turned out I had a successful 1500km run there and back without any issues with the ute or the trailer, even though I managed to load about two ton of furniture and personal gear onto the two vehicles.
At the Aged Care Home they looked at me in awe as I moved the furniture down from Mother’s room on the second floor and loaded the ute and trailer. I had hired a day labourer that I knew and after arriving there at 8am we had the room cleared by 11am and ready for the handover of keys. Luckily I did not have to clean the room as a contractor would be brought in to clean and refurbish it.
While this was happening Judith was out at Melton Wold supervising Mother. By all accounts Mother was very good and listened to what Judith asked of her. We thought that she may have thought that Judith was a nurse.
I was back in Victoria West the following day and unloaded the furniture into Mother’s new room and set it up in the same fashion as her old one. The following day we brought her to her new abode telling her that she would be staying here for a holiday. As we approached the building she said “What is my name doing up there on the front of the building”. We had to tell her but she shook her head in disbelief and said that she didn’t remember. Once in her room she said “I have a carpet just like this one and the TV is similar as well”.
Mother settled in quite well but as her mind was becoming more befuddled we employed a Carer to be with her on a daily basis between 8 am and 5pm. At Huis Frieda Kempen, she was among old friends, where she received very attentive, excellent and compassionate care for the remaining time of her life.
As we drove out of town back to the city and the airport the tears welled up in my eyes as I knew I would never see her again
She passed away on the sixth day of September 1999 at the age of 84 years and 5 months and 2 days, relieved from the terrible time she had to endure.
One of her two wishes in life, was to see Halley’s Comet as it had appeared last in the year that she was born in. This she saw with great glee and excitement in 1986. The other one was to see in the new millennium. Unfortunately she passed on just 4 months short of that event.
Frieda will be remembered for
Her infectious laugh
Her non-judgemental and compassionate attitude towards all who crossed her path
Her love for travel, car drives, astronomy, sport, and her ability to quote poetry at length.
Her love of intellectual challenges, mathematical formulas, cryptic crossword puzzles and endless Scrabble Games
Her unwavering, and unstinting support and devotion to her children.
She chose to be cremated and a plaque in the Garden of Remembrance, in Pinelands, Cape Town, reads
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
FRIEDA AUGUSTE KEMPEN
APRIL 4.1915-SEPTEMBER 6.1999
WIFE AND BEST FRIEND OF
BERNIE JOHANNES KEMPEN
WILLEM, JULIAN, BERNIE
A KINDRED SPIRIT OF LOVE AND DEVOTION
A similar stone plaque was placed on the grave of Bernie Kempen, in the New Cemetery at Victoria West.
My Mother, Edith, was an exceptionally talented person and had a flair for dressmaking and cooking. In later years she and my Father, Keith, bought land by the sea at Anglesea, Victoria and built and sold a number of houses. Mother was a precise and calculating person who knew what she wanted and did everything to perfection.
I was an only child. Of course I cannot fathom what my Mother’s mood was when I was born but she had psyched herself up that the baby was going to be a boy and his name would be Geoffrey Richard. She was bitterly disappointed when I was born and refused to discuss a name with my Father. I think she had Post Natal Depression but those conditions were not recognised in those days. My Father and my Grandfather eventually went to register me and came up with the name of Judith Louise. Then they realised that this was the name of a well-known racehorse and so they changed it to Judith Kay.
I had a happy childhood and upbringing and my Mother and I were best friends. Then I moved away from home, met Willem in Darwin, Northern Territory and we got married at the end of June 1969. My Mother and Father declined to come to the wedding as my Father said that he had work commitments at that time. My Mother never forgave me for doing her out of a wedding.
A short time later we got itchy feet and I wanted to show my husband off to the family and we drove south in a battered old Volkswagen Beetle. My Mother took an instant dislike to Willem and that carried on for many years. I stayed in contact with my Mother but she kept her distance from me. My Mother and Father retired to the Gold Coast in 1977. We saw them on a few occasions when we were living in Surfers Paradise. We also stayed with them for a few days in 1982 on a visit to the coast from the Northern Territory.
In 1990 my Father passed away from cancer. We were in the Northern Territory and I had wanted to come down to the Gold Coast to see him, but my Mother stopped me from doing so. She did not even let me know when my Father passed away. My Aunt rang to tell me and made arrangements for me to come to the funeral.
Life went on but Mother shunned me and returned Birthday cards and letters with Address Unknown written on them. So I made sure that I kept up to date with what she was up to through her younger brother Bob, as he was in contact with her periodically.
Out of the blue in 2006 she made contact with me as there were devastating fires about in South Australia where we were living now. I tried to pick up the thread again with Mother but she returned my letters again. Then in mid-2007 I started receiving phone calls from Mother who sounded in real distress and talking gibberish about the Second World War and other things. I was due to have a knee replacement and so I rang and conferred with Uncle Bob. He had also been receiving disturbing phone calls from her. Uncle Bob then, at the age of 79, decided to drive 2000 kilometres up to the Gold Coast to see Mother. His report was not good stating that she seemed very confused.
A Long Seven Years:
We started making arrangements to see what we could do for Mother through the Alzheimer’s Association and our 7 year nightmare started. Letters and phone calls to health care professionals flowed freely. Mother had not made any provision as far as we knew for Power of Attorney to any family member or friend if something went wrong. Eventually we drove the 2000 kilometres to the Gold Coast. Mother was herself just like she was years ago. Cocky and assertive but we soon learned from her conversation that the brain was out of order and that something had to be done soon. We had spoken to all of her neighbours who told us various crazy stories about Mother wanting them to keep her jewellery and other valuables. At one stage she dug a hole in the garden to bury her pearls. We saw her Doctor who told us that he was of the opinion that she was well into the first stages of Delusional Dementia. He had taken her licence off her the year before as she had a slight accident involving another vehicle. After her vehicle was repaired, her local RSL, where my father was a Member, came and removed the car and sold it for her. She told us they stole it. We learned too that Mother would ring the Palm Beach Police Station stating all types of wild accusations against neighbours or people who visited her. Here we had to make peace with the Police but they were very understanding and had been willing to go around to the house and talk with Mother even if she was not coherent.
So with all our notes and visiting the Alzheimer’s Association and the Mental Ward at South Port Hospital and also obtaining the papers to apply to be Administrator and Guardian for Mother from the Queensland Tribunal, we set off home again worried as hell but were helpless to do much at that stage. Mother had not made provision for an Enduring Power of Attorney document or an Enduring Power of Guardianship.
And so it all started. I applied to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal to be my Mother’s Administrator and Guardian. The machinations of the government machine started rolling….slowly. I asked the family, that is Uncle Bob, Mother’s younger brother and Uncle Jack (Mother’s twin brother) and my cousins to become involved in the process with me, but only Uncle Bob accepted. Emails, letters, phone calls and video links that did not work were now the order of the day. I was appointed Administrator but not Guardian in January 2008 via a telephone hook-up to QCAT. I was still trying to organise my life to cope with all of Mother’s personal life when I had a phone call at the beginning of February to say that Mother had run out of her house in a distressed state at 4am in the morning and had woken the neighbours. They took her in and pacified her and then called an ambulance. Mother was taken to the Mental Ward of the Robina Campus Hospital on the Gold Coast.
On the same day I was appointed Administrator of my Mother’s financial affairs but not a Guardian as they deemed I was a Guardian automatically as I am an only child. The latter proved to be a thorn in my side for a while. We packed the car and drove the 2000km to the Gold Coast.
Now came a frantic few weeks trying to arrange accommodation for Mother. We were in contact with a number of Health Agencies and they were all very helpful. We had no idea of where we would find accommodation and we also had no idea of Mother’s financial state. So first of all we had to approach her bank to see what Mother’s state of affairs was. We followed the money trail from there and found out that Mother had good investments that may be applied to see her through her remaining years in a care facility. But of course we did not know where to place Mother? First we had to had a meeting with the on duty Doctors at the Mental Ward. I had seen Mother and she wasn’t too receptive. Needed the key to her house so that we could get access should we need to. I told her I was going to get her some clean clothes. She agreed.
At a round table meeting with us there were two Doctors, two nurses and a health care specialist. All were discussing what to do. Our hearts sank when the health care specialist said Mother was coherent enough and could go home as she thought that Mother was quite capable of looking after herself. Luckily the Doctors overrode this and the rest of us agreed that Mother needed to be placed in an aged care facility. After the meeting were introduced to a lady who kept her eyes open for vacancies in aged care facilities. She said there were possibly rooms available in government run homes but we did not like that idea. We needed her to be placed in a private facility. She said that she would look out for us. The urgency was that Mother had already been a week in the hospital and the administration told us that they needed her out to make way for more serious patients
On the way back to the motel we were pondering on what our next move would be with a million things running through our trains of thoughts. Suddenly the phone rang and the lady from the hospital told us that there was a room available in the Secure Ward of Bangalor Retreat at Bilamil Heights, Tweed Heads West, in New South Wales, just across the border. We were over the moon with this news and changed our direction to go and see the manager of this place. Realising that the home was in New South Wales and Mother lived in Queensland we rang the Tribunal first to see if this was going to be possible. The senior manager said that this was all OK and gave his blessing. This was to be proved otherwise later on.
Yes, the room was available and yes, we could do an inspection. We did just that and decided that this place, which looked more like a Casino, would suit Mother. It had a private library, movie theatre and hairdresser and two lounges on this floor with sweeping views over the Tweed River and further out, the sea. We went back to see the Manager and to find out what this was going to cost. Luckily we had done some research on entry prices to aged care facilities and knew that the price would be high. The cost came to $250,000 for the bond and the residential fee was around $2000 per month. A deposit of $20,000 was needed. I agreed to the terms and was so nervous writing out such a big cheque. When the contract was available to be signed an hour or so later Willem went though it thoroughly as he has experience with contracts. He soon saw that a timeline of 21 days was set for the bond money to be paid. We were worried that if Mother’s house was no sold by then we might be in a pickle as we did not want to liquidate some of the investments. So Willem negotiated for a 60 day time frame and the Manager agreed to that. After corrections I signed the document and then rang the hospital advising that we had a place for Mother to go to. Everyone was pleased. We said we hoped to be ready in two days. Two days?
Next morning we decided that we should sort the furniture out for Mother’s room and we booked a Taxi Truck which duly arrived with two young blokes to move the furniture. We were lucky that there was one available at that moment and by 2pm Mother’s room was ready to be lived in. It was a nice cosy room with an en-suite and access to a small garden in an enclosed courtyard. So, with a day we were able to ring the hospital and tell them the news and they then told us they would deliver Mother and stay with her for an hour while she was settling in. I had decided not to be there but to come the following day as if nothing had happened and to stay clear of any questions about the house as her disturbed mind might go into freefall.
On the way to Bangalor Retreat, Mother apparently said, “I don’t like this, where are we going?”
It so happened that when Mother was admitted to Bangalor Retreat, the owner was there and happed to meet her in the front foyer. He took her hand and kissed it and said “Welcome to my Palace, Mrs Johnston”. Mother melted and did a curtsy.
Our next task was to put Mother’s house on the market. I engaged a very well-known and reputable Real Estate Agency and the Salesman came around soon after to nut out what we thought would be a good price. He left with all the details and my instructions. As there was still furniture left in the house and we would have to take most of it to the rubbish tip as Charity Organisations would not have wanted it, we decided that we would buy a trailer and take the majority home. But our little car did not have a towbar fitted so that had to be organised first. Around $2000 later we had a trailer on the back and ready to load.
Mother was not receptive to me on my first visit there. I asked if she liked her new surroundings and she was amiable enough to that but on the whole she was angry. Not much I could do about that but to smile, give her a hug and leave. It was very disconcerting but there was no other way for this to happen.
So it was back to Mother’s house where we engaged with the neighbours and gave them all the updated news. One neighbour came over with a bag full of jewellery which Mother had given to her. Then we started packing the trailer.
We visited Mother a number of times to settle her in but she was not happy and very confused. From this moment onwards I had a close relationship with the telephonists on the front desk of Bangalor Retreat. The staff of the retreat, were at all times very professional and would call me if anything untoward happened with Mother. I made sure that they all received nice Christmas Gifts every year such as biscuits and chocolates.
We hit the road for home over two and a half days taking it easy but still driving long stretches.
Mother was a difficult patient in the beginning. It took the home and doctors a fair while to get her on the right medication to keep her calm as she was very confused. The staff nurtured her and cared for her and we had just started cruising with good outcomes for all when My Uncle Jack, Mother’s twin brother, passed away. Not long afterwards his eldest son, my cousin made his way to the Gold Coast to ‘care’ for my Mother. What followed was two years of pure hell for us.
Mother was coherent at times at suddenly took to my cousin who used his father’s name to wriggle his way into her heart. He had met Mother in 2006 for the first time and on that occasion the meeting was not a success. Mother, now firmly living in the past and especially the Second World War, thought that her nephew was her brother. He concocted a plan to rescue her from this horrible place. She immediately said that she would leave all her money and her house to him. He got very excited and took her to a Solicitors office to have new Will drawn up. When it came to describing her assets Mother said she had a house and $5000 in the bank. But she could not describe the bank or where the house was. The Solicitors then suggested my cousin take her to Specialist Psychiatrist to have her assessed for dementia. Suddenly phone calls were coming in from people we did not know asking questions. The next thing my cousin found out which bank Mother had banked at and took her there and tried to withdraw $10,000 from her account. The staff on duty knew that someone else had total control of the account and as the Bank Manager wasn’t there as it was her lunch hour they gave him and Mother $1000. Next thing that happens she bank clerk gives Mother a print out of an account and my cousin rushes over to Brisbane the next day and taking Mother with him to lay a complaint against me accusing me of spending too much of Mother’s money. Then he asked for a review of my appointment as Administrator and then tried to get himself installed as Administrator. He somehow accessed Mother’s Will and spoke about its contents to other family members. Soon after he made application to be Mother’s Guardian in New South Wales as In Queensland I had not been appointed Guardian as it was prescribed that as I was an only child that I was automatically Mother’s Guardian. Of course Mother was living in New South Wales a very short way across the border from Queensland. All her assets were in Queensland. What followed was no less than eight Tribunal Hearings four of which we attended personally. The others were via phone link-ups. Needless to say we were able to thwart his efforts and gain control of all the necessary positions to make Mother’s life comfortable. But it took a lot of time out of doing other things and two trips to Sydney and two trips to the Gold Coast. Mother had been aggressive towards me in all this time and it was very distressing. Then, after the last Tribunal Hearing, and back at home with life settling down again, the phone rang one day. It was Mother, who apologised to me profusely for being nasty to me. It seems that Mother’s medication had been changed and that she now had a new working carer who fussed over her. She loved that lady
After that life settled down again. Two years of relative hell and worry we did not need to endure. The problem is that if a person lays a complaint against another person who is acting as administrator to an estate, the public servants are obligated to initiate a hearing and a review. No sooner had our lives settled down again when my Cousin asked me to pay all of his expenses while he was flitting around the Gold Coast taking mother here and there with Hire Cars, solicitor’s fees, Psychiatrists fees etc. I refused and eventually after another year of this hanging over my head, I was forced by the Queensland Tribunal to setlle the account through a Mediator. He got less than half that he had claimed for and had to sign a declaration that he was not allowed to make another claim against the estate. Life slowed down after this
When Mother turned 88 we were there with a big cake which we shared with all the ‘residents’ of Bergonia Ward. A good time was had by all. We visited Mother once a year and stayed for a week. The time with her was pretty stressing, as she was slowly regressing. She had moments of brilliance when she would remember a quote or a saying but overall I could not last much more than an hour at a time with her and her three fellow ‘residents’ at her table. Mother was the ‘Queen’ of Bergonia Ward and would stamp her authority when a stranger wanted to sit at her table…even if the seats were free. “Go away” she would say “ I have visitors coming”. At morning tea all the oldies in the ward would shuffle in or be helped in by the nurses and carers. Some were very far gone and could not communicate at all. They would get their morning pill which the carers had to make sure the oldies would take. Mother would hide them in her walker. They would get a piece of cake or biscuits. If the piece of cake looked too small for Mother she would exclaim her favourite saying “It’s not right, you know!” But there was always a second cake somewhere. The staff were very caring.
Mother has the inclination to look the best at all times and even at 89 she was still wearing High Heel shoes. But then she fell and broke her hip. So we threw our gear in the car, helped old Jeddah the dog into the car and off we went to the Gold Coast. Along the way we get a phone call from the specialist asking for permission to operate. I give my permission. Then the next day another phone call to say that the operation was successful and that Mother has no arthritis in her joints. We arrived at the John Flynn Medical Centre in Queensland across the border with New South Wales the day after the operation and in the morning. Mother is stressed out and won’t eat because she is confused. Only I go in the room to console here. She doesn’t know who I am. I have to tell her but she says she did not have children as she was never married. My heart tears in two. I hold her hand and a nurse comes in and Mother introduces me as a friend. So be it. We visit again in the afternoon and things have changed. The Home had sent a carer down that my Mother recognises and feeds her and calms her down. At the next morning’s visit Mother is chirpy, recognises me and Willem and is relatively happy. She is not sure why they had changed her room around but I tell her that she had an accident and that she is in hospital but she doesn’t believe me. She keeps on scratching her hand and even opening up the skin and also pulling her drip out. The hospital staff, seem to be at their wits end, and ask me for guidance and I reply that I don’t know other than to give her a sedative and then to cut her nails short. This they did but when the sedative wore off, Mother still pulled the drip our and tore the skin on her hand. So she had to have stitches put in and her hand wrapped up with multiple layers of dressing. They then also bound her other hand in dressing and this worked. Two days later Mother was due to be transferred from the Hospital back to her room at Bangalor Retreat but as she was living in New South Wales a New South Wales ambulance was required as the Queensland Ambulance Service would not take her there. Eventually this was sorted and Mother returned to her home. We stayed another week just to settle Mother in and did twice a day one hour sessions with her as she recovered. The bandages came off and Mothers hand healed again and so did her new hip. She was walking again 5 days after her operation. We drove home
I would ring Mother once a week on a Thursday morning while she was still bright. Some days she would ask me about my chooks at the bottom of the garden and other days she would make me cry when she would not know who I am. On 20th July 2012 Mother turned 90 and we arrived and bought the biggest cake you have ever seen. The icing on the cake read:
Mother still wondered who I was but played along with the birthday theme as she was the centre of attention. We stayed a week and then took off to northern destinations to relieve ourselves from the stress caused by these visits.
We visited Mother again in 2013 on her 91st birthday before continuing on with a camping holiday. At Xmas of that year I had a feeling that Mother’s time was approaching and so we made plans to go to Canberra to see some exhibitions there and then drive along the Great Dividing Range all the way to the Gold Coast taking in some back-roads and visiting friends as well. We stayed at our usual Motel at Chingera and visited Mother for a week. She was her usual self with lots of fuss and pretence and not quite knowing who we were. She ate like a horse but weighed barely 50kg and I could see her decline.
I was pleased that I had made the effort to see Mother on last time as I had a feeling in my bones. On 7th March 2014 I received a phone call to say that Bangalor had sent Mother to the hospital for a check-up as she was coughing. The hospital sent her back again two days later with the news that she had pneumonia. I rang and spoke with her in that day and she was quite lucid. We had a good old chinwag and at the end of the conversation she said “I love you”.
The next day I was about to call her when the phone rang. Mother had had her lunch, and was sitting in her chair when she just gave a gasp and passed away. She had lived for 91 years, 7 months and 18 days.
It was just the two of us at her funeral
Her ashes lie next to that of my Father’s in the Returned Services League’s Garden of Remembrance in the Tweed Heads Memorial Gardens Cemetery
Her epitaph reads…..
IN LOVING MEMORY
EDITH MAVIS DOREEN JOHNSTON
20.7.1922 – 10.3.2014
BELOVED WIFE OF KEITH
DEARLY LOVED MUM OF JUDITH
TOGETHER AGAIN FOREVER
NOTE: Both our Mothers shut themselves off from social contact in their later years.
They became solitary beings with their own thoughts and memories and maybe demons.
Please remind your parents to sign an Enduring Power of Attorney form and Enduring Power of Guardianship form.
These forms can be obtained at Post Offices or selected Government offices in your state