Alzheimer’s Research UK Oxford Open Day 2019 – Two Mothers Remembered – Rick Somerset-Williams


Good morning everyone. I am NOT a
scientist. I’m here today to tell you a story. A personal story about my mum, and
the story about my mum with Alzheimer’s. Many of you will know that, mums are
great, right? We all love our mums. My mum was fantastic as well. She did everything.
She was old-fashioned in that sense. My mum did the shopping, the
cleaning, she booked the holiday, she bought the
clothes, she organized us for school, she did everything for us. Not to say my dad
was lazy. My dad was the DIY man. We were so reliant on our mum. In
terms of how I describe my mum, I describe my mum as ambitious, she was really hard-working. She was actually a physio she ran a physio team
at our local hospital, Stockport hospital. She was really, really
competitive as well. My mum used to play squash, and she used to play squash
a lot. That used to really annoy my dad. Two or three
nights a week my mum would be playing squash, to the point where my dad said
“Look, enough is enough. I think you should give up squash, and you should come and
play golf with me”. That that made a lot of sense in a number of ways, so that
they could play golf together. Right up until the day that my mum beat my dad at
golf, and then it didn’t work. My mum and dad always wanted my brother and I
to settle down. It did take a while, it took a while for me to find the
right one. I’ll say that because she sat in the back there so best I say she
is the one. It took me a while. Like many
people, she desperately wanted grandchildren, unfortunately it took my
wife and I quite a long time to, having got married, to have children. We had four
rounds of IVF, and it wasn’t until the fourth round, that we went for a scan, and
remember the day where the lady said “yep, and there’s the heartbeat.” Then she said “and there’s the other heartbeat”. So we had twins which was
amazing, and I remember the day we called them up and gave them in the news, and it
was fantastic. It was about that time when my mum started to notice herself,
that things were becoming a little bit confused. Just some little signs where
she was forgetting certain things, she was she was struggling, and the main thing my
mum found was, she was struggling to find the words or names. They were the
key signs. It was during my wife’s pregnancy that that became more
obvious. I remember the day that we phoned up my mum to give her the news
that she had the grandchildren, and it was a boy and a
girl. Charlie and Isabella, who are both sat at the back there as well, and they were
over the moon. But there was a tinge of sadness, because we kind of knew by
that point my mum had been formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We
could see it was progressing. It was strange that, my brother and I particularly, kind of didn’t really understand what it was
about. You kind of always associated it with older people, really older people.
Maybe they’re just a bit confused. My mum at that time, had only just
retired, so we didn’t know what to expect. You kind of go, “I’ll be
fine right, because it’ll be a few years yet. It’ll be fine she’s just a bit
forgetful. It’ll be fine”. It wasn’t until we took
our children, our babies, up to my mum and dad’s house for the first time. We
were really looking forward to showing them, and spending a bit of time with the
parents, but also to get a night off. Because they they decided to give
us a night over in Chester so we could actually get some sleep.
The next morning, it was when we came back, and my dad said “that’s going to
have to be the last time that you leave your kids with us”. Because my mum
couldn’t cope. She couldn’t change the nappy. She didn’t know how to put the
nappy on. That for me was a, probably the the biggest moment for us.
There was a sign that my mum was really ill. Really from then on, it really got progressively worse. It was really difficult for my dad. I say it was little things, it
was lots of things. It was things like she couldn’t settle. Many
people who know people have got dementia maybe this will be something
that’s familiar. That my dad would sit and watch television. My mum would
come and sit down and she’d sit there for two minutes and then she’d
be back up. She’d be wandering off doing something.
My dad’d go and get her, ask her what’s going on. She goes “don’t know” and
then she come and sit down. The other thing, the way that my
mum dealt with it, which was particularly hard for all of us, was the fact that she
stayed quiet. Her way of dealing with not finding words. She was kind of aware, and therefore she found it really, really frustrating when
she couldn’t find the words. The way she dealt with it was just stayed quiet.
When they’d come and stay with us, my mum just wouldn’t speak. Even though you
would try and engage her in conversation, she just didn’t respond.
That was really, that was heartbreaking for us all. It was
really heartbreaking for my dad, because he’d so longed to retire and spend time
with my mum. Becasue they were active, they used to go walking, to play golf as I
said, and it was just really tough for them. Finally, to be retired and
then my mum is struggling in the way that she was. Mum got
a really aggressive form of Alzheimer’s. In a couple of years she
was markedly different. My dad he’ll be the first to say he’s not the most
patient of people. Therefore he really, really struggled. He decided he
had to care for her, for my mum, because it’s his wife. Nobody else should care
for her, he should, that’s his job as the husband. But you could tell he found it
really, really, really difficult because, my mum would just do strange
things and she wouldn’t settle. It was just really difficult for him.
Particularly, as I said, cause my mum did everything. All of a sudden my dad is
having to iron, he’s having to figure out what clothes to dress my mum in, he’s got
figure out how to cook. He’s doing the cleaning. It was
all the things that my mum did, that my dad was having to learn. He did
really well. I have to say he did an amazing job.
We decided one weekend to give him a break. He finally agreed to get a
carer in for the weekend, so that she could look after my mum and we give
my dad a break. My dad came down to stay with us. He had a good couple of
days where he would just kind of offload to us about the frustrations, and the fact that he really guilty
because he was losing his temper with her. He got so frustrated
and he just felt really guilty about that. Because he knows he’s not patient,
but he couldn’t help himself. It was on that weekend that we got the phone
call to say that my mum had had a fall, she had an infection. My dad went
back and unfortunately my mum, because of the infection she couldn’t keep
her balance. She was taken into hospital to get some treatment. She was
in there for a few weeks because, despite them treating the infection, my mum still
just wasn’t able to balance. It was it was during that time that my dad, and
the family, we all decided that it was time that she needed proper care and
that my dad couldn’t look after her anymore. Particularly because she wasn’t
mobile. We took the hard decision to put her into a home. It was probably
a few weeks after she was admitted that we got the phone call. We got the
phone call to say she passed. On the one hand, it was really upsetting
for us as a family. On the other hand, we did say maybe it was a
blessing. Because the moments of clarity that my mum had, you could tell this
wasn’t the life she wanted. In the hospital, she was refusing food.
I don’t think that was Alzheimer’s to this day. We all felt that that was my
mum saying, that’s enough, that’s enough. I’ve had enough. As hard as that is,
I look back and think thankfully
she didn’t suffer too long. Maybe she’s in a better place. It was a tough time. We gave her a good send-off. That just showed
the respect, and the friendship that she had with so many people. But
also enables us to think back about the mum as she was, not the
mum that she became. That’s why I do these things today, because it
gives me an opportunity to share her story with you. with other people. I
like talking about my mum. I like thinking about my mum. I’m a fundraiser for
for Alzheimer’s, so I do marathons and ultramarathons, which gives me plenty of
time to think of things. I often have a little chat to my mum as I’m walking
around. I’m not religious particularly, but I always think it’s nice just to have a
little chat to my mum as I’m running. That’s the way I remember her. I just wanted to share a poem with you actually, which was the
title of. Excuse me for the phone, I’m not making a phone call,
but I just wanted to read this poem to you. Because I think it’s quite
relevant, and it resonates a lot with me. This is a poem called “Two mothers
remembered” by Joann Snow Duncanson. I had two mothers. Two mothers I claim. Two
different people, yet with the same name. Two separate women, diverse by design But
I love them both, because they were mine The first was the mother who carried me
here. Gave birth and nurtured and launched my career. She was the one who
features I bear. Complete with the facial expressions I wear. She gave me her love
which follows me yet, along with examples in life that she set. As I get older, she
somehow younger grew, and we’d laugh as just mothers and sons do. But then
came the time that her mind clouded so, and I sensed that the mother
I knew would soon go. So quickly she changed and turned
into the other, a stranger dressed in the clothes of my mother. Oh she looked the
same, at least at arm’s length. But now she was
the child, and I was her strength. And if my own children should come to a day,
when a new father comes and the old goes away.
I’d ask of them nothing that I didn’t do. Love both of your fathers, as both have loved you. Thank you for listening, and thank you for letting me tell my story.

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