The feeling of a memory
What happens when our most treasured memories fade away? Hopefully the feelings of those memories stay with us. And that’s just what one incredible lady, Jan, taught her daughter, Rebecca. It’s also why Rebecca devoted each Friday to her beloved mum - driving around and enjoying Jan’s favourite lukewarm mocha.
"The way people make each other feel is the lasting memory, so we did it week after week."
This special time was another memory, another feeling that Rebecca was able to create with her mum. This was after Jan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at just 67 years old.
Understanding Alzheimer’s disease
Finding out that Jan had Alzheimer’s disease created a mix of emotions in the family.
There was disappointment for her husband missing out on those golden retirement years with his wife. And there was guilt for “feeling like he was giving up on her” when they sought help.
There was also huge sadness. Jan was highly intelligent, with an amazing musical talent and a long teaching career that was only just coming to a close.
Gabbi, Rebecca’s daughter, describes coming face-to-face with dementia for the first time as “shocking”. Alzheimer’s disease affected her Nan’s speech, her ability to eat and walk, and her memory of what certain items were used for.
"It wasn’t just losing your keys, it was completely forgetting what the function of a key is." - Gabbi
When her mum began to struggle with speech, Rebecca realised it had changed “the balance of their communication.” Jan saw these changes too; so heartbreakingly, she chose to stop communicating. Her confidence was at an all time low.
Gabbi remembers a time when she and Jan would do crosswords before school, or chat passionately about books. Jan was also a brilliant pianist – regularly playing for her local church.
But all this soon stopped. As with speech, Jan preferred to avoid the things she loved but couldn’t do anymore. They were just too upsetting for her. Instead, Gabbi found new ways to keep her Nan involved in family life.
Love and learning through dementia
It was important to Gabbi that her Nan’s diagnosis wouldn’t change how she treated or loved her. She realised that their “relationship didn’t get less; it was just very different.”
Rebecca discovered this different relationship with her mum was hard and upsetting, but also “beautiful and amazing”.
"It was the next stage of our lives together as mother and daughter." - Rebecca
Rebecca got to work and said, “let’s do everything in our power to do whatever is needed”. This included partaking in education courses run by Dementia Australia. She shared this information with her Dad, helping him understand “it was the disease doing these things, not mum.”
Memory Walk & Jog: finding the positive
After they found Memory Walk & Jog, Rebecca and Gabbi formed a team of 10, called ‘Joggin’ for Jan’. Together they’ve raised an impressive $17,000 over the past seven years.
The team have become regulars at Memory Walk & Jog around NSW - finding something positive during a challenging time.
"In the midst of all the stress and hurt, there was something that we could control and share. It was an avenue of release and an avenue of education." - Rebecca
For Gabbi, it was a way to fight dementia and “tell everyone about my Nan”. That’s why she loves having their signature big balloons at each event, “because I want people to come up and ask me why we have them.”
Gabbi’s energy for Memory Walk & Jog really is infectious! As well as taking part, she volunteers. Gabbi and her partner have even dressed up as Al the Elephant (more than once!).
"I just love being there. I love volunteering too. I love organising things for Memory Walk & Jog…I just love knowing it’s all for Nan and the cause." - Gabbi
As far as she’s concerned, the more people who attend Memory Walk & Jog – the more people will begin to understand dementia and its impacts.
Rebecca and Gabbi are determined to keep raising funds for Dementia Australia in memory of their mum and Nan. They know first-hand what a huge difference money makes.
"We need to make sure there are services for people, and activities to help people with dementia to feel some self-worth." - Rebecca
Sadly, Jan passed away on the 7th of July 2017, six years after her diagnosis.
Jan’s life of love, caring and passion for learning helped her family to continue her lessons throughout a challenging time: together they learned, loved and found ways to make positive change, both in their lives and the lives of others. We’re so glad we could be part of the positive with them.