On 27th March, Marina will take part in the Hunter Memory Walk & Jog with her partner, Gillian. When she does, she’ll know that her mum, Geertje, would have been quietly “proud as punch” of her.
Marina’s mum was a private person who preferred not to socialise much. Instead, she spent her time looking after the family that she loved very much. She might have shied away from all the people at Memory Walk & Jog, but she would have loved the effort her daughter has put into getting involved and raising funds for those living with the impacts of dementia - both now and in the future.
It’s clear to see how much Marina loved and admired her mum. She describes Geertje as a mum who was “always home, always looking after us” and always there for them. Despite Geertje doubting whether she was a good mum or not, Marina never did. In a letter that Marina read at her mum’s funeral - she expressed her great hope that, ultimately, Geertje understood she was an “excellent” mum.
“I hope that somewhere along the line you’ve been able to look back and say to yourself: ‘Yes, I’ve done it right.’”
Despite their differences of opinion, Marina always knew her mum did what she thought was best for her children. Perhaps that was driven by memories of Geertje’s own difficult childhood experiences. Heartbreakingly, dementia sent her back in time - forcing her to relive those bad times over and over again.
“It’s just horrible to see someone you love stuck in a part of their lives they didn’t like...Her passing was just a relief really.”
The relief Marina felt after her mum’s death was closely followed by guilt. She didn’t think she was allowed to be relieved to lose a parent. In time though, she has made some peace with her conflicting emotions.
Now, Marina is fundraising for Dementia Australia with an eye to the future. She half jokingly talks about supporting Dementia Australia “before I need them” and before her partner Gillian needs the support so many people depend on when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia. However, this speaks to a practical awareness of the rising numbers of dementia diagnoses in Australia - an awareness Marina is helping to spread and increase.
Despite living so far away from her family in Holland, Marina feels well supported by them. Their physical separation was something that they were all used to, with 18 months usually passing between visits. When Geertje’s dementia began to be noticeable though, that distance made adjusting to her mum’s condition a devastatingly abrupt experience.
“I just walked in one day and bang, she didn’t recognise me. It was hard for that to happen.”
Despite not being a people person, Geertje loved animals. Throughout her dementia, Geertje would always remember Marina’s horse, Lulu. Marina describes how during their conversations on the phone, her mum would ask about Lulu - despite the horse having died a few years earlier. Marina found a small bit of beauty in the fact that “in her mind, Lulu lived forever.”
The family had to adjust to the many changes that rippled out from Geertje’s condition. Marina remembers a positive amongst the negative - that her mum became more affectionate and personable. Marina’s dad became Geertje’s full-time carer, and seeing her dad’s life so utterly changed was incredibly difficult for Marina. Normally an outgoing and active person, his life became “restricted” and he “stopped being able to live.” Being so entwined in the care of his wife up until her last two weeks, it broke his heart when the day came to “admit defeat and put her in care.”
Geertje died from what Marina describes as “a horrible disease”, in August 2016. Marina feels that they had in fact “lost her a few years prior to that”.
“There was one moment on my last trip, before mum passed, where I looked into her eyes and saw my mother. This lasted a split second and then she was gone forever.”
Thinking back to that moment makes Marina cry every time. And she knows that “there are so many people out there who have a similar story.”
She tries to remember the good wherever she can. A few days after Geertje passed away, Marina remembers smelling the achingly familiar scent of her mum’s perfume out the front of their property. She felt it was “a sign...that she was still with me.” So as Marina joins others like her at the Memory Walk & Jog start line this March, she’ll have the comfort of knowing her mum would be behind her every step of the way.