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| Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle | www.mn.catholic.org.au
WHEN JUDY* AND Stan* married in
Germany in 1946, it was a decisive
step in putting a terrible war behind them
and beginning a new life. After the births of
their daughters, Irene and Krys, they made
the momentous decision to sail to Australia
on the steamship "Nelly", arriving in 1950.
Irene, now aged 64, recalls that "their only
possession was a timber chest, which now
lives in my art studio". Judy and Stan's
third child, Joseph, was born at Greta
Migrant Camp in 1952.
Irene takes up the story: "To pay for the
passage to Australia, Dad was contracted
to work on the railway for two years in
Wollongong. Mum worked as a cleaner so
that we could attend a Catholic school. In
1953 Mum and Dad bought a block of land
at Glendale and built a garage, divided into
three rooms, and we lived there. In 1958
my parents moved to Maryville where they
remained for some 53 years."
Stan worked as a railway shunter until he
retired at 65. He loved fishing and would go
at least three times a week. Judy worked
cleaning houses, developing close bonds
with those who employed her.
The couple enjoyed dancing, going to the
club with friends and most of all, spending
time with their seven grandchildren and
sixteen great grandchildren. They led a
simple but happy life together.
As Irene recalls, "Dad was diagnosed
with macular degeneration in 2001, aged
78. This motivated him to make sure his
legal paperwork was in order and that was
a good thing. Within six months he was
classed as legally blind. This was a blow for
him as his eyesight had been very good. In
2004 Dad was hospitalised for five weeks
with heart problems. At the same time he
was diagnosed with onset dementia. Social
workers advised Mum to put Dad in a care
facility but Mum wouldn't hear of it. She
insisted that Dad came home."
The Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT)
visited their home, and installation of bed
posts, a bed triangle, commode and toilet
frame followed. Services such as home
care and Meals on Wheels were also
provided. Sons-in-law Jim and Tony arranged
hand rails where they were needed, looked
after the lawns and maintenance.
However, as Irene explains, "My mother
cancelled Meals on Wheels after a short
time as she didn't like the food, so I cooked
at least three meals a week for them.
Every day before work I would visit to make
sure they were all right. My sister and I
shared the shopping, I paid the bills and
ran other errands."
Judy remained adamant that she and Stan
would not go to an aged care facility, but
by 2009 it was apparent that she wasn't
coping, even with the help provided. In
February 2010 a crisis occurred and respite
care had to be organised for Stan.
"We were lucky to get respite care at
Wallsend Aged Care Nursing Home, so
Krys and I took Dad there under the guise
of taking him to hospital. This was one of
the hardest times in our lives. Within two
weeks Dad was in permanent care, as Mum
just couldn't cope anymore. Today, she
weighs only 34 kilos and is very frail."
An issue for Judy, and therefore for
her family, was the differing cultural
expectations in Europe and Australia.
Th European tradition was for family
members to look after the elderly.
Within months of Stan moving into high
care, Judy began to deteriorate, but she
remained determined to stay in her own
home, with her daughters looking after
her. As so often happens, her daughters
were also wives and grandparents, so
there were demands from all quarters. It
was a struggle to convince her that she
needed help. Eventually Irene called the
ACAT but the only help accepted was
home care and showering. The ACAT
Team assessed Judy as needing hostel
care. She could no longer dress herself
or comb her hair, she had great difficulty
walking and had started to sleep in the
lounge room. Krys and Irene took turns
visiting Mum daily.
Irene explains, "The crunch came when
Krys' husband died unexpectedly on New
Year's Eve, 2010. I then had the sole
responsibility of caring for Mum for five,
sometimes seven hours a day. I was very
concerned about Mum being home on her
own at night. By February I was struggling
to keep going and rang the ACAT Team.
They said that Mum had two care packages
waiting for her, but Mum refused them. In
desperation I made an appointment with
Mum's doctor, who was very aware of the
situation. He organised respite care the
following week, although he took nearly an
hour to convince Mum to accept it. Mum
was very unhappy with the doctor and me
for a few weeks. Within weeks we were able
to secure a permanent place.
"Most importantly, Mum is now very content
and regards the hostel as her home. I will
be forever grateful to her doctor for all his
help. The family is also reassured that
Mum is very well cared for and safe."
"Because Mum and Dad had refused to
make any decisions with regard to aged
care, they are now in separate facilities, but
I do take Mum (in a wheelchair) to visit Dad
when he is well enough."
Despite the sadness of this situation, there
are lighter moments. Irene says that an
elderly male resident helps her mother get
to the dining room and so on. Members
of staff occasionally call out in jest, 'How
is your boyfriend going?' Mum calls out,
'He is not my boyfriend, my boyfriend is in
Wallsend Aged Care.' Yes, it would have
been easier for both my parents to be
in the same facility but they both have
excellent care and that is all that matters."
As this difficult journey has unfolded for
Irene and her family, she has often felt
guilty, despite her valiant efforts to care for
both her parents at home for as long as
possible. "The consequences for the carer
are enormous - not being able to tell Mum
that she is now in permanent care, having
to sell the family home to pay for the bond,
emptying the house is something that you
never really get over. Although now Mum
is aware that the family home had to be
sold and she has told me that she is very
relieved that I don't have to worry about
looking after it."
Irene makes a telling observation when
she says that many services concentrate
on ways to keep those suffering dementia
in their own home. Once that is no longer
possible, "I found myself very alone at
the time of needing help, after Mum and
Dad had moved into care facilities. Finding
respite, and then a permanent place, with
all the emotion entailed, is not easy.
"I don't know what I would have done
without my faith, although I do admit that I
have questioned it on numerous occasions.
Dad's dementia has deteriorated - to see
him pacing up and down the foyer, so lost
and frustrated, often forgetting that he is
blind - you wonder why, why? The sadness
"I am so grateful to my dear husband, my
family and my wonderful friends - without
their support, words and prayers this
journey would be so much harder.
"We are only one family going through this
sadness, but there are so many, many other
families going through the same and even
*Anglicised versions of their Polish names.
For assistance, you may wish to visit:
The Department of Health and Ageing:
Dementia Care Australia:
Alzheimer's Australia NSW:
The Hunter Dementia and Memory
Resource Centre is at 2 Percy St Hamilton
2303, P 4962 7000
to happy lives
Dementia Awareness Week begins on 16 September, and in recognition of the
growing numbers of people affected, directly or indirectly, by dementia,
Aurora invited Irene to share the story of her ageing parents.
By TRACEY EDSTEIN
Sad final chapter
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