Home' Aurora : Aurora November 2013 Contents Regular contributor, Helene O'Neill,
shares a painful but also enriching
experience in her trademark 'tell it like it
27 across, 11 down...an 8-letter word
beginning with 'D', meaning a change in
the lives of all connected to a loved one?
Over the years, Aurora has indulged me in
sharing my journey through a battle with
anorexia, my inability to have children,
a confrontation with cancer, through to
my current role as Parish-Family Liaison
Officer at the Diocese of Maitland-
Throughout all these highs and lows,
I relied on the support of my beautiful
mother to help me find the strength to
overcome the curve balls.
But what happens when the child needs
to step up to become the mother?
When Mum turned 90 in November 2011
everyone lauded her as 'so good for her
age...any age in fact'. She was active in
the parish community at Broadmeadow;
volunteered at Vinnies Hamilton each
Tuesday; was a catechist for many years
and above all, a most stylish dresser.
But at Christmas 2011, she was rushed
to hospital with pneumonia and returned
home a different person. Her short-
term memory started to fade; she was
disoriented and almost childlike in some
of her behaviours.
Mum's greatest fear was ending her life
in a nursing home. She was placed in an
orphanage at the age of 4, following the
death of her mother, and subsequently
suffered abuse, making the thought of
returning to an 'institution' unbearable.
Her home in Broadmeadow was her
As a family, our challenge was to keep
Mum at home. But my siblings all lived
out-of-town so, with the help of my
husband Michael, I managed to get Mum
to her appointments, organise her meals
and take her on outings. I juggled life to
visit her two or three times a day.
This was my 'new' mother whom I loved
in a different but special way. She was
very funny, though she chastised me
on several occasions for not carefully
matching her colours -- "the scarf doesn't
go with my jumper" she would scold! Her
conversation was all headlines but she
loved me to fill in the detail.
Seven months into my carer's role, my
sister Elizabeth announced that she was
going to throw in her job, pack up and
move back to care for Mum. Elizabeth's
gentle nature (I was a little heavy
life leads to
BY HELENE O'NEILL
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Helene O'Neill (left) and Sheila Lennan celebrating the gift of shared life.
handed!), loving ways, and fashion sense
pleased Mum, although at times she was
a hard task mistress.
When Mum's health began to deteriorate
following two short stays in hospital, she
knew within herself that even though great
care was being provided at home, she
was in need of ongoing medical care and
perhaps a nursing home was to be her
She didn't hang round to find out.
Following a restless night, to be her last
on earth, Mum was crying out for her
mother in heaven and asked if she would
bake her a cake -- a fruit cake. Mum
closed her eyes for the last time on 7 June
Amidst all the sadness was so much
beauty. I've spent the past four months
remembering all the great times we
shared and thanking God for giving me
such a special mother. I don't know if my
grieving was textbook-style but through
my running, riding and laughing about
special 'Mum moments', I have placed her
in a sacred space in my heart.
My life has been changed forever but
Mum would want me to carry on as the
mad cyclist spreading the good news.
She always allowed me to be who I was.
And the answer to 27 across, 11 down?
Dementia. The significance of the
numbers 27 and 11 is that I was born on
Mum's birthday, 27 November. This will
be my first birthday without her but one
thing's for sure, there will be a cake cut in
heaven and on earth -- a fruit cake.
Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
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