Family & Alzheimer’s: a sad tale

Something that’s become a little lost as the Epic unfolded and took control is it’s not the reason I came to Australia. I came to Australia to spend time with my father before Alzheimer’s takes him away forever.

My Lovely Dad

I came too to heal wounds ancient and establish durable foundations for relationships with the rest of my family. With Alzheimer’s chewing away at my fathers’ brain the sole link I have to the rest of my family has ended. I don’t know how often per year I called my father. Somewhere between once a month and once a quarter. No one ever phoned me from Australia. Certainly not proactively or spontaneously. No out of the blue contact at all. Not even emails. The only way I had any grasp of what my brother is up to or what’s happening to my sister or even my mother was what little my father gleaned from what little contact he had with his first born son and his daughter. Arguably I had more contact with my father through phone calls and emails from the other side of the world than he did with his other children within an hour’s drive from his house.

My parents split up in the mid-70s following a protracted bitter war waged in full unremitting view of their three kids. Add a bankruptcy and The Great Australian Dream came crashing down. Father went off to ‘find himself’ through psychotherapy and mom was left to pick up the pieces.

The war the bankruptcy the breakup the post-breakup period defined the family and left indelible marks on us all. Cob ran away to the farm. Lea became obese long before obesity was fashionable. And I buried myself in academia, using my education as a foundation for a nomadic life that continues today. Simplistically the family settled with mom, Cob and Lea on one side of the fault-line. With Baz remarried to Roz and I on the other.

My estrangement from my mother became codified in the immediate post-breakup period and decades pass without any contact between us. A few half-hearted attempts at reconciliation never addressed the key issues, the proverbial Elephants in the Room, which lay between us.

Post-Epic then I wish to spend time with my father, address the Elephants in the Room with my mother and establish mutually rewarding relationships with my brother and sister. And plan my future. During this time I’ll stay with my dad and Roz with the odd short trip on Dreamer to keep in shape.

That was the plan anyway.

Heading down the 13%-er of the Back Lane. Joe, being excited, tends to pull Baz all over the place. I was terrified of a fall, which fortunately did not happen

The last and only time I ‘lived’ with Baz and Roz was for a six month period mid-1979 (or was it 1978), in Parkerville. It got me out of the embittered world which was Mount Helena where I lived with mom and sis. It hurt a lot when Baz and Roz headed north to Fitzroy Crossing mid-late 1979 and I had to return to Mount Helena whilst I finished school. Eighteen I moved out of Mount Helena for the city of Perth and university and never went back. I left Australia early 1989, returning on average twice a decade with the longest stay, always with my father, being ten days.

I can’t say my family is particularly welcoming. Baz and Roz lived and continue to live in an insular world. The kids and grand-kids don’t come around for overnights or long weekends. They don’t spend extended periods staying at the homes of the kids and grand-kids. There’s not a vibrant social life circulating through my father’s house and never has been. Friends are few and from recent times. Consequently they are not used to sharing space. They have their world, well-honed and structured and a large hairy smelly energetic adult male disrupts this. Significantly. The Irresistible Force slamming into the Immovable Object.

It was one of the main reasons for me to spend a couple of nights with Wil and Jen when my Epic finally took me to Perth.

Baz was the Active One in the household, pre-Alzheimer’s. Roz had her career as a psychologist. But that’s all changed now. Baz is a three year old. And Roz is now his carer. She runs the house. Technically it makes her responsible for shopping, cleaning, the garden, the cars, finances, all maintenance and upkeep. She manages one day a week of work. It’s not for the money as much as to give her a break, keep her connected to the world outside the house.

The house is a mess. Cobwebs and daddy-long leg spiders everywhere. Thick layers of dust on any surface not used frequently. Random boxes full of things from the remains of vacuum cleaners, to magazines and books long since out of date. Possums living in the roof. Ants nests in places you don’t want them. Intermittent mouse-plagues. Leaves and detritus from the huge eucalypts covering the walk-way, patio and veranda. Junk piled up on every horizontal service, electronic devices gently degrading in various nooks and crannies, cupboards full of strange items which once made perfect sense to Baz but now are a mystery.

Baz with Trixie (dark) and Joe (light). And the Glen Forrest Super Block. One of the few times Baz leaves his refuge. And then only if with someone. His world has shrunk to the pinprick of his house and his garden

Frankly it’s awful. The leaves and detritus need sweeping up two or three times a week. Yet I’ve not seen Roz pick up a broom. All the old electronic devices, the defunct vacuum cleaners, the boxes of magazines, the interminable nick-knacks whose utility is now long past could simply be thrown out.

Back to simplistic judgments. Roz is new to this role. She’s sixty. Old Dogs do struggle to Learn New Tricks. She’s never been an active ‘doer’ and her tolerance for ‘mess’ vastly exceeds mine.

I on the other hand are an active doer and my tolerance for mess is pretty low. I offer to help and we come up with a basic plan. A run to the tip. My first ‘run to a tip’ (landfill) since the late 1970s. I’ll need to drive a car, Baz’s 1999 Ford Falcon Futura (Mondeo in Europe) towing a trailer. Oh Boy. This should be fun.

Problem Number One is … the Futura does not run. It needs a new alternator. A new alternator fitted by a qualified mechanic would cost almost half the value of the Futura. Roz is keep to divest herself and the household of the hassle of having the Futura. She’s not going to put more good money after bad in keeping it running. I’ll have to source a second-hand alternator and fit it myself.

I’ve owned two cars in my entire life, separated by a cool thirty-two years. Both Toyotas. Combined length of time of ownership is five years. Nothing major ever went wrong with the cars and I sold both to buy bicycles. I did not master automotive mechanics working on my cars.

Here it gets tricky. I am to clean up the yard, sort various waste streams for disposal at a landfill, source an alternator and fix the Futura, and drive the Futura pulling a trailer to the landfill. All of which were the hallowed domain of my Father, who has Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s an insidious disease. It’s robs my father of being the man he used to be, of being the father I used to know and love. Love him still do I. But this is a shell of the man the father I grew up with.

Alzheimer’s removes a sufferer’s cognitive abilities, cultural and social etiquette. In a way it has reduced my father to his true nature, allowing his ‘real’ opinions to rise and be voiced. Brutally honest is a way to think of it. It’s an illuminating experience.

Each day is a new day for Baz. The world large and vaguely hostile. Little wonder His Castle is His Domain. His last refuge

My father’s world encompasses his territory. His house, his car, his trailer, his back yard, his workshop shed, his garden shed, his lawnmower shed, his garden and all the things in them. The workshop large and well equipped. The garden shed small and full of gardening tools and paraphernalia, the lawnmower shed dilapidated termite infested and occupied by mowers of ancient origin and stuff that’s hard to decipher. All of them absolutely smothered in thick dust with alarming horror-movie constructions of spiders’ webs. None, I mean none have been used according to their original design and intention for years.

Inside his castle are countless personal items that he’s long given up using and/or looking after.

His car, the Futura, in the car-port is slowly disintegrating and becoming valueless and dust.

Yet all of the above E V E R Y T H I N G in his world is his. In his mind he uses it all frequently according to their designed purpose.

My father passionately even aggressively defends his possessions, his possession of his possessions and resists any real or perceived threat to his possessions.

Owners and dogs apparently become one. Joe (light) is definitely Baz’s dog. More so than Trixie. And they are … very similar, Baz and Joe

A new plant was introduced to the garden in February 2016. Small, vulnerable, exposed to the brutality of a typical Perth summer. As I water it I notice the water runs off the parched surface and is lost to the value of the plant. Two solutions. One, dribble water. A tiny amount after each previous tiny amount had been absorbed. Two, dig a ditch around the plant. I chose the ditch. It’s perhaps three centimetres deep. A tiny dam around the base of the plant.

Father sees me in action comes out and demands to know what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, on who’s authority do I have I do it and what qualification I have to do it. Did I not know, he continues, that he’s looking after it? My father does not remember the plant was bought following discussion between myself and Roz who wanted more native plants throughout the garden. He was party to the discussion but didn’t play an active role, for he can’t. I am a bit of an expert on Australian flora. I advised Roz on what type of plant to buy, where to plant and planted it based on a deep knowledge of plants and in particular native Australian plants, all in consultation with Roz and guided by information from the nursery from where we got the plants. I’m good at this shit. I’ve no idea what father thinks of my abilities but in his world I am being intrusive, taking over, without authority and lacking any knowledge and competence.

Imagine then me assuming responsibility for getting his beloved 1999 Ford Falcon Futura station wagon operational. According to Roz the Futura’s alternator is kapot. It does not charge the battery. This assessment is based on the opinion of the Royal Automobile Club’s roadside assistant mechanic. Backed up by the little red battery light on the dashboard remaining permanently illuminated. This warning light tells the driver that there is no charge going to the battery. The alternator provides that charge. No charge means a flat battery and the car ceases to function.

My mission, should I accept it, is to the replace the alternator. At the cheapest possible cost.

My dad’s 1999 Falcon Futura’s value is around 1000$. A brand new alternator installed by a mechanic will cost at least half the value of the Futura.

I am an expert on flora and fora. I know shit about automobiles. But in the Age of Google, how hard can it be?

I do not deny there was a learning curve. I did find a second-hand alternator. Waaay over the other side of the city. I found one at the bottom of the hill, ten kilometres away. I buy the latter and try to install it there and then at the side of the road. Mid 40sC in direct sunlight working on a hot engine is too much. I retreat home. I call my brother and tell him, a very mechanically minded person who’s even worked as a mechanic – although it should be stressed he also never formally qualified as a mechanic – to come and do The Mechanic Thing. We set a date.

Really, how hard can it be to change an alternator? Late afternoon, the Futura in shade, the engine cool, I take on the Futura again, place my laptop on the top of a wheelybin, spread all the tool boxes I can find around me, open the bonnet and get to work.

To gain access to the alternator, inconveniently at the bottom of the engine it is apparently simple to remove the radiator fans to make space.

And, in truth, it is.

The infamous alternator. Took a while, but successfully replace it I did. Much to the consternation of my father

I don’t deny it took me quite a while to remove the old alternator and replace it with the new second-hand one. Taking a decidedly risk-averse approach – I really do not know much about engines. I am a cyclist y’know – I research every step and double-checked everything.

Father comes out of the house frequently, approaches me and remonstrates that “You are not a mechanic. You are not qualified. You know nothing about cars and mechanics. You cannot do this”.

Well, thanks Dad, for the vote of confidence.

Repeatedly he suggests we take it to the “corner garage” and get the mechanic “to put it on the hoist” and it’ll be fixed in a jiffy. Only, there is no ‘corner garage’ any more. And it’ll cost. Lots.

Of course the first alternator is the wrong model. The second alternator is the wrong model. The third second-hand alternator is the right model. And fits and works.

By now I’m a fucking expert at replacing alternators on 1999 Ford Falcon Futura 6 cylinder 4 litre AU engines requiring an 157 Kw alternator.

Not according to my father. His remonstrations never let up during all my efforts. When I finally succeed I do not get a ‘Well done’ or anything so naff. Welcome to my dad, my true dad, the dad who did not encourage nor support nor endorse. Previously he masked it well. Now, he tells it as he sees it. Little wonder I chose a path so different from either of my parents that they simply could no longer judge me. I entered new worlds and left them far behind in their old one.

Trixie coming to check up on why I’m not in the ‘group’

My father no longer has a driver’s licence, taken from him since the relentless progress of Alzheimer’s progressively removed his ability to drive competently and safely. We were all relieved when his licence was taken from him

Consequently the car and his licence have become critical issues in his self identity.

He was a good safe competent driver. He believes and identifies as being a good safe competent driver, better than most on the road, in that ‘I am MALE, I am a GOOD DRIVER’ thing that males do have. He simply refuses to believe that he no longer has a licence. For this means he is no longer MALE.

Having his incompetent son, the one whose always been told lacks mechanical aptitude work on his car is not only damned risky (“You are NOT a mechanic”) but also insulting (“If it needs replacing I’ll do it”). Only he can’t. But he doesn’t know that and I cannot tell him.

Over the days I work on the Futura I’m asked how much longer I’ll stay. Two weeks, I answered. “Don’t you think it would be wise to rent a car?” He has “no idea” when he’ll need his car “but I will need it”.

Imagine then, after the car is operational I go around the house and collect all the garbage and stuff that can go to the tip. All the stuff – ALL THIS STUFF – is chosen by Roz. I don’t unilaterally go through their house deciding what should or should not be taken to the ‘waste transfer station’ as landfills are called here. All he sees is me collecting stuff and piling it up on the veranda.

I am accused of being a “take over merchant”. No matter how many times I tell him I am doing this at the behest of Roz he maintains an unpleasant animosity as to my intentions and purpose.

One day I find the entire backyard, several hundred square meters has been meticulously raked up, with long windrows of dried leaves and detritus. All ready for burning. Father having gotten into his head that this should be done. From November to March the entire city of Perth implements a Total Fire Ban. No chances taken. Fire is a major risk to biodiversity, property and human life. And my Father in mid-January with the temperature frequently in the high 30s to low 40s, bone dry with strong morning easterlies compensated by strong afternoon westerlies has decided to burn all the dry vegetation detritus. We stopped him, but there are days when he’s on his own.

To mitigate the risk he’ll actually set fire to them when he’s on his own I painstakingly put all the detritus into large black garbage bags to take to the waste transfer station.

By what right, father demands, do I have to “take over” and clean up the backyard?

I then couple the trailer to the Futura. I hear my father call out. Oh Boy, I think, here we go. I get out of the care and approach him. In one of those strange Alzheimer’s paradoxes he merely wants to warn me that I cannot go to the waste transfer station unless I have the entrance card. I explain that I am only going to go around the block and enter the back garden to collect all the stuff there.

He’s an Alpha Drive Male and I am studiously watched as I reverse this huge car with trailer attached several hundred meters down the back lane, through the rear gate and into the garden. I do it well enough that he does not complain, but it was close.

As I go about clearing up the gear, more questions do I field about what I’m doing to ‘his’ garden with ‘his’ car and ‘his’ trailer. “What if I need my car?” he asks with discernible indignation. “By what right do you have to use my car without asking?” Patiently I explain again what’s going on. He is not mollified.

Having picked up all the loose leaves and detritus and filled the trailer I now need to move the car and trailer up the garden near to the other pile of stuff that’s got to be removed. This will require the gate to be left open since the car will be on the back lane whilst the trailer is in the garden.

Keeping things simple allows us to enjoy moments, which I did thoroughly

My parents have two Shih tzu-Maltese dogs. As with any dog, when they see a break in the fence they go for it. Before opening the gate I find my father and ask him to look after his dogs whilst the gate is open.

Halfway through loading the trailer my father saunters up to check on me (again), with Trixie behind him. Joe? Joe’s nowhere to be seen. I go up to the back-lane and sure enough a hundred meters down the lane I can see Joe having a ball. Father goes ballistic.

I’ve no choice. I ignore his pronounced vitriol and anger and finish loading the car. I then remove it so the gate can be closed. Joe is still flirting around, sometimes visible sometimes not. Father is convinced Joe has done a complete runner and he’s really stressed.

Joe fortunately is nice to me and comes to my call after a couple of minutes and I hand him over the gate to Father who is incensed at what I’ve done. No point in telling him I did ask him to keep an eye on his dogs. He’s forgotten. It didn’t even twig when he started to walk up the garden and saw the gate open. “… it’s MY house MY garden MY car MY rules and you can’t do ANYTHING without first asking. Except … have a glass of water!” he shouts at me.

I do not take this personal. I let him finish expressing his anger and frustration. In a calm and indeed loving voice I explain what I’m doing and why, apologising for causing so much stress. Angrily he returns to the house and I take the car back to the front yard, placing the trailer and the car where they normally belong.

I enter the house and he’s completely fine. No trace of anger or vitriol. He’s already forgotten.


Like father like son? Regardless, I love my dad. And miss him terribly

I live 13500 crow-flying kilometres from my Father. Over the years I’ve average perhaps between two to three times per decade to visit. My father has visited me once a decade. Consequently when I call him on the phone or we Skype I’m asked “When do we get to see you?”.

In 2015 I finally turn up again. The time previous was 2008 when I stayed for ten days, my longest stay. A month after I arrived in 2015 I leave on my Epic. For the next 18 months when I call I am asked “When do we get to see you?”.

Finally in December 2016, two days before Christmas, I make it.

Since then I am repeatedly and sometimes several times per day, asked “How long are you planning on staying?” or “When are you leaving?” or variations thereof. It’s not all Baz either. Roz makes no secret of her desire for a return to a simpler world of just Baz and her.

When I finally leave it will be permanently. I do not expect to come back. Except to bury my father. Even then Roz questions why should I bother. Perhaps she’s right.

I came to Perth, to Australia, not to do an Epic but to spend time with my Father before Alzheimer’s forever takes him too far away. My Epic was never the centre piece of my visit, was not meant to take quite so long or become so engrossing and dominating. But my Epic is over now. Rarely do I come to Australia. Short do I stay when I do. And now I am finally here with plenty of time to devote to all things ‘family’. And the most frequent question I am asked by my father is “when are you leaving?” And I have no where else to go in Perth, Western Australia. If I cannot stay here, I cannot stay in Perth.

I had thought to do a Ride Out Ride In approach. Stay a week. Go away for a week. Only, on a bicycle there isn’t an easy week’s round trip in the area and even less so with temperatures relentlessly in the high thirties and early forties. To visit the south coast, Cape Leeuwin for example takes a week just to get there. I won’t achieve anything if I continue to spend long periods of time cycling around the South West just to get out of the house.

It is awful. It not only hurts but it is phenomenally sad. I will leave, because I can’t stay where I am not welcome. I can’t force my father and Roz to put up with me no matter how noble my cause and reason. I have to go. When I’ve gone I’ll be asked repeatedly “When are we going to see you next?” and I’ll have no answer.

I explain this to Roz. But she’s stressed by the additional stress I impose on Father by simply being in the house. I have done things: cleaned up his disgusting and over-crowded desk. Cleaned up the garden. Fixed the car. Cleaned up countless items throughout the house and ultimately taken them all to the tip. Each and every one of these seemingly mundane tasks are agreed with Roz, and even dad. And each and every one of them causes my father relentless anxiety and stress. Roz can simply do without it. Having stayed with pop and Roz for seven weeks now, I fully and totally understand where she’s coming from.

So detached were we as a family I never understood just how much my father loved dogs. Until decades later as he utters “you are gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous” to them repeatedly

To ship my life of the last two years back to Sweden I bought a Euro-pallet. 1000 mm x 800 mm. Then add 200 mm collars and build up a box. A one meter cubic box. Place all the stuff I’ve used on my Epic for the last eighteen months inside. Well, this pallet has to ‘be’ somewhere. Can’t leave it outside coz the rain with wreak havoc with it and more importantly my stuff inside. Certainly not in the house. Threat of theft precludes the wide veranda on the front of the house. Thus it occupies perhaps 2% of the total floor space of The Shed. Father’s shed. All the clichés about Man Caves and Sheds is totally applicable to father and his shed. Only … he’s not used a fucking thing in it for four years or more. It’s a dusty cobweb-ridden disorganised epitome of chaos. And getting worse. I’ve improved it tremendously because I’ve used tools and equipment in the shed and having found them, I’ve then had to place them back somewhere. Consequently it is neater and better organised now that in any time in the last several years.

Now, with Alzheimer’s I can’t imagine how father could cope without his two doggies

Part of getting father’s car operating was to be able to go get the pallet and the collars. It is the sole journey I make with the Futura for my own purposes. Looong discussions with Father about this. “What if I need the car?” I am asked. ‘Well, gee dad, thanks for y’know, working with me here and y’know helping me kinda get things organised. I mean, y’know, no way I can pick up the pallet on a bicycle, now is there?’

Don’t go there. Don’t even go ‘But Dad, you don’t have a driver’s licence any more. You can’t drive the car.’

I return with the pallet and he’s incensed I used his car without asking. He’s simply forgotten when I left earlier that he had agreed that I can use his car.

Getting over that I put the pallet in the shed and build up the walls. I godda get organised. Time is flying now. I want out. They want me out. Momentum is building. I peruse the car and camper relocation websites but there’s nothing out of Perth. I check ticket prices to Indonesia. Something’s going to break soon enough. Godda get organised.

Later I’m enjoying a drink on the patio when I see him wander the path towards the shed and I think “Oh Boy, let’s see what happens now”. Father is completely freaked when he comes down from the shed. “Is that box yours, what is, why … who gave me permission, how dare you!” Back to square one. After explaining it’s all about “how long, what if I need to use the shed, it’s most inconvenient … “.

Joe and Trixie are more than simply pets. His love for them and their love for him create a unit, an Entity in its own right. Inseparable

One of the oddest possessions I have resolutely carried with me since the mid-80s is … a truck driver’s licence. Big Trucks. Full blown articulated trucks all of twenty-five metres long and weighing in at like forty-five tons. Last time I drove such a truck was in 1988. Across the Nullarbor. Methinks … perhaps I should bring my truck-driving skills up to date. I contact a truck driving school and make an appointment. Then I tell Baz and Roz what my plan is. I am quite excited about this. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and now is that time.

Ah, the beauty of Alzheimer’s, if you can call it that. I swiftly learn how hard it would have been to have tried to come up with innovative ideas about me and my life as a kid. “Truck driver!” he’s astounded. “I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being a truck driver. You don’t want to be a truck driver. Do you?”

What I wanna know is … he had a truck driving licence, light rigid I believe. Cob has a heavy rigid. I’ve got the Big One: Heavy Carriage. Sooo … how come it’s OK for him and Cob to have truck driving licences but not me?

According to Roz Cob complains about being relentlessly placed in the position of responsibility. Of Leader. He doesn’t particularly want to be in charge. Extrapolating what my father says through the truth serum of Alzheimer’s suggests Cob, as first born AND male, got all the ‘You Godda Dos’ and ‘You Can Dos’, even though he may not have wanted such accolade. Perhaps that’s why he fled to the farm mid-teens. I, on the other hand, got the ‘You can’t do that’, ‘You don’t want to do that (do you?)’.

Dealing with pop is a never-ending challenge that is continuously getting harder and worse. Think seventy kilogramme three-year-old possessing some innate self-image no longer applicable. And becoming ever less cognisant and capable. Father believes he utterly capable of doing anything. I, Roz, on the other hand wait and watch as he does his ‘thing’ coz we are not quite sure what’s going on. And we have to keep on top of it coz if it does go awry it can be quite problematic.

I’m trying to update my blog. Baz comes in with a beer in hand, “Do you want to share a beer?” I’m asked. “No, I’m fine Baz. Still got my coffee”. It’s not even ten in the morning. Roz tries gently to suggest a beer at ten in the morning may be a bit too much. My father gets quite grumpy telling her he’s an adult and knows when is and is not the ‘right time’ to drink a beer!

It took me seven weeks to write the three last entries for my blog, to end the Epic. To sit in the small room and type is all but impossible. Father comes in repeatedly and repeatedly inquires as to what I’m doing. When he’s not in the room there’s a background dialogue going on. I have to be in tune to this dialogue coz I don’t quite know what he’s up to and like any three-year-old there can be serious repercussions if I’m not on top of what he’s up to.

There is a tension in the house. The same tension I remember from previous visits. Welcome, but not. I have to leave. I am a long way from achieving what I really would like to here. To sit and while away moments on the rear-patio talking little things which my father can follow. Go for morning walks with him and the dogs. The dogs are ecstatic to walk again. I don’t understand why Roz doesn’t make a walk a morning ritual. It would do them all a world of good. To spend easy time not fretting about all the other things on my list: my mother, my brother, my sister, how is the work market for enviros, to convert the blog into a book, to write a book. It’s not going to happen.

This isn’t my world. Although I judge them I know I shouldn’t. All I see is the stress I impose on my father. Since he cannot understand that when I leave it is permanent, that aside of a short visit when Ram and I come through for a week or so in July, I am unlikely to see him again, it is truly awful. And sad.

My mother, with whom I last spoke in 2008 and last saw in 2006, has a full agenda. It is not possible for us to retreat to a secluded spot and sort through our issues over several days. I am shoe-horned around feeding cockatoos, various work commitments although she’s long since retired, her grand-daughter, her daughter. A reconciliation process is going to be slow. Norma does agree to it, which is new. “What do I have to lose?” she asks rhetorically during our first meeting. Previously she’d out-right rejected my approach, based around a list of items categorised based on their real or perceived impact on my life as a child. She never ever presented any alternative. All the other – and few – times when we tried to reconcile we never actually spoke about anything substantive. Chit-chat whilst huge elephants wander around trampling our feet.

Norma likes to control the narrative regarding her relationships. Her way or the highway. I chose the highway and consequently have been totally cut off. Norma was willing to go the grave without any proactive attempt at contacting me let alone reconciling with me.

At eighty-one years’ old even she is aware that this is our Last Chance. And she agrees to go through a reconciliation process. My reconciliation process. We meet for half a day over five days over the seven weeks I am in Perth, mostly at the Woodbridge Riverside Park. And we go through my list.

It was surprisingly smooth, very cathartic and I’d say it worked. There were moments, don’t get me wrong, when Norma rose up and contested my approach and demanded we abandon the process: “I’ve had enough!” she declared as we sat in the Mundaring Weir Hotel. And we sat nose to nose, rock-steady eye-contact and I point out “ … (that) if we abandon it, it will end. I’ll go my way and you’ll go yours. You will die without ever really knowing who I am. And everything I believe about you shall become enshrined as Truth. And I shall be vindicated”. In a nutshell I demanded she choose. Choose to give up ownership of the narrative and share it. Choose to address the issues between us, and in doing so understand what it was like for me to be her child. Choose to remove the issues permanently. Or return to how we have been relating for the last fifty-four years which has resulted in profound detachment and isolation.

I believe it was Norma trying one last time to own the Narrative. Norma’s reputation is as such that I doubt anyone else really put it to her like I did that day. She is a formidable force. And few, if any, are ever willing to take her on, let alone defeat her.

Unfortunately for her, one of the more grating attributes people who know me and my mother have told me is … “You are so much like your mother!” You can imagine just how much I hated that. However, it means I too can be quite formidable, just like her. And she backed down.

It took until the fifth session before Norma actually admitted that the process and my approach worked and was good. For her. For the most part she told me “I’m only doing this for you” which does undermine the whole reconciliation bit.

I have pages of notes. Context. Context regarding my childhood. Some of the myths that I’ve perpetuated for decades have been lain to rest. My mother, I believe now, was not having an affair with the man who raped me aged nine. This was a possibility I couldn’t quite shrug off until I spoke with her about it. Somewhere in their social world at the time there is a name they know but it does not appear to have been close family friend. Neither my mother nor my father (I went through a similar process with my father in 2010) have been willing to try to put together a short list. And I cannot therefore work my way down this list looking for this guy. But it is not as bad as I thought it could have been at one time.

The rape was a symptom but not the cause of my fall. Key words to describe my family and my childhood are dysfunctional and detached. We were accidental kids, borne to parents who no matter their education (my mother is a biology graduate) failed to adequately grasp what can happen if you have unprotected sex. Unplanned and quite possibly unwanted. Two parents who rarely came together and planned their lives and that of their family. The life my mother wanted to have, sans kids, lost to a family she didn’t want and was unprepared for. “Unplanned” as my mother put it … “Are kids ever planned?” she answered rhetorically one day. Yes Norma, they are. Pretty much every one of my friend’s kids were planned to the extent that they knew the consequences of unprotected sex and wanted kids.

My brother the First Born the Favourite. “What do you expect?” she said “He was my first borne”. And I too soon after. She didn’t know what to do with me and I was left to my own devices. “It’s no wonder I’m a loner” I muse at one point as the story comes out. “No, it is not a surprise” she agrees.

Aged nine the detachment between me and my family is as such that a man can take me in his car as I make my way home from school. Rape me in the forest. Then return me to just down the road from my house. Repeatedly. And no one notices. Not even as my world falls apart and I disintegrate into a tiny bubble. I stop communicating. I don’t do any school work. I have no friends. Take part in no social activities, like sport or scouts. Start wetting the bed. And disappear into the bush as often as I can. I am sent to a child psychiatrist who my parents mistrust and thus stop me seeing him. No one, not the social workers, child-welfare, teachers, headmasters, my parents nor their peers ever ask or think that maybe my ‘problem’ is related to trauma. That whatever is ‘wrong’ with me has to do with a traumatic experience. And of the main traumas which fuck up a kid’s life: life-threatening illness, car-crash or accident, war, death of a parent or close family member, or sustained abuse – physical, emotional, sexual, they would have been able to tick off every single one. Except sexual abuse outside the home by a non-family member. And no one ever went there.

No matter the horror of the rape, it is the detachment from my parents that did the real lasting damage.

I am so very, very glad to have finally gone through all of this with my mother. It is such a relief to have spoken about it with her. And clear it away. For sure, it’ll take time to digest and meander its way through my psyche and soul, but the process once started is unstoppable. It worked wonders for my father and I. It’ll work wonders for my mother and I. Only … “Oh, I can’t promise to keep in touch” she tells me after I tell her we now have to keep in touch. That she has to be proactive in keeping in touch. Relationships and communications are two-way streets.

I set up Skype on her phone and show her how to use it to circumvent her (and Baz’s) timeless complaint that it’s “too expensive” to make international telephone calls. That they both seem to justify such expense as they proactively keep in touch with their respective sisters in England simply further exemplifies just how detached I am from my parents.

She tells me she’s “hopeless” at writing and emails.

Ho hum.

I’ll try and deal with whatever comes when it comes. Or not.

I like my brother Cob. Interesting character. Another one who’s simply not good at keeping in touch. There’s definitely a pattern here. If someone means something to you you’ll make the effort to keep in touch. I am not sure what needs to be done for him see the value in keeping in touch. If he doesn’t, once my father dies, I’ll lose all contact. Especially if Norma keeps to her word and does not keep in touch.

As for my sister. She is proof aliens exist. She and I come from and inhabit completely different worlds. And I’ve no idea how to relate to her. Like Mother Like Daughter Like Mother. My sister and mother are very close. So close that it’s hard to pick one from the other. I can take on one at a time, but not both. Plan is to complete my reconciliation process with mom before meeting Lea.

With the tension in my father’s house rising daily and the protracted nature of the reconciliation process, because it is more important to feed cockatoos than reconcile with your son, it’s unlikely I’ll get the chance to meet my sister, the Alien.

Glen Forrest Super Block Baz. Lovely to walk with him, to spend time with him, quite possibly the last time

How things can change. From one moment to another. Everyday nothing on, nothing on Then … Toyota Prado to Darwin. Earliest departure the 7th. Latest drop off the 28th, of Feb. It’s the 5th. I tell them I can leave on the 14th and deliver on the 25th. On the 8th my trip is confirmed. And everything suddenly speeds up.

In the remaining six days I meet mom for our last reconciliation session, catch up with Serge – a budding Epic rider and Wil and Jen, pack Dreamer, Ziflex and Zi-Biddi into the Euro Pallet, pack for the next six months including a three month road trip with Ram, complete my ‘run to the tip’, and begin the farewells to Baz and Roz. Seven weeks.

Serge and I in Perth. Serge is an Epic in the making Great to talk with him. His enthusiasm is infections

Tuesday the 14th my mother (Yes, y’see, reconciliation works) picks me up and takes me waaay across town to Advance car rentals agent in Mount Hawthorn and I collect the keys to a shiny white Toyota Prado.

Drive it back to Glen Forrest, my father’s, load it. Go through the inevitable sad farewells and begin the 4000+ km drive to Darwin. First stop, my brother’s farm in Northam.

Epic Man with an Epic Box full of Epic memories and stuff

And so Perth comes to an end. Back on the road.


Glen Forrest, 14 Feb 2017

One thought on “Family & Alzheimer’s: a sad tale

  1. I reckon that was a tough blog post to write about Max.

    You just have to play with the cards you are dealt with in this life, doesn’t make it any easier though.
    Alzheimer’s & Dementia are awful diseases that are slowly ripping families & societies apart. The situation is only going to get progressively worse as the “large wave” of Baby Boomers rapidly ages. The Government doesn’t have any concise solutions.

    Enjoy the freedom that travel brings & it’s feeling of living in the present.



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