Elizabeth lives In Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband, son and two Standard Poodles. A graduate of the University of Manitoba, she practiced law from 1985 to 1997 where she had the opportunity to write frequently. After a second bout of cancer in 1997, she retired to spend more time with her family. Elizabeth is a voracious reader and lover of the printed word. Her story is a bittersweet recollection of the incredibly challenging years of her mother’s life with dementia. Holding on to Mamie is Elizabeth’s first book.
In 2004 when my mother was diagnosed with dementia, I wasn’t prepared for the changes in her personality. In hindsight it’s easy to see the early signs of her illness, but at the time I didn’t want to believe that dementia was lurking; I preferred to dismiss my mother’s behaviour as normal and ignore the possibility of more serious implications.
My motivation for writing Holding on to Mamie evolved over time but my mother’s notes were always my inspiration.
I found the notes when I was cleaning out my mother’s home in the months before she passed away. I was overwhelmed by the volume and maliciousness of my find, but at the time I was consumed with the stress of readying the house for sale and taking care of my mother and her affairs. After my mother’s death, I read and re-read the notes, trying to make sense of what had happened to our relationship.
Writing my story began as a quest for redemption. I needed to prove to myself that I wasn’t the spiteful daughter that my mother described, and that my mother and I did have a close and loving relationship.
Anger and paranoia are common but often not talked about effects of dementia. When I became the target of my mother’s delusions, I was both bewildered and ashamed. Intellectually, I realized that her fury was a by-product of her illness but emotionally it was sometimes hard to convince myself that her hatred wasn’t real. I would only talk about what was happening with my husband, Jeff, and my mother’s geriatric clinician. I isolated myself from friends who could provide much-needed support.
Eventually, I understood that my mother’s notes were more than a record of her cognitive decline, they also were a cry for help. They revealed her desperate struggle to make sense of what was happening to her and her determination to hold on to the woman she once was.
Caring for a loved one with dementia will never be easy but by sharing my experience, I hope that others will feel a little less bewildered, a little less alone as they embark on their own battle against the disease.