Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

I watched as my troubled mother strode into a stormy night to seek her long-dead father

Jimmy Nesbitt with his mother May
Jimmy Nesbitt with his mother May

James Nesbitt's mum May died last year almost 10 years after she developed Alzheimer's disease. Here, the actor gives a powerful description of how the condition slowly robbed his family of her

As I flew back from New Zealand to bury my mother it occurred to me that no matter how harrowing her loss and how keenly it will always be felt, there was nevertheless a sense of relief, that my father, sisters and I could say a final goodbye after the longest goodbye. And relief that my mum had finally been released. It is a shocking disease.

I have seen first-hand the devastating impact it has. Not only did it rob my mother of her own identity, but it robbed us of a chance to communicate with her in the last few years. It was a very, very long goodbye.

About five years ago when it was becoming apparent that mum could no longer live at home, I flew back to try and help deal with the situation. She had reached what I consider to be the true nadir of the Alzheimer's condition – flitting between the present and the past; reality and fantasy; rage and fear.

One night, at midnight during a storm, she wanted to go out and find her father – he had died over 40 years previously. In the past I had always been able to soothe her by accompanying her on these trips on the pretence of getting her an ice-cream. But this night she was determined to go alone. So, as my mother strode off, bent and bow-legged, I followed her and watched the woman who had bore me, nurtured and chastised me, who taught me how to love and how to be loved, disappear into the teeth of an Ulster gale and out of my life. It was a poignant image and savage reminder of the havoc that Alzheimer's wreaks.

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