Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Jimmy’s pain for mum may

Heartache for Nesbitt as Alzheimer’s takes its toll

By Aaron Tinney

Tv star James Nesbitt has opened his heart about the “terror” of watching his mum lose her battle with Alzheimer’s. The 44-year-old actor was devastated when once-vibrant May Nesbitt was diagnosed with the disease around six years ago.

But his torment has deepened as she is rapidly deteriorating, her nightmare condition mocking the idea of growing old gracefully.

“It’s just terrifying to watch the woman who bore me and loved me and scolded me and made me disappear,” said Nesbitt.

These exclusive pictures show the actor enjoying snatches of happiness with his mum, May, before she was struck down by dementia.

Her smile says it all in one snap from 2003 when she watched her boy handed an honorary degree from the University of Ulster for services to drama.

In another childhood photo cheeky Jimmy, the only boy in the family, is doted on as he sits in short trousers.

But those moments are a world away from today’s family nightmare.

May (77) is now slipping away piece by piece in a private nursing home in Coleraine, where she raised her family, struggling to hold on to the memories captured here.

Nesbitt last week revealed he may head to America for work as the British TV industry is being battered by the recession and roles are drying up.

But he told how will always carry a piece of his mum with him.

“As I get older I think, ‘What bit of me remains in Northern Ireland?’,” he says. “And it’s my voice. When mum goes, I’ll still have the sound of her in me. And I’m glad I’ve got that.

“So much of what lies within is what I happened to inherit from her.”

And in a cruel twist, Nesbitt is faced with life imitating his art. He |currently heads the cast of a hard-hitting BBC1 drama Occupation, a new series which starts this Tuesday, tracing the lives of three soldiers serving in Iraq.

One of his comrades, played by Stephen Graham — best known for his role as racist in This Is England — has to cope with a mother who suffers from dementia.

In one scene, he visits his elderly mum in a home. She fails to recognise him and mistakes a black male nurse for her soldier son.

Nesbitt has spoken movingly of his own grief at standing helplessly by as his mum fades away.

When he returned home for a visit before Christmas last year, he revealed it was like watching her “disappear” before his eyes.

Nesbitt said: “She was desperate to go for a walk up in Castlerock, by the sea. The wind's howling and the rain's coming down, and I said, 'I'll come out with you’. She said, ‘No' and I followed her out — and to see a woman totter off into the distance is very painful. It is like her tottering off from your life.”

Watching May get more and more distant has also hit James’ dad hard.

Distraught Jim Nesbitt, who now lives alone in the Castlerock home he once shared with his wife, yesterday could only bring himself to say: “I’ll miss her.”

May, who raised James and his three sisters — Margaret, Kathryn and Andrea — in Coleraine, may have been the single strongest influence in Nesbitt’s life.

He once said: “I always say I had an idyllic childhood.

“Some of my happiest memories are of watching my mum iron.”

The star’s other memories of May reveal a salt-of-the-earth character.

He said: “Mum worked in the Housing Executive, she was a fabulous woman and I was very, very close to her. We would have our arguments but she was incredibly loving and very funny. A lot of my sense of humour comes from my mother.

“One of the only cars I lusted after was my mum’s old Riley Elf car.

“It was like a Mini, but stuck out more at the back. It was a beautiful car, with a perfect interior.

“My mum probably wrecked it though. She was convinced that she saved a lot of petrol by turning the engine off and freewheeling down the hill in it.”

When Nesbitt appeared on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, he included May’s favourite song, The Green Glens of Antrim, which she sang to him as a child. He now sings it to his own daughters.

Nesbitt’s church-going mum — who he says could never watch his nude scenes — was also shocked at the fallout from his appearance in the controversial drama Bloody Sunday.

The actor received death threats from fellow Protestants for his portrayal of Ivan Cooper — the Protestant MP who led the overwhelmingly Catholic protest — and his parents' house was daubed with graffiti.

Nesbitt has said: “It was tough. I was the only boy, the perfect boy, and then I wasn't perfect any more.

“They had just coped with the Bloody Sunday fallout, and then there was this.

“But if there were any difficulties, I remember getting a card from my mother saying, ‘Well, you'll always be my son and I'll always love you’.”

Facing his mother’s condition — thought to affect half the 700,000 dementia patients in the UK — has sparked Nesbitt to call for more support for carers.

“There needs to be more support for families around,” he insists.

Belfast Telegraph

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