As she reflects on her mum’s beautiful life, Rhianna has just one goal: to make sure no family is denied the support they desperately need.
"When Mum told me, I cried uncontrollably. I knew it was terminal. I knew there was no cure."
- Rhianna, loving daughter to Rhonda.
Five years ago, just before Christmas, Rhianna’s mum Rhonda rang her in a panic. She was lost and confused at Melbourne Airport – and had forgotten how to board her flight.
Back in Hobart, Rhonda went to her GP. At just 58-years-old, Rhonda had some shattering news for Rhianna and her brother Mitchell.
“When Mum told us that she had younger onset dementia… She was calm… trying to be strong. But as a health worker, I knew it was serious.” says Rhianna, just 25 at the time.
Females in Australia are more likely to die of dementia than any other cause. We need to do more to support our women and their families – and one day find a cure.
Dementia took away Rhonda’s career. It impacted her speech, thinking and life skills, co-ordination, and memories – even the ability to potter safely in her garden.
At Christmases gone by, Rhonda would make a delicious roast with all the trimmings. She would insist they all watch TV Christmas carols: “I now know it was never about watching the show,” says Rhianna. “It was always about us spending time together.”
Since Rhonda moved into nursing care, Rhianna has tried to recreate some of that Christmas magic: packing a festive picnic and making a fun music playlist to enjoy together in the nursing home gardens.
On days when I’ve felt like I’m pushing a boulder up a hill, that support just lifts me up. I know I’ve got someone right behind me to give me strength.
- Rhianna, just 25 when her mum Rhonda was diagnosed.
When Rhianna has felt completely burnt out caring for Rhonda, “above and beyond” is how she describes the assistance from the Dementia Australia team. From counselling and group support, to respite care and recreational activities for Rhonda. Dementia Australia also helped them transition to nursing care. The team always made her feel “cared for, listened to and important”.
In heartbreaking news, Rhianna and Mitchell won’t get to celebrate another Christmas with their mum. A few weeks ago, Rhonda died peacefully with her children by her side.
“I spent her final nights with her, which I will forever cherish,” says Rhianna.