In Memoriam

This is going to be a very short post, but also a very difficult one to write. My Mam has passed away, having lost her struggle against Alzheimer’s Disease. Mercifully at least the end was peaceful and she’s now at rest. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.

This is a picture of us in happier times taken just outside the Brighton Centre just after I received my doctorate from Sussex University in 1989.

Can that really have been 30 years ago?

The first I knew about her final illness was at the end of 2015 when I visited for Christmas and noticed how much her memory and behavior had changed. Shortly after that came the official diagnosis. Her condition deteriorated rapidly thereafter as dementia cruelly took hold and about eighteen months ago, being virtually completely incapacitated, she had to move into a care home. That was about 18 months ago. Fortunately she seemed relatively happy there. In the end it was pneumonia that took her, but at least she slipped away gently.

During the years of her illness I have never written about it here because I couldn’t find the words. Now I have to admit that when I heard the news that Mam had died my first reaction was a sort of relief that her torments were over. That was quickly overtaken by a sense of guilt (a) that I had felt like that and (b) that I hadn’t been there enough or done enough to help. Now I just feel numb, unable really to take it in. I keep hoping for some sort of catharsis, but it doesn’t happen.

My Mam’s illness was one of the causes of stress that led to my decision to step down from my role as Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at Sussex University back in 2016. I had a notion that moving to a part-time job I might be able to help look after Mam, but I found the whole situation too painful and other things got in the way. I wasn’t strong enough to contribute anything significant and the burden fell on the shoulders of others. Now I’ll never be able to put that right.

I have to reorganize quite a few things next week so I can attend the funeral in Newcastle, so I’ll occupy myself doing that.

14 Responses to “In Memoriam”

  1. Colin Rosenthal Says:

    I think the complex and conflicting emotions you describe are an extremely common reaction to the loss of a loved one, especially one who has been seriously ill for a long time. You have my deepest sympathy and best wishes at this time.

  2. I would like to express my condolences to you. I also lost my mother about two and a half months ago, and it was also pneumonia that ultimately ended her life. Here the special eulogy entitled “Khai & Khim: For Always and Beyond Goodbye”, available at

  3. My most sincere condolences. I do recognise all the feelings you describe. My best wishes for you at this difficult time.

  4. So very sorry for your loss.

  5. brissioni Says:

    So sorry or your loss. My best friend that I have known for 50 years has Alzheimer’s.

  6. I am so sorry for your loss.

  7. Michel C. Says:

    I feel bad for you. I hope you will find some light through this dark time… Mes sincères condoléances à toi et tes proches.

    : ( … : | … : \ … : / … : )

    trying to cheer you up!

  8. Condolences. Dementia is a horrible disease, and it’s very difficult to deal with it well. Best wishes.

  9. My mother died from Alzheimer’s too. It’s a sad disease : the personality dissolves progressively as memories are lost. Fortunately, only in the first year or so do they realize that something is wrong. After that, a kind of peace settles in – helped by medication. Family often suffer more than the patient , because they do remember how it used to be. Please don’t be hard on yourself. Only some people are able to deal with this, and no one should demand what can’t be done. She is at rest now, allow yourself some peace.

  10. If I may be so bold as to add a few suggestions…

    Your mother will have been immensley proud of your PhD and subsequent research work.In that way, you will have made her happy for many years. Mothers are ( in my experience the only) providers of unconditional love : she will have loved you without expecting anything in return, and that love in itself will have been her source of happyness in life. Such are mothers. None of that is lost, the past still exists.

    Dealing with emotions is very hard when they are strong, your mind knows that and shunts them aside untill they calm down a bit. Hence the numb feeling. You can make this worse by feeling guilty – it will only take longer. Once the pressure will have subsided enough for feelings to become tolerable, they will start to surface, and you will be able to deal with them when they do so. It will take time. But you have time.

    Try to be compassionate with yourself.

  11. I would like to express my condolences to you. As banal as it may seem, time is an invaluable medicine for the grieving process and we should let it work for us trustingly. It seems this sad event happened around All Souls’ day. Somehow following a recent post of yours, and independently from any religious perspective, I think there is a need for most of us to have a day for considering, we might say, the door that divides us from our loved ones who have passed away. It’s no funny joke.

  12. My condolences to you. It is a cruel disease.

  13. […] spent Christmas in Newcastle this year. It was very pleasant although, of course, there was an absence that was keenly […]

  14. […] just over a year since my Mam passed away after several years of struggle with dementia. It seems like a century since I flew back to […]

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