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“Hi, I’m Vivienne Ulman, this is a passage from my memoir, Alzheimers: a Love Story.
My mother eats with her left hand, although all her life she has been right handed. She won’t use cutlery or allow anyone to feed her. She picks up a morsel of food in her fingers and ferries it to her mouth. Then she returns for another. She does this mechanically, almost without pause, concentrating all her attention on her plate. If she doesn’t like the taste of something she removes it from her mouth and throws it on the floor. My father, who has cut up her meal into bite-sized pieces, sits opposite, watching, supervising.
At one stage my mother refused all food, surviving on only glass after glass of Solo. Her clothes hung on her. We were sure she was going to die. Part of me – a big part of me – hoped she would.
You’ve got Alzheimer’s, but I’m the one with the memory loss. My memories of you are gone and so hard to retrieve.
What did we talk about? Did I really look forward to seeing you and sharing news with you? Who were you? Will those memories ever return or are they gone forever, stolen by you, the person who gave them to me in the first place?
Occasionally my mother squints around the room, but mostly she concentrates on her plate. She doesn’t notice or care that she eats alone while others, unfed, watch. Like an infant or a prisoner or an animal. She, who waited on my father as though he were a prince or a holy man, sits wearing a smock to protect her clothes, and shovels in the food. Sometimes she will allow Dad to spoon-feed her the last morsel, otherwise everything goes into her mouth via those pincer-like fingers of her left hand. Like an arcade game where the mechanical claw grasps a toy.
Watching my mother eat is always the saddest time for me. It’s not the worst – those involve screaming, biting, stripping off her clothes, trying to urinate in the hallway or on her bedspread, throwing faeces around, wandering into other people’s rooms and drinking from their glasses, ripping away their bedclothes – but for me it’s the saddest.”
ABOUT VIVIENNE ULMAN:
Vivienne Ulman was born and educated in Melbourne. She has qualifications in teaching, criminology, horticulture, and professional writing and editing. She has worked as a secondary school teacher, freelance journalist and book reviewer, and creative writing teacher. Her short stories have been published in numerous anthologies and literary journals, and have won several prizes. Alzheimer’s: a Love Story, is her first book.
Vivienne and her husband divide their time between a farm in northern Tasmania and an apartment in Melbourne. They have four daughters and four grandchildren.
“I went to Varuna on a Longlines Fellowship from November 19 to December 3rd, 2007. The nurturing and encouragement I found there gave me the courage to begin work on my memoir. I returned in 2010 as a guest of the Blue Mountains Sydney Writers Festival, to discuss my memoir, Alzheimer’s: a Love Story, by then a published book, and during my week there began redrafting a novel, which I have now finished. Without doubt Varuna changed my life, enabling me for the first time to take myself seriously as a writer. For me the most extraordinary thing is how on each visit I met exactly the writers I needed for that part of my journey!
Alzheimer’s: a Love Story, Scribe 2009.
Numerous short stories, book reviews and articles in anthologies, literary journals and newspapers.
Varuna has been funded by the Australia Council to produce a Varuna Writer-a-Day “app”. When we have recorded 365 writers the app will be made available on the iTunes store. In the meantime, if you subscribe to this blog you can receive a daily reading via your email and even have this directed to your mobile phone.