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The demon dementia has made me uncertain about the net benefit of being around my mother

When your parents enter their twilight years, particularly when one of those parents is dealing with dementia, emigrant offspring can face conflicts

“Please secure your own oxygen mask first before helping others to secure theirs.”

That is, as some of you will be aware, advice given to passengers by airplane cabin crew in the event of an emergency that requires oxygen masks to be worn on board. Those with a more narcissistic personality may wonder why such a message is needed at all. “Eh, I always look after number one first.”

However, parents travelling with young children or those who are with more vulnerable companions might be tempted to assist these “others” before attending to themselves. So I’ve heard it said, anyway. I almost always fly solo (my life motto, in many ways). We’re all at risk of such behaviour when it comes to those we hold dear or to whom we feel indebted.

My return to Ireland recently and my subsequent extended three-month stay have had elements of this at play.


With my parents entering their twilight years and with an amount of flexibility on my side in terms of being available to help out where possible and required, I figured I could be at least of some benefit by being physically closer to my family while I try to navigate through my own fog of uncertainty.

I am, also, a country boy at heart, so mucking around with livestock on the family farm is something that I don’t mind doing. What irks me is the farm’s overall unkemptness. A sure-fire way of infuriating me is to ask me to clean up somebody else’s mess.

At 80 years of age, the chances of my father suddenly turning to tidiness are between slim and none. Others will be left to confront this, what I view as chaos, when our father departs the land of the living.

That aside, I can say with some certainty that my occasional assistance has been appreciated by my father.

I’m far less certain that my being around my mother has been a net benefit. This is chiefly due to the demon dementia that is gradually taking hold of her.

I’ve found it difficult not to get annoyed when she buys yet more food that will only end up going to waste (I hate to see food getting thrown out) or when she asks the same questions over and over and over again. Thus, my annoyance has, at times, ended up annoying her. It has made me think that it might be mutually beneficial if I just left her to her own devices.

Of course, the most likely scenario is that her condition will deteriorate to the point where she’ll put both herself and others at risk if left to fend for herself.

Should she live for another number of years – physically she’s in decent enough shape – full-time care in a secure environment is what she will need.

Yes, a family member could take up this round-the-clock, predominantly thankless task, allowing her to stay in the family home. It would be, however, a significant undertaking for one person.

Such care from a family member is made even more difficult when the patient is merely the body of the person you once knew so well. Their mind and thus their actions become alien. The parasitic dementia is in control.

For me right now, all this is framed within my what-and-where-next predicament, in terms of both what to do income-wise and where to live. In this mindset, it is rather difficult for me to secure my own mask first, for the fact that I don’t even know where my mask is. All I can say is that I’m fairly sure I won’t find it in the west of Ireland at this moment in time.

Fairly sure that is, not fully sure.

So, while the physical, real untidiness that I have to deal with angers me, my chaos, my mess, is more of a mental kind. Materially, I mostly fall into the minimalist category, so it’s relatively easy to keep order compared with those who have lots of belongings.

Yet, mentally, things are not that clear.

For sure, few if any of us go through life without the occasional emergency, those turbulent times when we hope that the metaphorical oxygen masks emerge to support us. It’s just – on my career flight in particular – travelling through turbulence has become my norm over the last few years.

Nonetheless, I still feel largely in control of my craft. And, currently, it seems that I’m happier in flight rather than grounded indefinitely on terra firma.

Sticking to my life flight should put me in a better position to fight both for myself and others. And it is best not to wait for the oxygen masks to be deployed.

By then, the situation will most likely be beyond repair.

  • Brendan Corrigan is a multimedia journalist originally from Lisacul, Co Roscommon. He has been based in Bogotá, Colombia since 2012, but has recently been back in Ireland – his first visit for five years.
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