Lady Astor of Hever: My mother and Parkinson's

In Liz Astor's debut novel, 'Since You Went Away' the character Margaret is largely based on her mother's experience with Parkinson's. Liz is donating 10p per sale to Parkinson's UK. Here she tells us why:

Lady Astor of Hever
My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's by her breast cancer specialist. She had visited him to have a lump under her breast confirmed as malignant and he looked at her face and said:

"I can see that you have Parkinson's too."

She was in her early 80s and it took her 6 months to recover from the shock of the double diagnosis and come to terms with them.

My brother, sister and I did what we could in our own ways, but we could not have managed without the selfless devotion of our wonderful step-father.

My sister who had been a nurse spent every other weekend caring for my mother, my brother took care of their finances and as I lived the closest to them, I popped in often with my children and was 'operation cheer up'.

My mother was a beautiful, bright and vivacious woman who had always taken great pride in her appearance. When she could no longer go out, we arranged for a local hairdresser to visit her and a beautician to manicure her nails.

As her Parkinson's progressed and she was unable to cook for my step-father, she and my sister would have cooking sessions in her kitchen and make casseroles for the freezer. This made her feel that she was still of use to her adoring husband and not only a burden.

As each new challenge presented itself, we created new ways around them. When she found holding a glass too difficult, we provided her with a straw. We served her tea in a cup only half full and not too hot, and when holding a book became too heavy, we placed a cushion on her lap, and later, she held the pages open with 2 pegs.

But she suffered from depression and dreaded becoming an incontinent wreck and often mentioned suicide. To help and cheer her, and to give my step-father some relief, we employed a carer in the mornings. As the months wore on, the carer stayed longer, until eventually we employed 2 carers to cover the whole day.

But still there were several accidents and trips to the local A&E which caused them both enormous stress. Towards the end, when she found dressing exhausting, she gave up and spent her days in pretty housecoats and slippers, helped with incontinence pants, while she could still use them.

She died on 17 November 2008 at home in her own bed, cared for in her last week by wonderful Marie Curie nurses. Her husband, my sister, brother and I were with her and as she had longed to die for some time, it was as if we were wishing her well on her way to the stars. And to die in our own bed surrounded by our loved ones is what we all wish for.

My family and I miss her terribly. She was a wonderful wife, mother and grandmother and we all very close.  Sad though this is to tell, it is nothing compared to my dear friend who, coincidently, has also been diagnosed with breast cancer and Parkinson's, but in her early 60s. But she is as positive and vibrant as she has always been and determined to enjoy every day as long as she is able.

It is a great lesson to us all, but I would rather she had not developed Parkinson's. That is why I am so pleased to be able to support Parkinson's UK, in the hope that one day a cure will be found and in the meantime, those who have Parkinson's can be helped and encouraged by this wonderful charity.

'Since You Went Away' by Liz Astor can be purchased from any online retailer.

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