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  • Writer's pictureJessica Crawford

5 - Travelling with Dementia - Our Trip to Italy Part 2

So, where was we? Oh, we had just arrived in Naples after a rather stressful journey. We got in a car with a dodgy Italian who claimed to be a taxi driver (who wasn't actually a taxi driver) but he didn't kill us and he took us to our desired destination. Mum screamed the whole way and I feared for my life, but it all worked out fine in the end.

We spent the night in a hotel in Naples so we could catch the first train to Scalea the next morning. We dumped our bags and found a really cosy little pizzeria. We ate traditional Italian, drank lots of wine and even got a little tipsy. I really enjoyed this part of the trip and I quickly forgot about the stressful journey earlier. I think back to this now and feel so lucky I got to do this.

The next morning came and we headed to the train station. This is when travelling with dementia became a real problem. Mum was in one of her 'I know where I'm going, I've done this countless times!' moods which wasn't easy. She had never been good with directions anyway so I did question if she knew the route. Nevertheless, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Luckily, it was one of the best sign-posted stations I had ever been to. Everything was clearly labelled and even I knew where I was going, despite it being my first time. Mum however didn't find it so simple. She kept on taking wrong turns but each time I questioned her, I was hit with 'Do you think I'm stupid?' or 'You know it all don't you?'. It was slowly turning into a heated argument so all I could do was prove her wrong. I let her take every wrong turn, watched her walk in the complete opposite direction, watched her ignore every signpost in the hope that when she found herself lost, she would actually listen to me. She ended up confident she was on the right platform and waited patiently for the next train. The train arrived, mum hopped on and she was really proud of herself for knowing the way. Slight problem; the train was heading north and we needed to be south.

Quick interval - I'm not proud of what I did next but I was stumped. I tried to talk to her, but she just got angry and ignored me. I tried to prove her wrong, but she didn't feel she was lost. We were a split second away from Mum travelling hours in the wrong direction so I went with my gut instinct.

Yep, I dragged her kicking and screaming off the train. I held her hand and lugged her back in the direction we came from. After what felt like 5 hours and a whole load of spectators (it was probably 10 minutes), we were at the correct platform and the train was waiting for us to board. Mum just looked at me and gave me her million-dollar line... 'You're just lucky'.

To make matters worse, we had to endure a 3-hour train journey without a seat. It was shoulder-to-shoulder rammed, boiling hot and Mum was still a little grumpy after I dragged her through the station (I'm not surprised, really). I also had to carry mine and Mum's suitcase, Mum said people her age shouldn't have to carry heavy things so I thought it was the chivalrous thing to do (is a chivalrous woman a thing?).

When we were finally there, things did get better. I was actually surprised that Mum wanted to do the same things as me. She wanted to go to the beach, sunbathe, drink cocktails and eat nice food. When I was little, Mum used to love exploring, finding markets and going sightseeing. I thought our trip would have followed the same itinerary but, thankfully, this wasn't the case (it's just not my thing).

There was however one problem which was getting me down; the bitching. In the evening we would sit on the balcony, drink wine and listen to music. It was perfect until she burst into bitch mode. It ranged from family to friends to work colleagues. Once she had run out of people, it was the waiter who served our lunch or the man on the beach who had ugly swimwear. It was absolutely draining and I couldn't escape it.

There was one time I was able to break away from her bitching, but only for 40 minutes. We went on a boat trip that day and it was beautiful; we visited caves and the sea was a mesmerising turquoise colour. After a while, we stopped at a beach where we could get off and go for a swim. I asked Mum to join me but she replied with 'no, I'm quite happy to stay here and have a drink whilst you swim, don't be long though'. Off I went, I left my bag with Mum and only took my towel. As I was swimming (whilst waving to Mum on the boat like a small child), I did think it was odd that she was the only person left on the boat. A few minutes later, I noticed the boat was driving away, with Mum still on it. At first, sheer panic took over and I had no idea where she was going. Shortly after, I couldn't help but laugh. Mum wasn't even phased and she just waved goodbye to me whilst shrugging her shoulders as if to say 'I don't have a clue what's happening'. The boat parked up around 300 yards away from me, too far for me to swim, but close enough to know she was safe. A passer-by told me we had 40 minutes to relax on the beach until the boat came back. It was absolute bliss, a whole 40 minutes of no bitching. I look back at this as one of my favourite memories, not because I wasn't with her, but because we couldn't stop laughing about it for the rest of the holiday.

Overall, we did have a nice time. After spending over 5 consecutive days with her, I did notice she was easily confused and her symptoms were much worse than I thought. We did argue more than I would have liked, but we still built some lasting memories. On the last day, we were sat on the beach and Mum said 'Do you know, everything we have done this trip just isn't my thing. I get really bored sunbathing and I don't even like cocktails, but I wanted to do it for you'. It makes me cry even writing that.

When I got home, I took one look at my husband and cried for hours. I don't even know why I cried. Was it because I knew for sure that something was wrong? Because I was emotionally drained from all the bitching? Because we had argued more than I'd hoped? Because I felt guilty we did only things I like? It was probably a mixture of everything, but I felt really low.

That night, I stopped crying and I texted Mum the following;

Why I loved Italy with my mum:

  • Our little pamper night and sleepover the night before our trip

  • Watching you try to subtly eat your croissant on the rammed train from Naples to Scalea

  • Our pizza night in Naples, it was the start of our holiday and I was really happy

  • Me and you being the only people in Italy whose feet couldn't handle walking on the burning hot sand

  • You trying to get on the boat, you must have fallen over about 78 times

  • When the boat drove off with you still on it

  • Our nights on the balcony drinking wine and listening to music

  • Overall, just how cute you are doing things you don't like just so I could have fun. You're really sweet and I want you to know that I did have fun and I loved spending time with you

I made sure to write down the positives. Mum called me immediately in fits of laughter. Even as months went by, I often found her reading my message. Even though I found some parts of this trip hard, it's not half as hard as things now. For those in a similar situation who are at the early stages of this disease, please, relish every good moment.

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