Who Cares?

Marion was very quiet. She and her husband George melted into the background at Hannah’s wedding, which in retrospect was a little odd given that Hannah was George’s granddaughter and the first to marry. We learned much later that the day after the wedding George and Marion had returned to the reception hotel to retrieve Marion’s camera, which she had forgotten. Despite being close to our home, they didn’t call in to see us. Odd, given that George was Chris’s dad.

Seven months later in June 2009 George fell from a ladder and suffered a fatal head injury. The day he died we discovered the reason for the odd behaviour – George had been protecting us from the fact that Marion, his second wife, wasn’t well. She had Alzheimer’s. And now, suddenly and tragically, she was alone. Her parents both dead, her only sister in Australia, and no children of her own, Chris and I were the only ones available to meet Marion’s needs. Power of Attorney was rapidly obtained, and with the help of the NHS, the local vicar, George’s brother and daily help from a home care company Marion continued to live alone in her own home in an isolated Northamptonshire village for a further three years. Then she began wandering. The situation became untenable, so in November 2012 Marion moved into residential care.

Six years on Marion, 71 years old and previously a university meteorology lecturer, can no longer talk. She has her own en-suite bedroom with her own furniture and a TV. Carers help her eat three times a day, as she can’t remember to feed herself. The carers clothe her, bathe her, and manage her personal needs. We are her only visitors. Each time we are in the UK we see her, and the slow deterioration is relentless. She may recognise us, but we’re not sure. As far as we can tell Marion is content. She’s co-operative, isn’t distressed, smiles sometimes, and will occasionally try to burst into incoherent song.

Elm Bank Care Home are doing a fantastic job. They will care for Marion for the rest of her life, no matter how far the Alzheimer’s deteriorates.

Grandma - second from the rightHareg’s Grandma
Hareg (not her real name), one of Bingham Academy’s Teaching Assistants, cares for a lady with Alzheimer’s dementia at home. Hareg calls her “Grandma”, but they may not be related. This lady, who used to be a prominent evangelist and is well known in the local community, has deteriorated to the point that she now needs twenty-four-hour care. So, Hareg’s brother takes the day shift whilst Hareg takes the night time after work – as well as caring for her children and studying at evening or Saturday classes. Not an easy task, as the patient has become discontent and aggressive towards those attempting to help her. The dementia has developed since we arrived in Ethiopia, and I (Chris) visited shortly after our arrival when life for the family was much easier. Hareg comes to work every day with a big smile, a caring attitude, and great faith in God. Often in Ethiopia, family and friends are the only source of help and care anyone can hope for.

The streets Mateos wanderedMateos
(The names in this story are made up. The story is true.)
The cause of Mateos’s rapid mental decline was never quite clear. Making a diagnosis here can be challenging, and anyway communication between doctor and patient is often poor. Mateos was in his early sixties. A father of three young children with his younger wife Selamawit (Selam for short), it was thought that maybe a head injury several years ago had caused a brain problem. Maybe it was Alzheimer’s, although his rapid decline in less than a year from a fit working man to a complete inability to look after himself belied that. More important than the diagnosis though was how Selam would care for him. She had a job, and he had to be left alone during the working day. After he lost his job his work colleagues rallied round. They would pick him up from home, take him to spend the day at his previous place of work where the guards on the compound gate knew not to let him out on his own. But five months ago, when he was supposed to be at home, Mateos disappeared. Confused, he wandered the streets of Addis not knowing who or where he was. His work badge suggested to the police that he was no threat to anyone, so they just moved him on. Selam searched the streets of Addis for him, without success. After three days quite by chance Mateos found Selam’s phone number written on a slip of paper in his pocket (no-one knows how it got there) and he phoned her.

Mateos was kept at home after that, and became fully dependent on Selam, who had the family to care for and a job to do. Initially fear of the city kept Mateos indoors. Selam relaxed about him wandering off again.

But just under two weeks ago, Mateos vanished again.

For cultural reasons Selam was reluctant to ask her employer for help a second time. So after work, on her own and into the night, Selam would search the streets of Addis Ababa for her husband. She took a photograph of him to numerous police stations, but few systems exist here to help locate missing persons in a city whose streets are full of the lost, the homeless, the sick and the destitute. Selam was told by the police that she should also ask in hospitals. Not to see if he had been admitted; but to find out if a body had been brought in. Trekking from hospital to hospital Selam had to go through the bodies in the mortuaries all by herself. Then she found him.

We’ll never know exactly what happened. Mateos had been robbed, murdered, and his body left naked in a forest on the edge of the city. The authorities had no way to identify him. Selam found him just in time – the next day his body would have been disposed of - mass grave, incineration, we don’t know. Neither will we ever know, nor can we even imagine, the horror of the last few hours of the life of this Alzheimer’s sufferer.

And what of Selam? She and her family were able to mourn their tragic loss, and she said she felt that finding him in the nick of time was in the mercy of God, as she was able to achieve closure rather than for ever wondering what had happened to him. Literally hundreds attended the funeral. Three days of bereavement leave is what you are allowed in Ethiopia, then it’s back to work; back to normal.

Four years ago, I told you about Abiyot. She is still working at SIM HQ. I see Abiyot every day as she works in the guesthouse. I love it when her adorable little daughter has to come and see me – as pretty as a picture, spring-like curls exploding from her head, and usually wearing a huge Ethiopian smile. Abiyot has survived. In a country and city where death is a way of life and where help and support are sparse and rare, she just had to. Maybe Selam will be the same.

Please, would you pray for Selam? Thanks.

Selam’s employer, a friend of ours, is seeking sponsorship for Selam’s children – as you can imagine, Selam’s financial situation is challenging. If you feel you could help, please get in touch with me.

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