Page last updated at 09:21 GMT, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 10:21 UK

'Mum's cheerfulness is inspirational'

By Sue Bourne
Director, BBC One's Mum And Me

Sue, Ethel and Holly [Photo: BBC Scotland/Wellpark Productions]
Ethel has been an inspiration to Sue and Holly

Mum and I lie together on the bed in her nursing home.

She points to a black and white picture of a handsome man on the wall.

"I speak to Dad quite a lot," she says.

"But, Mum, that's not your dad. That's your husband John. My father. The man you were very happily married to for 49 years!"

"Oh," she says, momentarily looking slightly bemused. "That's why he's so familiar then."

And the two of us collapse into peals of laughter.

This little scene I think explains why I wanted to make a film about my 84-year-old mother, Ethel. And the fact she has Alzheimer's disease.

Having fun

Instead of her being terminally sad and miserable, my mother has shown me - and my teenage daughter Holly - how to laugh and have fun.

All three of us deal with difficult situations by finding humour something to laugh and be positive about
Sue Bourne

And how to make the most of the time we spend together - and indeed our lives.

I never really thought of my little old Mum as either inspirational or remarkable. In fact, truth to tell, I thought she was really rather ordinary.

But in the way she has reacted to her Alzheimer's - she was diagnosed seven years ago - I now see she is indeed a rather remarkable person.

And in a way I have rather fallen in love with my own mother, after years of a somewhat stormy relationship.

We are lucky Holly, Ethel and I.

While Alzheimer's has indeed robbed her of much of her memory, in many ways she has not declined mentally all that much in recent years.

I realise that for many people that is not the case, you can lose your relatives to the disease very quickly indeed.

And when that happens, often all you are left with is an empty shell, a shadow of a person who no longer knows or recognises you.

Essence intact

I didn't know when Mum was diagnosed what would happen.

Ethel and Sue [Photo: BBC Scotland/Wellpark Productions]
Sue had thought her mother rather ordinary

When Holly and I started filming with Mum over three years ago, we thought most probably we were just making a rather nice video record of our times together.

I most certainly did not want to tell the story of my mother's decline.

But what we got instead was a realisation that, in spite of her Alzheimer's, my mother's "essence" - her sense of humour, her kindness, her compassion, her naughtiness - have remained to this day.

And that is what you will, I hope, see in the film Mum And Me.

Are there lessons for other people dealing with Alzheimer's in our film? I really don't know.

I think we all react in different ways to situations like this.

What I now see in my little family is that all three of us deal with difficult situations by finding humour something to laugh and be positive about.

Determined to be cheerful

We take our lead from Mum with her indomitable spirit and determination not to be miserable.

I have often talked to her about her Alzheimer's and if it makes her sad.

She always says: "What is there to be sad about? I am happy, Sue, don't worry.

"I am cared for and I am safe, surrounded by lovely kind people, looked after.

"And I have a lovely family who I love and who love me.

"There is no point wasting time being sad."

I only hope that, when I get old, I have a thimbleful of her positivity
Sue Bourne

The reality is that her situation is - to the outside world - pretty grim.

She has Alzheimer's, she lives in a nursing home and her beloved husband is dead. Her only daughter and granddaughter live 400 miles away and only visit once a month.

Her friends - and she had many - no longer really come and visit her.

And yet. And yet. She finds the good things and focuses on them.

And if, momentarily, she dwells on the sadder side of life, she will soon shake her head and remind herself, yet again, to be cheerful.

Kindness and affection

I only hope that, when I get old, I have a thimbleful of her positivity.

Because how you are generates goodwill in those around you.

And at the nursing home, and amongst her friends, everyone loves my mother. And she in turn appreciates their kindness and affection.

In terms of practicalities, there are things that I do for Mum that might be useful to other people.

I try to phone her every day - pretty short and sweet but contact nonetheless - to let her know, somewhere deep inside her confused brain, that she is loved and in our thoughts.

Concerned that Mum was most probably lacking friendship and stimulation at the nursing home, I found - eventually - a very nice lady who I pay to go in to see Mum two or three times a week.

She takes her out for little trips in her car. They visit the local garden centre together and invariably Mum meets people she knows.

She takes her round to her house for a cup of tea and a wee stroll round the garden.

Mum loves this lady (she thinks she is her old friend) and her visits. I think they keep her happy in my absence.

Additionally Mum goes to another nursing home every Monday and spends a day there.

I think this is good, it gets Mum out of her own nursing home.

Up and dressed early on a Monday morning (she hates that bit) and off out to different people and a different environment for the day.

Count our blessings

There are still, of course, one or two loyal, wonderful friends who do go round and visit Mum and take her out sometimes.

I wish there were more of her old friends around but many of them too are getting on a bit, or have their own crosses to bear.

I count our blessings on a daily basis.

Mum is still "with us". We still have contact, fun and laughter together.

I don't look forward to the next phase - if or when it comes - where there is no contact, when Mum starts fading away before my very eyes.

But Holly and I now know what we have to do.

Mum has shown us over the last few years.

We will just have to make the most of our time with her.

Forever and a day.

Watch Mum And Me on BBC One on Tuesday, 20 May, 2008 at 2235 BST and for seven days at BBC iPlayer.


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