Born 22 February 1946 Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
My name is Maria Carmel Turner. I was born in Brisbane on the 22nd of February, 1946. My early recollection of time in Brisbane – my Granpdarents had a corner store and then my Parents took it over. The stories that they tell of me as a little one from when I started to crawl. I would go down to the shop and say, “Just un. Just un. Just un Lolly.” (Just one lolly) So I think that’s probably where I got my sweet tooth from – way back then. The other story was when, and I still remember this vaguely, when they took me into the Brisbane Childrens’ Hospital to have my tonsils and adenoids out. My mother and grandmother were outside and all they can hear of me being taken up the ward was, “But I don’t wear nappies. I haven’t worn nappies since I was six months old.” I also got into trouble there because I threw a toy at the little boy in the cot beside me and I made his nose bleed. So I was a bit of bully then wasn’t I?”
Life in Brisbane had it’s ups and downs. My father was an alcoholic. I didn’t know him to drink until I was about nine. He’d gone to AA after a really bad first time, when he was married. My Mother had a bad time. He was good. Never ever knew of him to take a drink and then he got involved in politics and he started on the drink again. So life after that wasn’t terribly good. My Mum and Dad separated. My Mum was like a sister to me. I was an only child. We were great mates. At forty-two she died of cancer. I was only seventeen. That was a very traumatic time in my life. I’d do anything to have her back.
I went to school at Buranda in Brisbane. Actually, where I went to school, I’m now in a Retirement Village in Maroubra and the same people have a Retirement Village at Buranda, right on the spot where I was at school – St Luke’s at Buranda. So I’m dying to go up there to see what it’s like. A great big oval that played out sports on. Where the school was and the netball courts or basketball as it was then. I’m sort of turning a full circle, going back to there.
Then I went to High School in Clayfield in Brisbane. Hated High School. Hated, hated, hated every minute of it. I left school without doing the equivalent of the HSC. I didn’t do the senior year because I was seventeen and I could start nursing, which was all I wanted to do. I did my four-year nursing training at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane. I met the most beautiful friends I have ever had, and still have. So it was a great time.
Then I came down here to Sydney to continue my nursing training to do my Midwifery course. That’s where I met my husband so I haven’t gone back to Brisbane since, except to visit.
We bought our first house, a semi, in Nagle Avenue at Maroubra. That’s where I met my friend Margaret Mahony. She was in the house opposite. I used to watch her coming and going. She had grown up in the area and knew just so many people. All the school mates used to come and visit. I didn’t know anyone in the area. I was very lonely at that stage. I’d had the kids young. One day I got up the courage and I thought, Bugger it, I’m gonna go over and say hello. Which I did. She had a little boy, Adam at that stage and then she had another boy, Graeme a couple of years later. Margie and I have been friends ever since. We lost contact for a while but then we got back in contact with each other. It’s been a good friendship.
The following is taken from a story written by Maria Turner that was published in a book entitled, ‘Opening the Doors’ the hidden life of carers.
Where a blind date can lead
My life really began way back in 1969 when a blind date arranged by a friend led me to meet the beautiful man I was destined to marry. He was short dark and handsome and had the most beautiful speaking voice I had ever heard. We could talk together for hours. After a whirlwind romance we were engaged in just six weeks. The only problem was that I had booked and paid for an overseas trip. After a shorter than planned trip and a courtship of much correspondence, via letter and recording tapes we were happily married in April 1970.
Our first daughter arrived in 1973, a son in 1975, another daughter in 1977 and our little surprise daughter in 1981. Geoff was a great Dad who was very involved in all aspects of his childrens’ upbringing.
As an accountant he had several jobs but from what he said he most enjoyed his first as mail boy at 2GB and working for a Pastoral Company when he visited many properties.
I think he was a frustrated jackeroo or grazier and always loved to follow Landline and check the current prices of wool, cotton, beef and lamb. After he was forced to finish work he had to have the correct money to walk to the newsagent every Thursday. There he would purchase The Land newspaper so that he could keep up with country life. I really knew that his condition was getting worse when he forgot all about the Thursday ritual. One of his earliest skills lost was numbers and money; strange fur an accountant.
Geoff had always been one to reminisce greatly about ‘The Good Old Days’. He could tell you the names of many teachers going back to kindergarten as well as subjects he had been taught. He loved his cubs and scouts and their many activities and of course, he encouraged his son to follow in his footsteps. I always envied how he could occupy himself for hours with reading, writing or listening to rock and roll music or many of his quirky collections of timetables-bus, ferry, plane, tram and train - anything regarding transport. He even had an old tram roll which he often turned to show the daily destination and would inform us all of where the day was headed. I was used to his many strange little hobbies but loved him just the same.
Our journey down Alzheimer’s street began almost 14 years ago when I realized that things were just not right with my husband. It was not until finally in 2001 that a full diagnosis was made – Alzheimer’s disease with a large amount of frontal lobe involvement. It had earlier thought to be caused by stress or sleep apnoea. Scans showed that he had the brain of an eighty year old at the age on a fifty six year old man! At least when knew then that there was a reason for the poor memory, lack of motivation and organisational skills and change of personality. The calm, patient man became totally impatient and quitting every job after periods of time with no motivation to search for another. I had to become the full time wage earner – four children still being at school – and having little support with home duties while my husband sat at home writing stories, mainly based on his early days of life and totally losing himself in his own thoughts.
I had a nursing background so thought “we can cope” but nothing prepares you for being a twenty four/seven carer. Our journey through life with Alzheimer’s was once described as “The Long Goodbye.”
Fortunately we were introduced to the Alzheimer’s Association early in the piece through a friend and attended their wonderful, “Living with early memory loss program.” Apart from learning more about the disease as well as legal and financial situations which needed to be established we began with the magnificent realisation that we were not alone and that there was a multitude of assistance out in the community by way of organisations, paid by employees and fabulous volunteers as well as others in the same boat. We could all join to help each other live with this slowly debilitating disease.
As far as the sufferers of this disease were concerned it was the first time that they came to be with other sufferers and were able to discuss their feelings openly. My husband made friends with Don and they could talk about things together and even travel once a month to attend follow up activities at North Ryde for some years before my husband became too ill to make the venture safely.
For quite some time life went on much the same. We had always planned to travel around Australia when we retired so I thought “Why wait?” We purchased a little old campervan and started to make plans. My husband was so excited that I used to arrive home from work to find him sitting in the van just writing or reading and thinking about all we could do, see and experience.
We finally took off and travelled through Victoria, Tasmania and much of NSW for about 3 months until Geoff's driving and navigation became of great concern. At one stage, when our daughter was travelling with us, we came very close to a serious accident in which we could have all been wiped out by a very large truck.
On return, his loss of license inspired by testing was a great upset to him and very degrading as he saw this as a loss of his independence. He even wanted to start riding a bicycle and it took a lot of persuasion regarding safety and “those other silly buggers you can't trust on the road.”
If Geoff did any small jobs at home or for anyone he wondered why he was not being paid and really missed the mateship of men at work. He was still very involved with our now grown children and I admire their patience as he always had to join in with their friends and enjoyed nothing more than sharing a drink and cigarette with them.
Geoff's condition progressed fairly slowly and we enjoyed being part of many Alzheimer's Association educational and social activities. We also participated in drug studies with the hope of maybe helping future generations. I worked until Geoff's safety and home needs forced me to quit.
He had for many years spent one day at the weekend with his Mum mainly reminiscing and looking at old photos etc. Her death in 2006 had a profound effect on him without us fully realising.
As things got worse we had to tap into extra services like home respite, then daycare centres and finally home care and help with personal care. As Geoff became more aggressive, restless and in need of full-time care we were forced to have a phone hook up for a family conference and make the devastating decision to admit him to Nursing Home Care.
He is now beautifully and lovingly cared for only five minutes from home and has already survived a near death episode. His mental state has become greatly deteriorated but he is still my beautiful, if now, merely skeletal and non-mobile boy.
I would not change the opportunity of that blind date for anything. Even with the ups and downs and the ever-threatening and getting closer time to say a final goodbye. With his amazing love of music I am reminded of a school song which Geoff loved and always made me cry.
This will be our last song together
Words will only make us cry
This will be our last song together
There's no other way we can say goodbye
While sitting here reminiscing about the years spent manoeuvring myself and my husband through the maze of Alzheimer’s disease, I can’t help but think about the many wonderful people that we have met and the (God willing) never to be forgotten friendships created during that time.
The words of Jim Henson's unforgettable Sesame Street song with the words, "It's the people that you meet when you're walking down the street, it's the people-that you meet each day" ring in my ears. I spent many hours watching Sesame Street with my four darling children.
I have made some fabulous friends to share the good and bad times, to laugh at and with each other and then also the times of sadness and loss. Without these people and the amazing support of my wonderful family I would have been unable to survive. I have been through the full gamut of emotions - love, hate, fear, panic attacks, depression, impatience, helplessness and hopelessness. But, with the grace of God, I survived to live and love another day.
I would like to thank many people, without giving individual names and the many associations who have all helped in our struggle. Professors, doctors, GP's, nurses, occupational and diversional therapists, counsellors, receptionists and the fabulous ACAT team at the Prince of Wales. The Alzheimer's Association and especially the monthly coming together group and fabulous AD. Hoc social volunteers and our support groups has been invaluable. Respite and Home Care of St Luke's and Spiritus, the Holdsworth centre and Annabel House, especially with the inception of weekend care there were a Godsend. The Benevolent Society and Respite centre and now in our final stages, the superb staff at Amity nursing home, Maroubra Junction and the many sufferers of this horrible disease and their 24/7 carers and loved ones, especially my many friends and family both here and in the USA, could not have been done without
To all the people connected with helping us come through this with still a little sanity and hope for the future, I say a big thank you. Family and friendships are the ultimate achievements in my life and I hope that I have some time after the trauma of Alzheimer's has reached it’s final closure for me and my beloved Geoffrey so that I can once again enjoy life and my amazing children and grandchildren of now and the future.
I worked in Sydney quite a bit with Nursing at the Royal North Shore in the Maternity Ward there. Then when we moved over this side I did a lot of aged care nursing in private nursing homes. Then I was in charge at night for a private hospital in Bondi. It looked straight over Bondi Beach. It was a magnificent spot to work. We used to be able to go up and toast the New Year in up on the roof and watch all party goers down on the beach and everything. But it closed down. I decided I needed to get a bit of a refresher going. That’s when I went to Prince Henry Hospital. I made some beautiful friends out there that I’ve still got. One of them I was only talking to last night. She turns eighty in a couple of weeks time. I’ve met lovely friends all along the way.