When a parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a son or daughter often steps in to take care of them as the disease progresses. One son did just that for his beloved mother, but he made sure those last years were an adventure.
Sean O’Sallaigh’s mother Mary O’Neil was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2013. She was 77 at the time. O’Sallaigh was living in Rome but would return home to Ireland on a regular basis to check in on her. As Mary’s disease progressed and her son found himself caring for her four days a week, family started discussing putting her in a home. O’Sallaigh had a different idea.
He and his mother traveled to Nepal in February 2018 for what was intended to be a short-term trip to help her escape Ireland’s winter weather. When they arrived, there was a marked change in Mary.
O’Sallaigh says, “I thought Alzheimer’s was just a decline, but when we got to Nepal she started to regain capabilities. I couldn’t understand it and the doctor there told me it was all the new stimulation. Everyone wanted to talk to her and she loved it.”
Children would spend time with them as they sat at cafes, calling Mary “Grandma.” She said “namaste” to everyone. They also got to take part in a festival that brought her even more joy.
O’Sallaigh says, “We were there during a festival called ‘Happy Holi’, where they throw colored powder up in the air. They asked me if they could throw some over her and she loved it.”
The mother-son adventure wasn’t over, though. Next came Rome in April. This was a familiar locale for Mary because she remembered her son’s apartment. They enjoyed restaurants, churches, and a trip up to the mountains in Umbria when it got too warm in July.
As the trip continued, there were roadblocks to traverse, but O’Sallaigh improvised.
He says, “To avoid her the indignity of nappies, I used to put her on the toilet quite often. I would pop her commode in the back of the car when we were going on a trip, so she would sit on the side of Italian mountain roads on her commode.”
There was still one more leg of the adventure: South Africa. By that time, Mary had extra caregiver to help because she was becoming more and more unwell. Despite that, she did get to bury her toes in a sandy beach and watch children play.
By April 2019, she could no longer walk and ultimately passed away after a chest infection in May.
O’Sallaigh is grateful for the adventure they shared and for being able to care for her.
He says, “I had to put my life on hold to look after her like that, but it gave me so much, too. People thought she would be a burden but she just never was. We had a really difficult time when I was young, and we only got through it because we had such an amazing mother.”
He says he got plenty of reward with the appreciation in her eyes. When she told him that he was good or that she loved him at the end of the day, it was enough for him.