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Stefania’s story: mum’s journey with Alzheimer’s

Stefania Muscara Higgins was fondly labelled as one of the ‘Italian mumma’s’ who reached the semi-finals of My Kitchen Rules in 2011. Her love of cooking for her family and friends stemmed from her close relationship with her mother.

Unfortunately, along with approximately 160,000 other Australian’s, Stefania’s mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 63.

Here, Stefania shares her story.

“Hi, my name is Stefania and I would like to share my story.

I am a proud mother of three beautiful girls who fill my life mostly with happy moments - until I have to say, “go and tidy up your rooms!” - I am sure this is a sentence used by most parents at least once a week!

Motherhood has been the most precious gift God has given me in this life. One day, I hope to be remembered along with all the sweet memories shared in our household, the cooking and the moments that make us a family, as that is how I remember my sweet Mum.

I have always had a closer relationship with my Mum than my Dad. I could talk to her about anything and of course, my passion for cooking came from my Mum.

I used to enjoy getting in the kitchen with her and helping her plan Sunday lunch for the family. She was clean and precise in the kitchen and her meals were always full of love.

I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family, so I remember my Mum buying live chickens or live fish from the markets in Italy and watching her do the rest! This meant a beautiful freshly cooked dish for us all to enjoy.

My mum’s name was Maria Immacolata and she grew up in a convent with nuns until her teenage years. Her own mum passed away during the war due to being very sick. She had a hard childhood. It was very stressful and lonely in the convent. By the age of 18, her brother brought her over to Australia where she met my handsome father. They became Christians under a Billy Graham Crusade in Perth in the 60’s.

My mum started showing signs of misplacing items and forgetting things when she was 63 years old. She started forgetting conversations and misunderstanding us on many occasions. She used to get very upset about trivial things. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, we were very upset as we didn’t know anyone else with this disease and it caught us by surprise.

My dad didn’t understand it at all, and it was hard at times to juggle them both. My sisters and I took every opportunity to take mum out during the week to give my dad a break. I used to take mum out on Thursdays, and we would spend the day at my cousin Daniela’s house with her mum. Daniela would wash and dry our hair and we would finish off the day with a beautiful lunch together.

Nutella was always on the table for my mum! She also used to love playing Italian card games, even when she didn’t know the rules anymore, we still used to play, and every time we would let her win!

We did as much as possible with her, taking her out to familiar places, visiting relatives, eating things that she loved - she had a sweet tooth! We did everything we could to make her happy without focussing on the misunderstandings due to her forgetfulness. I have so many photos and videos of us all singing and dancing together with my children - she loved it so much.

I knew time was limited so every day was a day to celebrate life with her. Sometimes it was just going for a walk or laying on the couch watching TV with her. How I miss those simple days together.

The last year was the hardest for us all. Mum had deteriorated so much and I knew that her time to go was close. She lost so many motor skills and when she looked at me, she always had a smile, but I wasn’t sure if she knew which one of her daughters I was.

The last six months of her life, mum couldn’t walk anymore so we had to place her into an Aged Care Home. I am so thankful to all the aged care staff who helped us during this transition as we slowly said goodbye to our one and only mum.

Holding her hand in the car while I was driving to places was something I will cherish forever. I decided one day to capture this moment for me to have it forever in my mind and my heart.”

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