THERE can be few things in life more hideous, terrifying and upsetting as watching the onset of dementia in a loved one.
But sometimes the coping mechanism families must grasp, are the real-life scenarios which can play out like a black comedy.
And sometimes the person upon whom the last laugh is focused isn't the person you thought it would be.
My friend Mae's mum Isobel, suffered from dementia for a few years before she passed away.
To us, Isobel seemed as normal as the next mum, perhaps because we only spent a few hours in her company when she was able to join us for a Sunday drink.
But Mae experienced the many challenges of Isobel's sad illness.
Sunday's at 3pm my friends and I would meet locally for a catch up and a drink.
However, it would often be nearer 4pm before Mae would appear flustered and tense.
"What kept you?" we asked waiting for the weekly explanation.
"Oh, you'll never believe me," said Mae.
"I finished lunch at my mum's and had just left, when a few minutes later she phoned my mobile in a panic.
"'Mae. Mae', my mum shouted down the phone at me: 'I think the dog's eaten the budgie'.
"I told her to calm down and take a deep breath."
"I waited a moment for her to calm down and then asked her why she thought the dog had eaten the budgie."
I should explain here that Mae's mum's budgie had free run of the house.
"Well," my mum panted', said Mae. 'I cannae find the budgie anywhere and the dog's sitting by the window covered in blue and white feathers.'
Anyway Mae was slowly recovering from her traumatic afternoon.
"That's what kept me," said Mae. With no real offer of an explanation.
My pal Christine was the first to react. "Here Mae, have a glass of wine and chill out."
"I will in a wee while," said Mae. "But I'll have my usual pint of ginger beer to start with."
Christine looked at me and raised her eyebrows.
"Mae sometimes starts off with ginger beer," I informed her
"Why?" asked Christine, knowing how much Mae enjoyed a glass of wine on our Saturday nights out.
Mae, eagerly awaiting her thirst-quenching drink, started to enlighten her friend.
"My mum looks forward to me coming every Sunday for lunch, so I hate to refuse. Especially, since my dad died. She's got nobody else to cook for."
"Surely you could give it a miss just one Sunday," I suggested, knowing all the while that my pal's love for her mum would never let that happen.
"Nah. Mind you I've considered it many times," said Mae
But being a dedicated daughter, Mae always did the dutiful thing and appeared for lunch every Sunday - hungry or not.
We sipped our wine while Christine handed Mae her pint of Ginger Beer with ice.
A grateful Mae barely stopped for breath.
Glug glug glug, until the pint glass was nearly empty.
"Ah, that's better," she said. "I've always got some drooth after my Sunday lunch."
She went on to explain to Christine.
"My mum insists on making her specialty which is home-made steak pie with potatoes and carrots. It used to be my dad's favourite."
"I thought you loved steak pie," Christine said, her curiosity piqued.
"I do," confirmed Mae. "But the problem is, because my mum has dementia, she salts the steak pie and then forgets she has salted
it and then salts it again... and again …"
"Oh," Christine replied finally grasping the situation. "It must taste awful."
"It does," Mae agreed, nodding. "But she's been making her home-made steak pie that way for so long now, that she doesn't realize just how awful it tastes and I have to pretend that I am enjoying it."
She reached for and polished off the last of the ginger beer.
"Sometimes I try and hide some of it under the pastry," Mae admitted sheepishly, like she was a five-year-old.
We all nodded sympathetically. It must be difficult for both of them.
IN silence we topped up the wine and thought about Mae's almost weekly dilemma and tried to figure out how she could avoid the extra salty homemade steak pie.
Suddenly a light went on and I had a possible solution.
"Mae, I know it's too expensive to take your mum out for lunch every week, but I saw a poster up in the Tudor Hotel advertising a lunchtime special."
Mae was all ears and so I continued. "All this month they are offering two meals for the price of one."
Mae considered this idea for a moment and smiled, grateful for my money- saving proposal.
"Oh, thanks Janice, that's a lovely idea,"she replied, "BUT I COULDN'T EAT TWO MEALS."
Well, I did my best.