Modern Stories of Motherhood: Tully Smyth's Story

Meet Tully 

Can you share a little bit about your mum and your childhood? 

My name's Tully. This is my mum, Kay, and this is our story.  

My mum was an absolute powerhouse. She was the woman that wanted it all and she worked really hard to achieve that. She owned her own recruitment business and had three of us young kids at home. 

Like many full-time working mums, she was doing long hours in the office and then she'd come home and then throw these big, elaborate dinner parties on the weekends. She was feisty and she was passionate and she worked really, really hard so that we kids could have the best of everything.


Can you share a little bit about what happened? 


Since she was very much “the woman who had it all” and was always the one juggling all the balls in the air, when things started to go, I guess, amiss, we were all a bit confused. 

At first, we just put it down to stress. 

She was a busy working mum with three young kids, but more and more we noticed bigger changes in her personality, in her mood, in her health. 

It was little things at first, like she was buying multiple cartons of milk at the supermarket or she'd lose her car in the Westfield carpark, but when her entire personality seemed to change, we realised something was seriously wrong. Mum initially went in for tests for everything from sleep apnea to a brain tumour before we discovered that she had early-onset dementia. 

At that point in time, I was 14 maybe 15 years old and my brothers were 14 and 9. So we were all still pretty young. And unfortunately, as is the case with early-onset dementia, the decline is scarily rapid. And we saw that happen in our day-to-day lives. 

And it was pretty traumatic. Being the oldest, I was privy to probably a bit more than my brothers. It was confusing and overwhelming and devastating all at once.  


Can you share a little bit about the process of having her in your life as a child and then going through that grieving stage and understanding it as a child, you've just lost your mum at such a young age?  


It's even hard now at 36 years old to reflect back on my mum. And when I'm asked questions about her, I have this sort of sense of guilt and shame because I don't have a lot of memories of her. 

And the memories that I do have, every year I get older, they get foggier and patchier because I was so young. When you're a teenager, when you're 14, 15 years old, you're in your own world, you're self-obsessed. Your biggest concerns are what's happening on the playground and who your best friend is that week and if you're invited to their pool party. 

So I really wasn't sort of, I guess, taking note of what was really happening with mum's health. Dad also was working overtime to protect us from it. So there was so much that was happening behind the scenes that we still don't know about to this day. 

But it was tough to go from having this mum who was always busy, who was a warm, loving, vivacious powerhouse of a woman to someone who, suddenly couldn't remember my best friend's name or, couldn't figure out simple change when handing you your tuck shop money. It was all really confusing and we didn't really quite know what to make of it. 
It just felt like one day my mum went from loving me to not liking me at all and I didn't understand why. 

Well, I knew in theory that it was the disease, and my dad was great at reminding us of that when she'd have an episode or there'd be an outburst because people with early onset dementia, they've got these intense mood swings and changes. And as an adult, you can understand but as a teenager, it was hard to comprehend why suddenly it felt like my mum didn't like me very much. That was really hard.

And weirdly, I feel like it’s gotten harder. Maybe because I’m coming into a time of my life where I’m considering motherhood myself. But in hindsight, mum got sick at quite literally the worst time in a woman's life. 

I was 14, 15 years old, prepubescent, on the precipice of all, you know, the biggest moments in my life, the scariest moments in my life. I didn't have her to talk to about boyfriends or dating, shaving my legs, getting my period. I didn't have her around for those really key moments when you really need your mum. 

There are just some things in life where you really need your mum and I sadly didn't have my mum. I mean, she was there physically but she wasn't there in any other way. Definitely, as I've gotten older I’ve found it’s gotten harder, not easier because, something as little as going to the shops and seeing someone my age with their mum walking to the shops, I find myself getting angry and jealous because I never got to do that. Those moments were stolen from me.

And now that I'm thinking about settling down, having kids, getting married, just like she wasn't there with me to try on my year 12 formal dress. She won't be there with me when I try on my wedding dress. 

She won't be at my wedding. She's never going to meet my partner. She's never going to meet my kids. 

She's never going to help, you know, babysit or help me pick names. I think as well, as you get older, you start to want to relate. I see my friends start to relate to their mothers as human beings.
When you're younger, your mum is this kind of ethereal figure that sort of sits on this pedestal and you think that they can do no wrong. But they're kind of removed, from you. And I think as you get older, you become two human beings that are just trying to do their best and you share advice and you learn and you grow- together as two adults. 

And I don't have that relationship. I never had the chance to have that relationship and that's really hard as well. And then there’s the basic things, as I've gotten older, there are so many holes and gaps in my, I guess, life education. Like I can't braid. I can barely plait. I can't cook. 

I feel like I missed all these life lessons and steps that I feel like I was supposed to do with my mum that I didn’t get a chance to.
It gets harder, not easier as you get older. And I don't know why. 

It’s also tricky because with so many of my memories- it's hard to know which are mine and what I've been told by my dad.
I also think I've blocked a lot out as well. Because like there were nights where I'd wake up and she'd be screaming in a psychotic episode.
So, like there is just stuff that I've blocked out as well.

Mother's Day is a tricky one. In fact, Mother's Day is genuinely the hardest day of the year. I think it's harder than her birthday. It's harder than Christmas. It's harder than my birthday because it is just everywhere. You can't go anywhere without seeing an ad for Mother's Day or an email telling you to treat your mum to something special this weekend.

And I think for a while, I just wanted to get in bed and hide under a doona and rot. I just wanted to rot the day away. I wanted it to be over. 

But over the last couple of years, I've really managed to flip my mindset and it's so much lighter and so much nicer to actually spend the day celebrating my mum. Just because she's no longer with us doesn't mean she didn't exist. 

She's still my mum and she's absolutely still worth celebrating. And I've just tried to flip my mindset and use the day to celebrate her. She loved the finer things in life, as do I. We both lived champagne lives on a beer budget. 

So I like to spend Mother's Day going somewhere fancy and treating myself to a full course lunch with oysters, because she loved oysters and champagne, expensive champagne, because she loved champagne and then really a decadent chocolate dessert because she also loved chocolate. And since having this mindset shift, I actually really enjoy seeing everybody's Instagram posts, you know, with photos of their mum. It actually doesn't make me sad anymore. 

It makes me happy, it's really sweet. And I think it's much more enjoyable to spend the day celebrating the mother that I had and her life and how lucky I am that she was my mum than it is to cry on the couch. So that's what I've been doing for the past couple of years and I highly recommend that anybody else who's gone through something similar do the same because they are worth celebrating and they're still our mums, even though they're no longer with us.

I know it’s hard but if you can, try to change your mindset: just because my mum is no longer with us, she's still my mum. I'm still lucky enough to be her daughter and I think it's way more enjoyable to spend Mother's Day celebrating the fact that just because she's no longer with us doesn't mean she's not my mum. Happy Mother's Day, mum. 


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