Yokko came to Australia from Japan 20 years ago.
She met and fell in love with Andre while working on his farm on the Far North Coast.
“It was love at first sight,” Yokko says. “I was helping him build a stone retaining wall and a raised bed veggie garden. He said I was the first woman he had ever met who was practical and liked to make things.
“I thought that was a very funny thing to say. Being practical was second nature to me – I came from a large family of all boys and we were farmers in Japan, so all of my life I have had to be practical, tinker with machinery, use tools, build things, grow crops, that sort of thing.”
Yokko and Andre married and set up home together, living the idyllic North Coast life for many years. They built a small cottage industry making goat milk soaps, and selling goat’s milk.
Sadly, Andre unexpectedly died from anaphylactic shock after suffering an extreme reaction to a tick bite.
Not long afterwards, still grieving following Andre’s death, Yokko’s father and five brothers were killed in Japan in an horrific farm accident.
“I brought mum over here to stay with me but it was a struggle for us both. I did not realise that she already had early stage dementia, but it became evident in the first week she arrived.
“I think my dad and brothers covered up for her a lot. At first I thought she was just depressed and grieving and I could understand that. But after a while I realised it was much more serious. She was withdrawn and moody but also fearful and suspicious of everyone and everything.
“I had employees who came in to help with the goat business and she would hide in her room and peer out through the curtains, refusing to leave until the very end of the day when she was sure they were gone. She thought they were police officers who were searching for her and coming to take her to jail.
“My mother became more and more anxious – about everything. If it rained, she was sure it would flood; if we had no rain she was sure we’d run out of water; if there was a noise like a possum in the roof she was sure it was the police coming to get her; if she saw a snake she was sure I was trying to kill her. It just went on and on relentlessly.
“One day she left the house and got lost and we had to get the police to help us look for her. She saw them from a distance and started running and they ran after her to catch her. It was all very traumatic and she was fighting, screaming and crying when they brought her back… all of this was happening while I was trying to run a business.
“Another day a friend unexpectedly called over to visit and again my mother thought it was the police. I had just ducked out to the post office. My mother told my friend she would “give her some money to go away”. My friend knew her, and knew she probably had dementia, so rather than upset her, my friend played along. My mother went into her room and came out with a bag full of money and said “here – take it – now go!”.
“My friend of course found me and gave me the money back but it showed me how vulnerable my mother was at home even for a few minutes. There were many other incidents – all different but similar. She would put her money somewhere ‘safe’ then accuse me of stealing it. When I found it for her, she was convinced I had hidden it in the first place.
“It was all very stressful and sad. I persevered for as long as I could but in the end, I could not cope anymore and decided to take my mother back to Japan and find a good nursing home for her.
“That is where she is now and I have to say I feel a big sense of relief that I am not the only one responsible for her anymore.
“I speak with her on Skype every single night and she seems to be much happier and more settled than when she was staying with me. She has her language and her culture and the food she likes to eat. These are big factors when you have dementia as everything needs to be familiar and safe. Routine is very important.
“I visit her every six months and that time comes around very quickly. When I get there I do all her medical check-ups, make sure she has new clothes, new books, new films to watch on the DVD player.
“We go out a lot and visit places of interest. I just came back from the cherry blossom season in Japan – that is a magical time of year and my mother was so happy to share it with me. We are both more relaxed and have quality time together when I visit. It is nice.
“I am so grateful that I have inherited enough money to give my mother a quality life is a really beautiful nursing home. I feel so sorry for people I see who have to share a single room with perhaps three or four others. That would be an awful way to spend one’s last years, I think. I wouldn’t want it for my mother or for myself. I am very fortunate.”