10 May 2014

Mother’s day Post: Biddy Korhonen and the women behind her

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For mother’s day I would like to focus on the mother in my upcoming family drama A TIME TO LET GO. (TBR May 15th)

Biddy Korhonen

Born Elizabeth Hargreaves and married to Walter Korhonen she is the loving glue that holds the family together. Her “Biddy helpline” once depleted the best cordless phone batteries and her smile is warm, engaging and disarming. She is the selfless, caring, giving mother, who tirelessly works to keep everyone happy. She prefers to do things herself, wants to help wherever she can, even if she is actually not helping. In a film version Dame Judy Dench would be my dream cast.

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Now Biddy has fallen prey to Alzheimer’s Disease. The once vibrant and intelligent Biddy is reduced to being treated like a young child but thanks to her endearing, child-like qualities she still manages to find comfort and happiness in her days. She still loves music, nature, dogs, feeding the ducks and guilty pleasures, such as hot chocolate and flapjacks.

She does not recognise her children, but she responds positively to them, as she does with most people. download

For the patient the most tragic part of the disease seems to be the loss of orientation and security. Not being able to rely on one’s brain, not remembering and feeling helpless.

The most tragic part of Alzheimer’s Disease for the people around the patient is to watch this, and to see the most beloved character traits oo their loved ones disappear. The things that made the person special are slipping away slowly, but constantly.

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Today I naturally remember my own mother, Maria, who passed on so early in her life, almost thirty years ago. It was her sister Philomena who stepped into the breach and treated me like one of her own. Both sister’s wonderful nature helped me bring the character of Biddy alive.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21947533-time-to-let-go

Here is a little excerpt that tells of a habit of Biddy’s that I ‘stole’ from real life. 

He noticed that his daughter spent a long time on the phone. It made him remember how Biddy had done the same. His wife could spend several hours on the phone every day, advising large parts of the family, who all seemed to look up to her for her advice and insight. They knew they would always find an empathetic listener in her, someone who could find a positive spin on a bad situation, and make them feel better about whatever bothered them in their life.

Sometimes this had reached such extremes that Walter felt his wife was neglecting her duties to her immediate family and he had threatened to unplug the damn thing while she was still talking.

“Please don’t, Walter,” she would say. “Rosie needs my help. I can’t hang up on her.”

“Tell her to come here then,” Walter would bark. “You are blocking the line and if she was here you could talk while you are doing your chores.”

“Rosie, I just have to move,” Biddy would say and would take the phone upstairs, but Walter would follow.

Biddy hung up eventually and started work in the kitchen, but the second that Walter was out of sight she would grab the handset and hide in the basement and call her sister back.

“There you are,” Walter would say when he caught her eventually. time to let go - out may 15th

“Just give me another five minutes,” Biddy pleaded. “This is important.” From what he heard the calls were never really important and neither did she ever hang up that quickly.

But as luck would have it the handsets operated on battery power and had to be charged. This limited the amount of time his wife could spend on the phone dramatically. After about two hours the handset started to make irritating noises and would soon shut down completely, cutting the ‘Biddy helpline’ off without Walter having to interfere at all.

The fact that then calls for the rest of the family could not be answered either – until the battery levels were sufficient for further talking time – was lost on him. He was just happy that the woman was finally off the phone.

Hanna had bought her mother a mobile phone once they had become affordable, but neither Walter nor Biddy had been good at working out the technology. Phones had been nothing but a curse in his married life.

Now that Biddy no longer spent all this time on the phone Walter realised how he had enjoyed their cat and mouse games, regardless of the anger he had felt at the time. The rows about it had been part of their life and in a strange way he missed it. He smiled at the thought that Hanna had inherited her mother’s love for the phone, and one could say that Patrick had inherited Biddy’s desire to help others. It was comfortable to see that – even though her own light was fading – Biddy’s legacy was living on in her children.

Biddy’s character was slightly modelled on my aunt, who had a similar ‘helpline’ phone habit.

Here is a picture of my aunt who served as an inspiration for Biddy’s character, before and after contracting the disease.

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written by
Christoph Fischer was born in Germany in 1970 as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. ‘The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ is his first published work. He has written several other novels which are in the later stages of editing and finalisation.
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