JACKIE Newton has always looked for the silver lining.
And you can understand why because it has served her family well during some dark periods.
None more so than in 1983 when husband Jack, at age 33, lost his right arm and eye, as well as part of his abdomen, in a well-documented accident involving a plane propeller.
At the time the pair had two young children, Kristie and Clint, aged just 5 and 3, with Jack at the height of his powers as an internationally renowned professional golfer. The world was at his feet.
But as her husband spent eight weeks in intensive care, Jackie knew that life had changed forever.
The silver lining?
"It made us stronger as a family, knowing we can get through the really tough times," Jackie said.
But now they're facing another hurdle - and this time there's no silver lining.
Since 2019 Jack has been battling dementia and his condition has slipped considerably over the last 12 months. With no cure, the family knows it can only get worse.
We're sharing a four-way zoom chat with Jackie at the family home in Newcastle, Clint and Kristie at home on the Central Coast and Melbourne respectively.
It's a Friday and Jack is out playing his weekly round with mates at Belmont Golf Club - "he's lost a bit of distance off the tee these days I'm told," Jackie says.
After his initial diagnosis on doctor's advice Jack gave away alcohol altogether - not insignificant because he'd enjoyed a wine or a cold beer as much as a birdie - and with appropriate medical treatment, his condition remained steady for more than 12 months.
But the last year hasn't been kind.
"He's definitely slipped," Jackie, his wife of 47 years, said. "He doesn't say very much these days, and when he does it has become increasingly difficult to follow what he's saying. It leaves him frustrated."
There are other telltale signs. "He might not remember where one of the rooms in our house is, or seeing a television show he's just finished watching."
It is a story many families of dementia sufferers will identify with.
Now the family want to talk about it to clear the air.
"There have been a few rumours going around, friends ringing us to ask if it's true, that sort of thing so we thought it best to get it out in the open," Jackie explained. "Maybe we can help other families who are experiencing something similar."
But it's a tough conversation. A couple of times she has to pause and regroup as she just manages to keep the tears at bay.
For Clint, the fact his dad was larger than life, has made his decline all the more obvious.
"He was never the sort of person to sit in a corner and not have an opinion, thank God," he said.
"But given his personality, it makes it much more noticeable. These days there's a stark difference between what was and what is.
"And we're realistic about it. We're aware that there's every chance that at some stage he's going to have to go into full time care - and that's very hard for us. But we're a resilient family.
"Occasionally there are still glimpses there of the old Jack ... it might be a laugh or the way he interacts with one of us or the grandkids. We hold on to that."
The Newtons aren't after sympathy and are quick to acknowledge that their situation is no different to that of many families. They also know they are in far better shape than most to deal with it.
"I think this is something Australia, as a nation, needs to have a conversation about," Clint said.
"We have what ... 25 or 26 million people? And I read that out of that population there are 1.6 million people having to care for someone with dementia. That's a huge number of people.
"We know that dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia.
"I shudder to think how incredibly difficult it must be for families in remote communities, for low income earners, people of lower socio economic background, or from disadvantaged areas to deal with it.
"It has a huge drain on the economy, but also on the people who have to be responsible for helping and the psychological drama they go through.
"There's more work that has to be done. There is nowhere near enough investment for people dealing with this, both from a carer and sufferer perspective."
Although Jack's outings are restricted these days, the family is still keen for him to get the social interaction he needs.
Aside from the weekly golf - "he still very much enjoys enjoys the golf ... he might play nine, 10 or 12 holes, depending on how he's feeling" - there are also regular visits to a favourite coffee shop with a couple of close mates.
"He'll sit and listen to them talk which is good," Jackie said. "He was also playing bowls most weeks although lockdown played havoc with that."
And Jackie will also drive him to the beach where they will go for a walk.
"Nobbys usually," she says. "People call out and he'll happily give them a wave. So he's still getting out."
Spare a thought too for Kristie who has had to see his health decline via the sterile environment of a computer screen as COVID lockdown requirements have kept her separated from the family.
"I haven't been to Newcastle since about March and I'm hoping I can be there for Christmas," she said.
"Dad loves fine food, always has, and that's something I'll be focusing on with him. We'll go out for a few meals, dinner or lunch. That's what I want to do.
"Obviously there's no cure for Alzheimers and dementia, and how quickly it progresses can depend on other health conditions. In dad's case he's not young anymore at 71, and it's a bit more complicated because he has Type 2 diabetes."
The words "no cure" leave Clint frustrated - perhaps even a little angry.
"It seems we ever talk about slowing dementia, and never reversing it," he said.
""Surely it's unacceptable that the only conclusion - the inevitable conclusion - is that people will end up in homes where stimulation is gone, and where families lose all hope. Where all they can do is wait.
"I don't accept that ... we can't just kiss them goodbye, send them off to full time care and that's that. As a society, I think we have to strive for better
"We're constantly talking with doctors about what other options might be available for dad, or something else we can perhaps try."
But for both Kristie and Clint, the reality is that events of the last 12 months have meant both have things left unsaid with their father that are going to have to stay that way.
For Kristie, they never really spoke about her professional golfing career.
A highly talented amateur, she gave golf away at 16 for six years which frustrated Jack no end. "You won't be able to just pick it up again one day," he'd say.
Not that she was idle - she concentrated on javelin throwing and went on to become NSW state champion before returning to golf.
The fact she made it into the professional ranks after a such a long break speaks volumes for her ability. She didn't miss out when the Newton sporting genes were being handed out.
"We'd watch her play in tournaments and I had to remind Jack to be a spectator and not a coach," Jackie said, smiling at the memory. "If he had his way he'd have climbed under the rope and given her some advice."
Clint too, didn't speak to his dad a lot about his football when his highly successful career wound down. It included 173 NRL matches for the Knights, Melbourne and Penrith, 100 games for Hull Kingston Rovers in the English Super League and four World Cup appearances for the United States (he was born there while Jack was touring with golf).
"I know he was proud that I played rugby league at an elite level, especially for our home team the Knights," he said.
"But I'm a bit like Kristie ... I wish I'd have asked him and got his thoughts.
"My advice to anyone is not to wait ... if you have things you want to know, you want to hear, then ask. You'd be surprised how quickly the time can go."
Kristie went step further.
"Write down your questions when you think of them and make a point of following it through," she said. "It might sound a bit extreme, but it will be worth it. You don't want those regrets."
If all that makes it sound like Jack was hard, or aloof with the kids, you're wrong. Just the opposite, in fact.
"No, he was a doting dad," Jackie said. "We'd be at tournaments where he'd bogey the 18th and you could see he was upset with himself. But the kids would run out to hug him as he walked off the green and he'd break out into this big smile and he'd melt ... he really would."
So, last word to Jackie who has spent the best part of half a century beside her man.
What does she find that she misses the most?
"Easy, it's the fun," she says. "Jack was always lots of fun. I miss that bounce-back, that spark in the conversation. It's gone and I wasn't ready for that."
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