Wednesday 7 June 2017

It's Easy to Forget

Some of you may have read this before as I wrote it for United Against Dementia Week

When I was little my Dad used to sing to me "my little coquette". He calls me "dear" now. "Thank you dear" he says. Because he can't always remember my name. When dementia takes over a person it's easy to forget the people they once were. My Dad was a tough little boy who didn't have it easy as a youngster. Aged 11 he was in a Japanese internment camp in Burma where a soldier called him Taro which he told me meant Brave Boy. His father died in 1942 and his mother just after the war. 

He came to the UK and was lucky to meet my Ma. He was handsome, debonair and an aircraft fitter, with a voice like Frank Sinatra. He cooked fabulous curries, our friends used to queue up to come round ours on a Saturday night. He was always sentimental and used to cry at movies. One bath night Sing Something Simple was on the radio and a song came on that made him cry. We asked him why he was crying. He said it reminded him of his brother Buster who had died in a diving accident. 

When we were poorly he would go to town and come back with Lucozade and a present to cheer us up. I used to think he was trendy because he liked Simon and Garfunkel and watched Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange at the Hippodrome. He would stay up late at night as he was an insomniac watching Indian films on BBC2. He would carry both my brother and I up the stairs to bed at night. Me on the front and my brother on his back saying "up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire!" I can remember him having chilblains on his feet I guess from working on a cold factory floor. One day when it snowed he went out walking in the snow in the garden to relieve the itching. He did strange things like make a contraption out of hankies to keep his hair flat after he had washed it. 

He was clever with metalwork, made a trolley to help move heavy things, ornate wrought iron work for the stairs, and a tray for the bottom of my little brother's pram. He was always tinkering with cars and even replaced a few clutches in his time with the help of books from the library and mates from work. He had a temper on him and could get really angry with us if we were naughty. But I remember he would sit down with me in my bedroom and "discuss" my bad behaviour and what I could do to in future to put it right. He always wanted me to do well at school because he struggled having no schooling himself between the ages of 11 and 15 due to the war. He also wanted me to have a profession as he felt it was important for a woman to be independent. A very political person, he spent the 1980s shouting at the telly at Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan as they appeared on the news. I remember when I told him I was leaving home to set up home with my boyfriend and he cried. How proud he was of us kids and all our achievements. I remember how much he loved my kids watching Red Dwarf with Rory or Barney the Purple Dinosaur with Tiffany. How proud he was when I received my degree from Cambridge aged 40! How beside himself with grief he was for myself and my children when I lost my husband aged just 48. He remembers none of this now.  
He has always enjoyed a flutter on the horses and can still walk to the bookies and put a bet on. But he does not know what he is betting on and he would walk there in his dressing gown and slippers with his hat on if we did not stop him. He cannot make a cup of tea or dress himself properly.  He will wake up in the middle of the night walk around the house and leave all the lights on, shout out, clap very loudly or sing "We'll Meet Again" very loudly. He'll open the doors to our bedrooms and say "what are you doing?" "We're sleeping Dad/Grandad" we reply. 

He will ask us who we are and what relationship we are to him. And then is upset because he is so sorry that he can't remember. It is difficult for us to remember who our loved ones with dementia once were when you live with the disease every day as it strips them of their personality. We had a lovely day the other Sunday. He sat in the garden with Ma and I asked Alexa to play some Frank Sinatra songs. She obliged as she always does. As I was cooking dinner I could see his feet tapping to the music. There are still traces of the old Jimmy left, Jimmy who took my mum to the Flamingo Club, or Maxine’s and sometimes to Ronnie Scott's to dance the night away in 1950s London. Jimmy who wrote love letters to Ma on the inside of flattened out Senior Service cigarette packs! I hope family and friends will join me united against Dementia for Jimmy and all those like him.

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