Dementia: Peas and Carrots

Mum, I know you hate missing out and indeed, are personally affronted should any of us fail to inform you of exciting news promptly. So, here’s a round up of the past few months and family stuff you’d love to know about:

1.Dad turned 70!

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Yes, it really is 10 years since we all had a weekend at Center Parcs and you got royally pissed at the family barbecue and deafened all our holidaying neighbours with your raucous laugh.

He didn’t want to do anything, of course. If this was in fact, just an awful dream, then  I’m sure you and he will be arranging a lovely week away somewhere – to take in some culture, eat some lovely food, play a round of golf – he’d love that.

But, as we do seem to be in this awful nightmare, instead we threw him a small surprise party. Nothing too big – in fact, a little like the one you threw him when he turned 40. A few balloons, a few banners, a few surprise guests – Aunt Sheila, Uncle Alastair, Dot, Dave and Freda and Stewart made the trip across! I know! It was lovely to see them all. In fact, having Freda here made it feel like you were here, her sense of humour and the fact she knew you so well…… it was so bloody nice. I think I hugged her too tight! I think I thought for a moment it was you!

It was a lovely afternoon, Mum. We talked about you a lot. We raised a toast to you. And then we coped with the inevitable sadness by drinking an awful lot and singing! Which leads me to number 2….

2. Martha and I have written a song!

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Well, actually we’ve written a few. We’re going to enter Britain’s Got Talent. I know! I know! I can see you shake your head and roll your eyes, but she really wants to do it and you know what? The songs are all about you. And, one or two of them are actually pretty good. Dad says there’s no way he’s coming to the auditions and if we get on the TV, he’ll stay at home, thank you very much.

If the stars align and by some weird turn of fate we actually get on to the stage in front of Simon Cowell (you can’t stand him, I know), Amanda Holden (again, I know!), Alicia (don’t worry – you might have missed this one) and David Walliams (the kids all love his books – I think you’d actually be a big fan!) then he says he’s still not coming. I don’t believe him though. I think he’ll be there, embarrassing the whole family with his chats with Ant and Dec!

Thank God you won’t be. You’d be screaming so loud from the audience no one would hear our song.

3. We’ve visited you a few times

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We took you out. Do you remember feeling the sun on your face and the breeze in your hair? We went down to the duck pond, the kids fed the ducks and went in the little park. You were in a wheel chair and we almost tipped you out a few times as the front wheels got stuck at the base of that little wooden bridge. But, we didn’t. Just. It lightened the moment. Made us all laugh. You’d have laughed too, if it wasn’t you in the chair.

Maybe next time I’ll ask the kids to film it and we’ll send it in to You’ve Been Framed. Could make £250!

We also walked up Broughton Heights and nearly had to call the rescue helicopter again. No snow blizzard this time, but gale force winds nearly blew little Annie off the mountain. Will we ever learn?

I hope not.

4. I found your old notebooks

Dad gave them to the girls to doodle in, on our last trip up a few weeks ago. He thought they were empty but at the back and upside down were several diary entries from 4 years ago. It was hard to read them Mum, but it was also lovely to see your beautiful, swirling handwriting. A little more spidery than usual, but definitely still your writing. I wasn’t expecting it. I had to sit down for a moment and have…..well, a moment.

It made me want to reach through the page and give my scared, confused mum a massive, reassuring hug. I hope I did enough of that back then. Back when things were at their worst and life was unpredictable and terrifying. I hope I brought you some comfort. I hope it wasn’t all terrifying all the time, though of course, we will never know.

5. Emma turned 40!

Does that make you feel old? Your youngest. Your baby. She’s 40! Scary isn’t it?

I’m going to see her next week, with the kids. We’re going to do a few sights, drink a lot of wine and probably cry a little here or there. But don’t worry. She’s doing really well. So is Clive and all your grandchildren are thriving and excelling and grasping life with both hands and doing stuff. We’re an active bunch, Mum. You’d be so bloody proud.

6. I’m running the London Marathon. Again

I’ve signed up, Mum. For 2020. And, it’ll be 15 years since I last did it – when you and Dad came down to cheer me on. Do you remember I couldn’t walk afterwards and we had burgers for tea? Seems like yesterday!

This time, instead of a random charity, I’m doing it for you. For all those families like ours that have been left broken, devastated and reeling from the impact of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Ailsa’s doing it with me. So are Chris, Danny and Liz! I know! Don’t laugh! Liz is cursing us all, but we’re going to give it a go and get round the 26.2 miles with a massive photo of you on our backs.

Don’t worry, we’ll pick a lovely one.

7. We talk about you all the time

Really. We do. The kids ask questions. The older two remember things and ask me about their memories and check that what they remember is true, and it usually is.

Mabel likes to double check that she is named after you. Her middle name, Jane, is your name. She knows it, but she likes to ask when both Archie and Martha are around so she can rub their noses in it. That she is named after the most tragic figure in our family. She loves that she has Top Trumps in that department!

8. We’re all doing fine. Honestly.

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A few years ago, I would be surprised to be writing this. After all, we’ve had a tough few years, but despite the sadness and the constant grief, we’re all ticking along okay.

Dad has surprised me the most. Despite a terrible year last year with his health and me convincing myself we would lose him before you, he has rallied and I am so proud of him, Mum.

I remember as a child sitting on the floor in the bathroom. You were poorly in bed – flu or something. I remember working out that it would be better for everyone if Dad died first out of the two of you (you always knew I was a dramatic child – and I wonder where Mabel gets it from!)

I remember it being a very rational decision – you were very independent, confident, capable of cooking for yourself, keeping us all fed and watered, clean and dressed…. it may have been a young, naive viewpoint, but it was based on all the evidence from my childhood. Dad needed you. We all needed you. You were the rock on which the family was built.

So, it has been tough. Our foundations have been rocked and at times, we have been incredibly fragile, individually and as a unit. But, Mum, you’d be so bloody proud of us all. We miss you every day and yet we carry on. It hurts all the time, and yet we smile through the grief and raise our children with joy, adventure, happiness and love.

And, Dad?

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He misses you most. Of course he does. You were peas and carrots. Toast and jam. Egg and bacon. You were his Ginger, he your Astaire. But, he is trying to build a life without you. He cooks and tries new recipes (though the microwave recently almost set the house on fire!), he chats to people on his dog walks and plays Bridge once a week. He has also joined a local book club and goes to book events every so often. He isn’t alone, Mum, so don’t worry. He’ll never be alone.

So, that’s it. You’re about up to date. Life goes on, doesn’t it?

It will always be a little sadder, though, Mum. A little less bright. A little harder without you here to laugh with us, cry with us and support us through all the ups and downs that come our way. You are the reason we are all so strong and yet the reason we cry. The reason there is a heavy weight bearing down on us, reminding us of the need to spread our wings and fly.

You are the reason our children – your grandchildren – will always fly high.

I miss you, Mum x

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