I often think about how things would have been different had your mind not been seized by this cruel, crippling condition they call Dementia. I wonder about the conversations that we may have had, the things you may have taught me, or I taught you. I wonder what you would think of me, one of your five grandchildren (I like to think I would be your favourite!).
When I was younger and faced any form of adversity, I ran into your arms crying. You held me firmly yet delicately in front of you, looked me in the eyes and said ‘Don’t worry, be happy’. I’d like to think that, now, I give you the same tender, loving care. I help you eat, I keep you entertained (well I hope I do) and I wait for you to fall asleep before I do.
Your illness didn’t just change you, it changed us too. In many ways. Ways we could never imagine and, most importantly, ways that we could never have prepared for. Your Dementia has a seat at our table just like the rest of us. We may not have invited it, but it’s here to stay, and, as you raised us to do with any guest, we accommodate it. We mould to its needs, its wants and its desires as we have come to see that Dementia is a force so unstoppable that there is no other way.
Despite being a medical student I still feel helpless at times. Although I have come to understand more of your needs, when I can’t quite settle you, I wonder how anyone could ever fully grasp your condition. Would others take the time to know you? To know exactly how you like your food or how you take your tea? Although these seem like small things, they bring you joy. Even if only for a few minutes. The moment may be fleeting, but the emotion lasts longer. Through you, I have learnt to embrace every joyous moment that comes my way, no matter how temporary.
I love seeing the ways your eyes light up when you are reminded of your past. Memories of your youth persist, secured with fortified walls which Dementia is yet to breach. In those moments, I get a glimpse of the man you once were. A shrewd businessman, an adept race car driver, a passionate gardener, a loving father, a devoted husband, a loyal brother and a dutiful son. A man who lived for life and adventure. With each new story my respect and admiration for you only grows.
Your kind and caring nature is ever-present. A whispered thank you as we do up your jacket or button your shirt. The squeeze of my hand as I show you where your room is at night. So, on those nights where sleep evades you and you feel lost and confused, don’t apologise. We understand.
The selfless way in which you lived your life, giving to your children and onwards to their own children reminds me of the Greek proverb “a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in”. How can I be anything but thankful for the foundations which you have built for our family? How could I not be inspired by everything you have achieved with the time your mind allowed?
So, when you feel at a loss about what to say and you don’t know how to express yourself. I am here.
Don’t worry, be happy.
Love you infinitely.