It would have been Dad’s 81st birthday this month – next week to be precise. He only made it to 70 and we lost him with indecent haste after the diagnosis of cancer. I miss him today as much as ever.
I miss the richness of our conversations, our certainty that we could put the world to rights armed only with a glass or two of whiskey, our companionship. I would love to know what he would make of the current political and social landscape, though I could have an educated guess.
There is a sense, however, in which – miss him though I do – I am glad he died when he did. Watching Mum’s dementia decline would have been so painful for him. He knew what was happening and, in the early stages, kept so much from my sister and I. Only when he knew that his time was short did he open up about how challenging Mum’s life was becoming. Of course, had things been different, we would have supported him in the way we supported Mum. But he would have borne the brunt and I know we he would have insisted that Mum stay at home with him, whatever the toll it took on him.
Theirs was a partnership for life.
The dementia debate is much more public today than it was then. Still, one aspect of the debate which lacks oxygen is the impact it has on spouses/partner-carers. I know how helpless I felt but, apart from short spells, I didn’t live with Mum 24 hours a day. For the husband/wife/partner, there is often no respite, no-one to share the responsibility and sometimes no-one who even knows what’s happening.
Who cares for the carers? It’s often asked, seldom answered. We are getting better at opening up about our fears but most of us still feel we should be able to cope. In Dad’s case, he had vowed to look after Mum in sickness and in health, until death, and that’s what he did for short while, and what he would have continued to do. His cooking skills would have continued to develop – he might even have learned that he could serve roast beef that wasn’t almost raw in the middle. Then again, perhaps not! But how hard it would have been for him – watching the person he loved most in the world slip away.
Dad was spared that but so many are trying and struggling to cope. It’s often said but worth repeating. The dementia debate isn’t just about the person diagnosed (or not) with the disease. It’s about the families and friends and, most of all, the partners trying to keep the promises made in healthier times.