Is dementia ever funny? The stand-up comedian Steve Day has taken his show – Adventures in Dementia – to the Edinburgh Fringe. When I lead Dementia Friends awareness sessions, I ask at the start for a series of words which come to mind when I say the world dementia. Laughter rarely features. Sadness – a deep, gnawing sadness – yes. Frustration, anger, confusion, fear…but humour?
I’ve just spent a couple of days at the Fringe and I didn’t want to miss Steve’s show. I was intrigued. It isn’t a laugh-a-minute by any means and a slideshow of photos, which ends with the last one he took of his father shortly before he died in hospital, ensures the reality of dementia is never far away. But the jokes, such as they are, come from a place of love and the underlying message of cherishing those closest to us makes the show a positive one.
Thinking back, my dementia scrapbook of memories with Mum is filled with smiles . and laughter. Like the time I made a gentle joke at her expense and she told me I was “a little chuffer.” (What was she going to say?)
Or the game with a balloon – batting it backwards and forwards like we had more than 40 years before – when the roles were reversed. Or the times I couldn’t help but smile when she pointed at a picture of herself and said: “That’s you.” Or the songs, always the songs, which gave both of us so much pleasure. Magic Moments indeed.
Of course, there were sad times too. Times when a little temporary clarity brought a tear and an apology – “I’m ever so sorry, I don’t know what to do.” “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” In truth, neither of us knew what to do but as a family, we survived on love. And it isn’t those sadder moments which burn brightest today. It is the smiles, it is the singing, it is the laughter.
I left Steve’s show with a smile. He’s trying to get Arts Council funding to take his show on the road. (Given the current debate about the funding of dementia care, there’s a certain irony that the show in Edinburgh is free and the only income is from donations at the door). Adventures In Dementia tells people that amongst the tears and the sometimes overwhelming pain, there’s often a love story to be told as well. It’s a story which is lived daily by thousands and thousands and thousands of carers up and down the country. It deserves to be told.