This December, Mum will be celebrating her fifth Christmas post diagnosis. Every year, we try to make her feel as involved in the season as possible. In the early days, she and I would go Christmas shopping together and we’d share the card-writing duties. The shopping trips weren’t without adventure but Mum was pretty-much aware of what was going on and seemed fairly engaged with the process.
The Christmas of 2009 was the first after Mum had been told she had Alzheimer’s and also the first without Dad. It was always going to be emotionally-charged and difficult but Mum seemed to sail through it. It was also probably the most decorated festive season of her life with cards everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Mum and Dad had always received sacks full of cards but this was unprecedented. An outpouring of affection for Mum in her new state? Not quite. It soon became clear that new cards had been mixed with the 2008 vintage, preserved in a drawer for some reason. I pointed this out gently to Mum and she laughed. I quietly removed the 2008 cards when she wasn’t looking – she’d managed to put a card from Sue and Mike right next to a card from the same Sue and Mike which was how I solved this fiendish puzzle. When I popped in a few days later, the older cards had re-appeared:
“I don’t know where all these cards have come from,” Mum seemed delighted with her tally and who was I to deny her?
This all came back to me today because it was card-writing day for Mum and I. In the intervening years, Mum had written fewer cards with me but had still managed a few. Not today.
“I don’t know what to put.”
“Just put you name, Mum. Jan – J A N.”
She smacked my hand playfully:
“I know”, she tutted.
But she didn’t, not really.
She managed “Ja” on a couple of cards but the final “n” proved beyond her. Once, she seemed to start to write Duncan – another she said she supposed she should put “Roger and Jan” but managed neither. She never mentions Dad to me but the act of card-writing, briefly all too briefly, brought his name back in to her mind. I teased Mum and she laughed but in truth, watching Mum, confused, staring at a biro and being unable to write her own name, broke my heart.
In the end, I suggested to Mum that I write her name on the cards. A look of relief flooded across her face. Perhaps I should never have tried to maintain the shared writing tradition but it still feels important to involve Mum in Christmas even if it means little or nothing to her.
Research tells us that Christmas is often the time when the first signs of dementia in a loved one are noticed. Perhaps that’s because it’s the one time families spend time together For me, Christmas 2013 has already provided a sharp reminder of the tight grip the disease has on Mum. But, and it’s a generously-proportioned but, Mum will doubtless laugh a lot, join in the carol singing and eat more than the odd mince pie in the coming weeks. The spirit of the season lives on.
Mum still attacks her presents with relish – Christmas 2012