Well, that’s it for another year. Isn’t that what we often say when we wake up on Boxing morning? All the anticipation, all the food (for us fortunate ones), all the presents (see food), all focussed on one day. For some, work begins again today. For nearly 20 years, I worked on Boxing Day – as a sports hack it was hard to make a case against it and, anyway, reporting on sport on December 26th never seemed an onerous task to me. For others though, perhaps less fortunate in their job of work, it’s back into the old routine all too quickly.
Still, Christmas Day itself remains special, doesn’t it? For many, for most, it does at any rate. But, as I cajoled Mum to open a gift yesterday morning, I was struck by how strange she seemed to be finding December 25th. She was pleased to see us and there was plenty of laughter, but there was also a contented bewilderment. Sherry at 10am? She didn’t mind if she did: “That tastes quite nice,” as she took another sip but it was all a bit of a mystery to Mum. For her, Wednesday was just another day, albeit one in which the team at the care home donned reindeer antlers and bright sweaters and handed out shot glasses of Tio Pepe (other sherries are available) instead of coffee. Mum didn’t question what was happening around her – perhaps she doesn’t really notice it is different to other days. Her powers of recall are so restricted these days. I’d given her a calendar with family photos for each month of the year. We looked through it and she paused at several of the images as if looking for something. We got to December 2014 and put the calendar to one side. Several minutes we picked it up again. It was as if it were a new gift.
It saddens me when I think of the Mum of years gone by, spinning around the kitchen on Christmas morning, timing everything to perfection so we could sit down to eat at 1pm on the dot. It was Dad who seemed to insist on the precise kick-off time every year although, during my childhood years, his contribution to the production seemed to be a quick vacuum of the sitting room. (He might sing us a carol or too as well, accompanying himself on the piano with only the occasional bum note).
But – and this is a very big but indeed – Mum seemed happy yesterday morning, as she so often does, and for that I am truly grateful. Sure, there was the prick of conscience when we saw that ten places had been laid out for Christmas lunch, which meant that more than half of the residents were being taken out for the day. My sister and I have wrestled with that issue since Mum moved in to the home. If we took her to one of our houses for the day, would it be for her, or would it to be designed to make us feel better? I still think it would be the latter but I can’t, in my heart of hearts, be sure. If Mum ever seemed distressed, the dilemma would be much sharper.
Again, we’re lucky. For many, caring for loved ones with dementia at home, there is no choice to be made at Christmas. It really is just another day but possibly a lot harder than that because there’s no respite, no festive reward for their devotion. Often unseen, mostly unthanked, these people make a massive contribution and perhaps, in 2014, that will be recognised by more than just words from those in authority.
I raise a glass to them (not sherry at this time of the morning, you understand), to the many hundreds and thousands of carers of those living with dementia, and remember again how, in the circumstances, our family is fortunate indeed.