My niece reaches the grand old age of 21 tomorrow. Cue misty-eyed memories of visiting her in hospital on the day she was born, and holding her for the first time; of singing to her to help her sleep (that might be called abuse in these enlightened times); of racing up the M40 to start a visit by collecting her and her older sister from primary school. Precious memories. I talked to Mum about this birthday milestone when I visited her yesterday and although nothing came back in return, I tried to cajole her into signing a card. I should have learned my lesson at Christmas. Mum clearly doesn’t understand the concept of writing her name any more. She examined the card, read the message and laughed.
“Do you want to write it Mum? Just put Nanna.”
“Nanna?” Again laughter. “That sounds stupid.”
“Just try writing Nanna there.”
“No I don’t think so.”
It was foolish of me to try but I wanted to try to make Mum a part of this special birthday. Time was she’d have been generating cake ideas, delving into a pile of yellowing cuttings, long parted from newspapers and magazines but lovingly restored for inspiration at times like this.
So, I wrote “Nanna” (and Grandpa too because although he left us five years ago, I want Dad to be part of this as well).
It got me thinking about what’s happened in those five years since Dad’s premature death and Mum’s diagnosis. Five long years, although – sometimes – they seem to have past in a flash. Mum has changed so much, of course, as dementia has inexorably tightened its grip on her life. But I suspect we’ve all changed. I know I have. In 2009, I knew the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s but had little or no understanding of what they really meant. Now, they seem like a driving force within me. I want raising awareness and campaigning for a fairer society for those living with dementia to be at the centre of what I do. (Note to my darling and patient wife – I will try to earn some money as well). To encourage me, I have met, often online or through social media, so many inspiring characters, people like Tommy, Gill, Kate and Beth (apologies to the many, many I’ve left out) who are doing so much wonderful work.
So, although Mum won’t share the joy of this week’s birthday, although she doesn’t seem to know what it is to write a name anymore, she still laughs and smiles the way she always has. In her way, she’s as inspiring as anyone I’ve come across in the last five years. And, yes, she’s still my Mum.