My visit to Mum today was my first in over two weeks. I’ve been away on holiday and as always when I haven’t seen Mum for a while, I’m sensitive to any changes in her, real or imagined. From the moment of diagnosis, the temptation to look for signs of the condition is always there. Initially, I’d look for the minutest indication that the dementia was taking a firmer hold. In the absence of facts, I looked for evidence to confirm my fears.
Mum was probably more positive than me. “I’ve got Alzheimer’s so I just have to get on with it” seemed to be her motto in the early months. She was grieving for my father at the same time and whether the grief took the edge off the impact of the diagnosis, we’ll never know, but her approach was an example to me and others.
As a result, I grew to live in the moment with Mum. We know what Alzheimer’s will eventually mean but we also know, now, that it’s possible to live well with dementia.
So, today, I didn’t look for any signs of change. Instead, I talked to Mum about my holiday and showed her a small matter of 380 photographs. Even the keenest traveller might recoil from that ordeal. Mum remained focussed until at least the 20th snap but there are only so many times you can feign interest in another shot of a monkey in a tree. The things you see in Bournemouth these days.
I’ve always returned from holiday with a present for Mum, going back to the first time I ventured abroad without my parents. But what to give her this time? Borneo, our holiday destination, is synonymous with an extraordinary range of wildlife and eventually, I decided that a cuddly baby orangutan (a toy, of course) might be just the ticket. It prompted gales of laughter and I’m not sure whether that was a comment on the gift – why on earth have you brought me a stuffed toy – or because Mum really liked her. She became preoccupied with making it sit up, a task that baby Beryl – for that’s her name – is entirely unsuited to fulfill. So, why Beryl? Well, my wife and I visited an orangutan rehabilitation centre. Since childhood, I’ve always been fascinated by orangutan and seeing them in the flesh was a lifetime’s ambition realised. Of course, I couldn’t leave it there and we’re now proud adoptive parents of a three year old orphan called Beryl.
So, Mum’s orangutan could only really have one name. I left Mum clutching baby Beryl. I hope it’s the start of a beautiful friendship.