Amid the many reflections on dementia across the BBC this week, one contribution has probably prompted a greater response than the rest. Sir Ian Botham was interviewed about his father Les who lived with dementia until his death in 2005. Sir Ian’s story didn’t contain much he hadn’t already shared. The “headline” was that he chose not to visit his father after he’d moved to a care home:
“There was no point in going….I didn’t want to see my Dad like that….I’ve got so many great memories of my father, I’m not going anymore….I refused to go.”
Sir Ian also spoke of his belief that his father would have been horrified to see himself as he was. That rang true. Both my sister and I have said the same thing about Mum.
At a Dementia Friends session in Coventry yesterday, I asked if anyone had seen the interview. Most of our small group had and opinion was mixed. It’s easy to condemn – how could a son opt out of visiting his father? One of our group runs a care home and recounted similar experiences with relatives preferring not to visit. I can absolutely understand that feeling. There have been times when I’ve been to see Mum with a heavy heart, feeling guilty about not feeling full of the proverbial joys at the prospect. It’s one of dementia’s cruellest ironies – we visit, we try to spend “quality time”, we seek a connection often elusive, and still we feel guilty.
I’ll continue to visit Mum as long as she’s with us, whether or not she knows who I am. She’s failed to recognise me only once so far and I felt as if my legs had been cut from under me. I’m prepared for that feeling again – it will happen, one day. All I can hope is that it isn’t too soon.
But I respect Sir Ian Botham’s decision. It’s personal and as the greatest cricketer I ever saw play says:
“Please don’t judge unless you’ve been there.”