Two days to go to the “big day” and we’re all supposed to be focussed on festive merriment, at least according to the messages which bombard us from print, television and radio. Spare a thought, though, for those who are living with dementia, cared-for and carers alike, and particularly those for whom this Christmas is the first since a diagnosis or the first since symptoms of dementia have become part a significant of their lives.
One on my family’s rituals, observed for many, many years, concerns the classic film Scrooge, with the inimitable Alastair Sim. For my late Dad, Christmas wasn’t Christmas without a reverential viewing, usually on the 24th. Since he died in 2009, I haven’t missed a single Christmas Eve appointment with Eberneezer and this year will be no different. It’s an annual delight and I’ll reflect, as I watch it, on how life has changed since I last watched it with Dad, whiskies at our sides. I miss his anticipation of the lines, though at the time I found them occasionally irritating. I think Dad secretly viewed himself as Mr Fezziwig though I don’t know what Mum would have thought if she’d realised that she shared her role as Mrs Fezziwig with Hattie Jacques.
Yes, without a doubt that Ghost of Christmas Past will pop his head round the door during this year’s viewing. Alongside the wonderful, warm memories will sit one which I can’t forget, the second after Mum had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Warwickshire had been submerged under a blanket of snow for several days at Christmas 2010 and Mum’s increasingly confused state of mind meant that staying with us, in an unfamiliar house, wasn’t really an option any more. So, the plan was for me to collect her, and my aunt, bring them over for lunch and then, at some point later in the day, to take them back to Worcestershire. The main roads were largely clear but the temperature remained stubbornly below zero and driving presented an extra hazard or two. I duly collected Mum and Pam, brought them back to here to a glass of fizz in front of the fire.
And I burst into tears. From somewhere, the full extent of the change in our lives struck me and on a day which is supposed to be all about families, the dam burst. For a few minutes I wept uncontrollably. Later, I took Mum back home and stayed with her so she wouldn’t be on her own in the house on Christmas night. Having put her to bed, which was by then becoming a challenge, I sat alone downstairs, staring at the chairs Mum and Dad used to sit in, side by side, and watched television on my own. And I reflected how life must be like that 365 days a year for many carers whose lives have been put on hold. I felt ashamed of those lunchtime tears because I had never been a full time carer. I’d always had an escape and besides, although Mum could be slightly challenging sometimes she was never more than that.
That was Mum’s last Christmas in her own home and this year, I’ll visit her in the care home which has been her world just about ever since. That visit, just like my date with Eberneezer, is a family ritual now, and one I’ll look forward to just as much. It would be lovely to share memories of Christmases past but that won’t happen. I will, though, count my family’s blessings, that Mum is safe, warm and, from what we can tell, content. And so many others, whose lives are affected by this cruellest of diseases, can’t say that.
So spare a thought for them, cared-for and carers alike. Let’s hope they can find some joy this Christmas.