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Christmas is coming and Ms A is getting fat

On Sunday I played (violin) in a little Christmas concert in Folkestone alongside my sister, a fellow fiddler. We had made complicated arrangements for her husband, who is much older than My Loved One, MLO with Miss Alzheimer’s attached, and Jean, an elderly friend of my sister’s. They were to come to the venue from her house by taxi. There was an afternoon rehearsal and so, as performers, we had to be there much earlier.

Despite our misgivings, it all went according to plan, thank goodness. By the time our three audience supporters took their seats half way up a steeply raked auditorium I was sitting in my playing position on the stage. So I watched MLO. Jean, who is in her eighties, but “with it” and well, had him carefully by the hand. She was facing him and walking gently, kindly and tactfully backwards while he shuffled towards her. Eventually Jean got him into his seat. From where I was sitting he looked like a helpless, lost old man. It was as if I was seeing him afresh and it wasn’t nice.

I don’t understand, incidentally, why he now takes short steps which make his gait look old and hesitant – there is nothing wrong with his knees or hips. It must, I suppose, be something to do with those knocked out brain cells that are affecting walking confidence, especially in confined spaces.

There’s nothing like Christmas – when you tend to do the same things every year –  for assessing progress, change or deterioration over the preceding twelve months. When we did that that same concert a year ago MLO drove three people from my sister’s house to the venue and then took over from me halfway home to London because I was tired. And of course he also got himself in and out of his theatre seat effortlessly and chatted confidently to people he knew. What a difference a year with Ms A has made.

The Christmas card writing ritual was another rather pitiful exercise. For 48 years we have sat down on ether side of the dining table with the list, address book, stamps, pens – and an appropriate CD, such as Messiah. And last year was no exception.

But this time Ms A was firmly and squarely perched on the table like some kind of evil harpy getting fatter as she feasts on MLO’s brain cells.  “You write this one to Don and Phoebe” I said. Now Phoebe, a relation of mine, has been part of MLO’s social circle for over half a century. He has written dozens of Christmas cards, post cards and the like to her over the years. He started to write. Then painstakingly, letter by letter, asked me how to spell her name. I gulped and helped him although we had to bin one card he’d messed up. Then he wrote one to his own cousin. I had to read out the address and spell Faversham, where she lives.

Realising what was happening, MLO then understandably got very upset along the lines of “I can’t even do the simplest thing any more” and, in this situation, there isn’t an answer to that. In the end I hugged him and said “OK, let’s have a hot drink to cheer ourselves up. Then I’ll write the cards and you put the stamps on” I’m left hoping that the cards we sent to friends in Australia and continental Europe had the right value on them. Sorry folks, if they don’t arrive. I did my best.

On the plus side Christmas also brings time with family which he always enjoys – partly, I think, because he feels less threatened and more confident when surrounded by people who know him well and understand where he is and what he’s up against. He’s also always better when I’m there and not going anywhere because he knows, like a child with his mother, that whatever goes wrong I’ll sort it out. So he worries less. And for a few days before and after Christmas I shall be out working less than usual so that will probably help to allay Ms A, or at least the havoc she wreaks, a little. Maybe.

(Names changed)




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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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