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Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-come?

Well, Christmas Eve didn’t start too well. At 4.30am My Loved One was stumbling round the bedroom mumbling something about East Germany and the need to escape. I took him to the bathroom and then got him back to bed. By 7.00 am when I next surfaced, he was fully dressed with his bag over his shoulder, something I didn’t think he could still manage without help. “I have to get over the wall” he said earnestly. “No” I replied with what I hope was firm kindness. “You’ve been dreaming again. It’s just you and me here in Catford today along with the lifelong friend who’s spending Christmas with us and our nice cat. It’s Christmas Eve. Carols on the radio and all that.”

“Is she really?” said MLO showing a vestige of wakeful interest for the first time. “What’s she talking about?” Carole is my sister’s name. Oh dear,  oh dear.  It went on for a while. When I got him into the shower he asked me who owned the building and repeatedly if I was really sure that we didn’t need to get away urgently.

I still can’t get used to the man with whom I have shared my life, and until recently almost every thought, talking nonsense like Lear in the storm or Hamlet during his antic disposition.

Christmas Day, which started with buckets and mops in the bathroom well before dawn (I’ll spare you the grisly details), was marginally better. Once I’d got him up and dressed we spent most of the morning unwrapping presents – a task he now finds physically difficult –  with Resident Friend. Then she and I went for a brisk walk before I cooked a huge lunch and we spent much of the rest of the day eating it. MLO seemed a bit bemused but reasonably cheerful. He enjoyed the Call the Midwife Christmas special too.

Boxing Day was our main family day and I had to get the three of us to Cambridge. I wanted to start early to avoid the traffic and that worked well although when I dragged MLO into the shower at 6.30am he said, sounding exactly like our youngest, almost-four-year-old granddaughter. “But I don’t want to get up yet!” He’d forgotten, of course, where we were going.

It was a very jolly day with two sons, two daughters-in-law, two grandchildren and Resident Friend and we could all stay overnight (games with Ms Alzheimer’s in someone else’s bathroom – heigh ho) because our son had negotiated the use of his absent neighbour’s house.

The drink flowed and glowed, we ate a lot and wore daft hats. MLO sat impassive and often sleepy for most of the time while the rest of us played silly games etc around him and tried to jolly him along. It’s always a treat for me to have other people about because it means that for a few hours the responsibility is shared. And I think he still likes being with the family although small children are disruptive of his routines and I suspect he sometimes longs for the orderly peace of his own space at home. He finds conversation difficult too because he often struggles to reach his end-of-sentence target and awareness of that means that he often doesn’t bother to try. It’s easier to keep quiet. Everyone is patient and encouraging but it isn’t any sort of proper discourse.

It’s the presents season and he got lots. I shall remember 2018 as the Christmas of the Biscuit. Given his state of health, clearly no one could think of anything else to buy their father,  father-law, grandfather etc. There are now eleven packets/boxes in our cupboard. I shan’t need to buy another biscuit until Easter.

My parents died of physical illnesses – no dementia –  in their mid seventies, four years apart. Twice at Christmas, in 1997 and then again in 2001, I found myself looking first at my father and then my mother and thinking: “Twelve months is a very long time when you’re as ill as this. I really don’t think ‘we’ can go on like this for another whole year. Next Christmas? I doubt it somehow.” In both cases my intuition was spot on although I didn’t expect my father, who seemed in quite good (relatively) form on Christmas Day, to die on 30 December that year.

I won’t labour the point.

Our 3rd granddaughter, Rosie, with her Grandpa on Boxing Day

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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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