D is for dementia or maybe turnip

Spend several hours with Mum today and she is in good form. She’s had a bad chest infection but the antibiotics are kicking in. She notices my stick for the first time and comments on my new skirt. It’s like having old Mum visit and all the more tender and poignant for that, because it won’t last. Speaking in French helps, even if it confuses the other residents. The food here is brilliant and we tuck into a roast lunch and then apple pie and custard. Before dementia, Mum would not have touched custard, regarding it as an evil English invention, but now she tucks into it quite happily.

I take her wheelchair into the garden sunshine and give her a sweet. She’s always been a cruncher of sweets, when we used to drive across France with a supply of Werther’s, it was a running joke. I tell her not to crunch and she laughs and crunches all the same. Does she remember our trips? An echo of past joys.

I show her some photos of the family, my brother and sister and she thinks they are her long dead brother and younger brother who is now seventy. Ouch.

Then we go downstairs for hymn singing. A collection (not sure what the right noun is) of people with varying degrees of dementia join us. We get hymn sheets and a lovely activities person leads us with her phone attached to a speaker. Mum is about half a verse behind, but seems to be enjoying herself, even though they are difficult to sing. Then a woman who wanders about all the time comes and stands very close behind the wheelchair, fascinated by our singing. She makes a stab at a tune and says, ‘lovely, lovely’ . Then starts blowing gently on Mum’s hair. Mum doesn’t notice for a bit and then mutters something rather rude, thankfully in French. Two rather tart women complain that we are singing out of tune.  Another man when offered a hymn sheet says very politely he would rather kill himself thanks very much.

It’s all rather joyful in a surreal kind of way and I’m pretty sure God is pleased with our efforts.

When it comes time to leave, Mum panics and asks who is going to look after her if I go. She’s having a half memory of when I did look after her full time and it’s heart-breaking. I tell her I’ll be back in a bit and she relaxes. Distant echoes of her old self.

I take a walk along the beach and watch intrepid swimmers and feel more alive than I have in months.

Tomorrow is French afternoon at the nursing home. Stripy jumpers and lots of hon hon hon.


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