Have you been following the ‘Xmas to Remember’ series, hosted by No 10. the Department of Health and the Alzheimer’s society? It is a great initiative, designed to promote awareness of dementia.
I was very honoured to be invited to submit a Christmas memory and this is the one I chose. I sent it as an audioboo but you might prefer to read the story yourself.
Betty, my Mum-in-law, always loved Christmas. She was a creature of habit (not helped by her OCD) and so it was a very predictable affair. The same cards to the same people. Pretty much the same presents really – but, there again, my Dad did like a bottle of whisky!
This particular Christmas, I was rushing – as usual. I went through the annual ritual of printing out the address labels saved from yesteryear on my computer and planned to call and give them to Betty on my way home so that she could write her Christmas cards as she always did.
We had been helping Betty with more and more things. She didn’t understand the instructions on her new washing machine – or, more worryingly, how to work the TV that she had had for many years. I gradually realised that my plan to dash in and out and drop off labels was not an option.
That afternoon is now a very happy and abiding memory. Instead of whizzing off, I sat down with Betty and we turned it into a game. We were detectives – Holmes and Watson. Elementary. I rummaged through drawers looking for clues – and, with hindsight, this pretty much defined the moment at which the parent-child relationship went into reverse.
We started to laugh. Who was “Mr W. Chick”? Neither of us knew! A toy boy, obviously. I scoured the cards on the mantelpiece and asked her whether “Bill” could be our man (William – Bill – of course!)
If we found no matching card and we didn’t know who they were, we recklessly struck them off the list, laughing. I wrote the cards, Betty signed her name. Each time, she asked me “How many kisses? I think we were pretty generous really – better too many than not enough; that was the mantra.
I exaggerate a little as there were only a few cards that I had no idea about – old neighbours, lost faces. The trouble was Betty was rapidly herself becoming “lost”, losing her independence and her ability to remember. That afternoon taught me a lot. It was a challenge for me rather than for her. Spending time, having a laugh and making Betty feel that everything was well in the world.
I’d also highly recommend the lovely Sarah Reed’s fab “Who would you invite for Christmas lunch?” feature!