With Valentine’s Day coming up this weekend, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the love between my late granny and her husband. Nothing is quite so beautiful as a love that has weathered the storms of life – and dementia is perhaps one of the fiercest storms of all.
Gran and Ian met when they were teenagers and fell in love. Sadly, the course of true love did not run smooth, and the long, costly bus route across Liverpool put a seemingly permanent pin in their relationship. They went their separate ways…
They married (other people, in different countries) and had children and grandchildren. They built entirely separate lives for the full fifty years they spent apart but when their eyes met at the school reunion, it was as if no time had passed at all.
Ian moved back to England to be with Gran. They bought a new home and named it ‘Forty-Two,’ on a street where no other houses had numbers, because – in their shared humour – that is the answer to the meaning of life!
Their house has always been my favourite place to be, full of homegrown vegetables, moonshine and old copies of The Economist with folded down edges marking articles they thought would interest me. I loved my weekends with them both, painting, walking and reading – ending days tucked merrily into stiff sheets.
They married each other aged 75. They travelled, they laughed, they picked up the relationship of their teens… celebrating their 22nd birthdays soon after their marriage as if the intervening years had never happened. As an actual-22 year old at the time, I remember feeling warmly jealous of their love and lifestyle.
“It is common for dementia to disrupt the dynamics of a marriage”
Gran’s diagnosis of dementia was slow and uncertain, like the disease that would eventually take hold of her. To begin with, she simply couldn’t get her words out, which was such a huge frustration for such a gloriously feisty and pleasantly argumentative person (I get that from her!). Over the following years, she lost the ability to speak completely, then walk, then eat.
When we made family visits, Mum looked after Gran so that I could take Ian for a Guinness – just one – for respite. We often talked about what life would have been like if they’d lived closer together as teens, if they’d stayed together for the middle part of their lives. I would have a much bigger nose, I’d joke with Ian – to keep things light hearted – whilst squeezing his hand to convey my unspeakable anger and despair that they’d been robbed of the opportunity to live out even this small part of their lives together in comfort.
Ian cared for Gran at home at ‘Forty-Two’ through it all and until the end. It is common for dementia to disrupt the dynamics of a marriage, for the rhythm of a relationship to become one of parent/child or carer/patient or even teacher/student. Ian remained steadfastly her husband. He loved her and cherished her as an equal always. I will always admire and treasure this about Ian and their love.
“One in eight adults are carers”
This Valentine’s Day, millions of people will be proving and testing their love by being a carer. It’s estimated that one in eight adults (around 6.5 million people) are carers, with an additional 6,000 taking on a caring responsibility every single day. Many of those people will recognise Ian and Gran’s experience in their own and will have similar stories to tell.
In acknowledgement of that – and to share the love – I’m currently agreeing partnerships with care organisations and charities to make membership to The Joy Club free for unpaid carers (aged 65 and over in the UK) within their networks. If you are involved with a care organisation or charity and would like to learn more about making The Joy Club available for free to carers in your network, we would love to hear from you.
You can email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah Thomson, Founder CEO