Blogger Geraldine Durrant shares this touching – and a little heartbreaking – insight into what it means to have someone you’ve known your whole life forget who you are…
You can find the previous instalment of Geraldine’s column here.
Patrick and I have known each other all our lives.
We are cousins and I have always joked that he is not just my husband, he is family…
Propped in my study as I type, is a picture of my two-year-old self holding fast hands with him when he was nine, and proof our affection for each other stretches back to my earliest infancy.
Indeed it is famously recorded in the annals of family history that aged five I declared my unshakeable intention to marry someone “just like Patrick.”
He had always been a far more kindly big brother to his own little sister than mine had been to me, and I suspect that even at five I recognised kindness as a very desirable quality in a man.
Certainly he was always a favourite cousin – and with more than 40 to my credit that is no inconsiderable assertion.
Aged 17, he invited me to an RAF ball, where, in my first-ever long dress, we danced until dawn and fell firmly in love.
So, given that we had known each other for more than seven decades, I was slightly bemused when Patrick turned to me in bed one evening and asked “So – what exactly is our situation?”
“Our situation?” I replied, puzzled by the enquiry, “what do you mean?”
“I mean our relationship,” he said, “what exactly is it?”
“We’re married,” I told him, trying to ignore the sudden stab to my heart, “and we have been for over 50 years…”
Patrick beamed in response.
“Oh good,” he said, “I like being married to you...”
But if he was pleased to discover how we were related, he was rather less enthusiastic about proposed weekend visitors in the form of his brother and sister-in-law, his niece and two great nieces.
It was their first visit since lockdown, and ahead of their arrival Patrick expressed some scepticism about their claims of kinship.
“Who are these people,” he asked repeatedly, “and who invited them?”
“They are our family,” I told him for the umpteenth time, “and they are here because they know you haven’t been well.”
“Because I have a catheter?” he asked somewhat plaintively.
“No because they know you have been in hospital,” I replied, avoiding talk of his dementia diagnosis again.
The arrival of guests meant I would have to bunk back in our marital bed over the weekend, so by way of rehearsal I decided to lie down beside Patrick for an afternoon nap.
“You won’t disturb me, will you?” I asked snuggling down beside him, and he promised me he would not.
No way Jose.
And then he spent ten minutes describing the many ways in which he would not disturb me.
“I will not get out of bed…” he assured me earnestly.
“And I won’t talk…
“Or move your covers…
“Or take your pillow…
Eventually, even Patrick ran out of ways not to disturb me, and we both fell fast asleep.
On the day of arrival it was obvious the impending visit was a source of on-going anxiety and he paced restlessly, demanding to know the exact time the guests were to come.
And when, eventually, they did he seemed pleased to see them, even if he was not entirely sure who – apart from his brother – they actually were.
“Of course I know who HE is,” he said when challenged over lunch, “I was at school with him…”
This was true as far as it went of course, but I can’t pretend we weren’t all hoping for a bit more.
However Patrick was concerned that his brother, who is somewhat deaf these days, wasn’t picking up the conversational ball as quickly as he once did in those long-distant school days.
“He doesn’t have much to say for himself, does he?” he stage-whispered to our son who was sitting beside him at the table.
And then, in a rare and heart-breaking moment of insight, he added sadly, “But these days, neither do I…”
Geraldine Durrant is a retired journalist, feature writer and children’s author who – since her husband was diagnosed with dementia a year ago – has kept a diary about her experiences as his carer. We have the privilege of publishing Geraldine’s incredibly personal story on our blog every Saturday, so keep your eye out for more on this series next Saturday.
If Geraldine’s writing resonates with you in some way, please do leave a comment to let her know.