Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: Widowed by inches

11 Mar 2023 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

In her latest column, blogger and The Joy Club member Geraldine Durrant sadly reflects upon the gradual loss of her husband to dementia…

You can find the previous instalment of Geraldine’s column here.

When Princess Diana said there were three people in her marriage she didn’t realise how lucky she was.

Chez nous nameless strangers had begun to make themselves at home with us on such a regular basis, that Patrick routinely brought an extra cup or two for them whenever he made afternoon tea.

To prove he was not imagining these invisible companions, he would invite me to stand by the patio doors with him and wave “to the man in the orange coat” who had taken up permanent residence in the garden.

He had also become obsessed with the news – and the badder the better.

Formerly an avid reader, he spent his days glued to TV broadcasts, partly, I imagined, because there was no ‘plot’ to follow, and partly because newsreaders companionably address their audience, unlike actors in a play who talk to each other.

Omicron was still spreading? Bring it on… every hour on the hour throughout the day.

Heavy rain and forecasts of floods? Patrick sucked in his breath with cheerful prognostications of doom.

While the threat of high winds provoked a positive orgy of happy misery as he predicted we would have to expect long hold-ups on a proposed visit to our eldest son – who lives a mile away.

But it was also apparent he was having difficulty distinguishing between what went on during TV programmes, and what went on at home – hence his annoyance one morning “that about ten men are cooking their dinner in the sitting room…”

Closer inspection revealed he had been watching Masterchef and taken it all a little too much to heart.

However it was Boris Johnson who got him really fired up.

Boris had asked everyone to ensure they were up to date with their Corona jabs and, like the good citizen he was, Patrick was determined to do his civic duty.

“We’ve got to get them done,” he demanded. “The Prime Minister has told me…”

I reminded him that he had had his booster only a couple of days earlier at the Rugby Club but he was not convinced.

“I remember going to the Club,” he said, “but I don’t remember what I did there. So how can I be sure?”

“Well you can ask me and I’ll tell you,” I said, but Patrick was having none of it.

“I could ask you,” he agreed reluctantly, “but could you prove it?”

Readers, I could not.

So I suggested we ring an independent witness in the form of number one son who duly assured his father that he was indeed double-jabbed and boostered.

Patrick remained sceptical – and frankly Boris’s rolling reappearances didn’t help. Exasperated with the pair of them, I eventually refused to discuss it any further.

But Patrick had an unexpected ace up his sleeve.

“In that case,” he said, rather grandly, “I shall ring my daughter-in-law to discuss the situation…”

And for the first time in six months, albeit with the help of the laminated crib sheet I had put by the phone for him, he made a call by himself.

This small triumph delighted me – but it was increasingly apparent that Patrick was slipping away like sand between my fingers and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

I was being widowed by inches, and as I reviewed the six months since his dementia diagnosis, I realised how much he had deteriorated.

During lockdown he was still driving, albeit cautiously to places he knew well, he still read the paper and he still brought me breakfast in bed.

Our quiet daily routine had blurred the edges of my concerns about his memory and Government-mandated staying-indoors could not have made Patrick happier.

Although I had begun to worry about his occasional confusion he was still, to the unobservant eye at least, just a slightly forgetful, quiet old man who was content to stay at home.

He was not incontinent, he did not roam the house at night and he did not imagine we were living in France – or that we were on the run from the Australian police.

Nor was the house filled with imaginary guests…

It had all slipped away so imperceptibly, but so fast.

And as I contemplated where we might be a year hence I felt both sad and scared.

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.

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