Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: In which we leave no footprints in the sand…

10 Jun 2023 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

Geraldine Durrant reflects upon the transience and flux of Patrick’s memory, as he grapples with his dementia…

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

I was catching up on some much-needed household admin when Patrick stuck an apologetic head around the study door.

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” he began, ”but can you remind me – are you my ex-wife?”

“No,” I told him. “I am very much the current model

“But how often do you think you have been married?

“I’ve no idea,” Patrick said, wrinkling his brow with the effort of recalling his single wedding.

“I just can’t keep track.”

He peered hopefully at me again.

“Now I can tell you were my cousin when you were a little girl, but I can’t remember what happened to you after that…”

“Well YOU happened,” I reminded him. “I grew up, you invited me to an RAF ball, where I wore my first-ever long dress, and we fell in love.”

(I didn’t mention that on that same momentous night I had an allergic reaction to seafood and came out in unromantic hives from head to foot. Some things are better forgotten.)

“Do you remember, Patrick?” I asked hopefully, but he shook his head.

“I think I remember the other Geraldine,” he said, “but I’m not sure about you.”

Then a thought struck him.

“Were you with me when I lived in California?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “We were there with the RAF for three years and that’s where we had our third son.” 

“Well I’m surprised they let you come,” he answered. “I mean could you prove we were married?” 

Patrick had become very keen on ‘proof’ for all sorts of things but we had no sooner pinned down one nagging doubt than three others raised their anxious heads.

He was concerned that I might not really have passed my driving test; that the car hadn’t been insured; and that the ‘real’ owners of our home might return at a moment’s notice and turf us out into the street; that his dental appointment might not be real; and whether the surgery was still in the same place in the High Street it had been for the past 40 years.

So I decided one afternoon that we would sit down together and watch Anthony Hopkins play a parent with dementia in The Father.

It was an Oscar-winning performance and I hoped that in seeing Hopkin’s confusion Patrick might recognise something of his own.

And it was mesmerising viewing as the characters in Hopkins’ life morphed into each other.

Was Olivia Coleman playing his daughter? Or was it the actress who later appeared as his nurse? Why did he have two sons-in-law – and which was the real deal?

Watching it helped me to understand the ever-shifting sands on which Patrick tried so hard to make his stand.

But I realised his past footsteps – and mine – were being swept away by an incoming tide, which would eventually leave no trace of us behind. 

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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