One son responds to another on Alzheimer’s

On Sunday I published a post about my mum and her Alzheimer’s, and how my approach to the difficulties and dilemmas of the disease differed from my brother’s. One of the curses of the internet is that bloody well anybody can see what you’ve written. Oh, hang on…

Well, following on from my washing of my family’s slightly soiled, if not exactly dirty, laundry in public – and as they say in the best magazines – a brother writes:

“Here’s a poem showing my infamous technique in action {i.e. the remote control of my mum’s story CD as referred to in the link above}. I wrote it about a 92-year-old who looked and talked exactly like Margaret Rutherford. Each night she packed all her belongings in a suitcase and each morning we had to explain who and where she was.

Cloudy Morning before Breakfast

Once again you are ready for departure.
The wardrobe empty, and clothes stuffed
in a bursting suitcase. But you haven’t left.
Still you linger at this muddy shore –
the watery sky, the grey sea – a slush of
days that bring neither pleasure nor pain.
You look at me doubtfully. Faded eyes
cannot fix the connection we have;
the intervening night has undone it.
This is not your room. Neither these
curtains nor the potted cactus, nor those
knots in the stripped pine. You deny it all.
Slowly I unpack. Cheat, by turning over
objects you’ve told me about before.
‘You wore this when Alfred got his MBE.’
‘Why, yes’ you say, ‘I believe I did – fancy
you knowing that!’ ‘And these shells from
the beach where Bert dropped the ice-cream.’
Yes!’ you say, and an inner sunshine
lights the long drowned day. Carefully we
reclaim the fragments, sift the years.
Now you know when you were born;
what happened to Arthur during the war;
that we can cook eggs here just the way
you like them: ‘Sunny side up!’ I say.
You beam. ‘Come along then!’ you reply.
‘What are we waiting for?’ We laugh, and,
holding hands, make it to the bedroom door.
But confusion snaps, and still unable to quite
place me, you give me a worried look.
‘I say – I haven’t married you, have I?’

“Mother once told me she found it easier to talk to me ‘because we had you longer, as it were’. Meaning that I didn’t go to Uni, presumably. And I wonder whether the public school thing has any relevance here? If you’re ‘ordinary folk’ (and ma and pa were more ordinary than we (or they) ever believed) – if you’re ordinary folk who pack their boys off to public school (for albeit excellent reasons I’m sure!) I think you inevitably create some social or intellectual division between you and your children. You and G {our older brother} have far more ‘intellectual rigour’ about you than me and mum, which is cool, but you’re probably less able (and maybe less willing) to cope with the inconsequential chit-chat that most of us fill our lives with whilst not bothering to think about anything! [Just look at Facebook!]

“Being a theatrical type, I don’t mind hearing the same stories over and over, in the same way as I’m quite prepared to watch The Mikado for the 43rd time. There’s something comforting and reassuring about predictability – hence the attractions of Anglo-Catholic ritual, I suppose, or watching Chelsea win everything [‘cept they didn’t! Huh!]. If all mother has left is a few stories, then let’s hear them. I’m not sure I’m quite as clever with the CD tracks as you suggest, but by triggering a few it puts her centre stage, otherwise she’s just pulling faces and saying ‘I don’t know what you lot are all talking about…’ [Sometimes, of course (oh joy!) she produces a track I’ve not heard before – or tells an old one with some added extra – a bonus track, huh?]

“There’s no need to feel guilt – it’s just a situation that is, and we’ll all go some way along the same road at some stage (and maybe even further than mum has). My only qualm is that G catches most of the difficulties, and I don’t get over there half as often as I ought.

“Here’s a thought: What we gonna do when mother’s 110 and G’s 79???”

I think his poem is utterly beautiful, and expresses the sadness, and the joys, of Alzheimer’s with more succinctness, and a great deal more elegance, than any number of posts from me. I’m also humbled by, and grateful for, his generosity of spirit. It’s rather more than I deserve.

Just one point, however. My brother writes that “ma and pa were more ordinary than we (or they) ever believed”; in the same vein, when he suggests that I and my older brother were “pack[ed] … off to public school”, he probably takes that school’s own self-image too seriously. The educational establishment to which I was “packed off” may well have managed to creep into the fold of the Headmasters’ Conference but it was no Eton, or even Dulwich. It too was more ordinary than it ever believed. As in so much else in life, it probably looked better and more exciting from the outside than it ever did from the inside. Much in fact like the “intellectual rigour” attributed lavishly, if undeservedly, to G and me.


3 thoughts on “One son responds to another on Alzheimer’s

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention One son responds to another on Alzheimer’s « The At-Long-Last-I've-Got-a-Job Blog --

  2. thanks to all the family for these thoughtful shared comments.
    I suspect we’ll all have more to learn as the population ages.

  3. Pingback: Goodbye, bitter-sweet month of June « The At-Long-Last-I've-Got-a-Job Blog

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