Tue: Exceptionally cold, even for January. Leave Herne Hill 11am, arrive Liverpool by train mid afternoon. To M&S to buy clothes for Mum (she has shrunk), then to lawyers to sign probate declaration for Dad’s estate. Train to Birkenhead then taxi to Upton, arrive at house and turn on heating and water. Open post: only significant item being a letter from Legal & General about Dad’s pension. Find Mum’s birth and marriage certificates, as required by L&G. Microwave ready meal.

Watch football on TV and drink too much wine

Wed: Visit Mum at care home, brief chat with carers. Drive to Sainsbury’s to buy toiletries for her. See Andy Cross, an old friend from schooldays, for an hour. Microwave another ready meal. Replace dud bulb in bathroom. Throw boxes of papers and assorted junk into the bin. Vacuum carpets. Handyman arrives to discuss my list of jobs. Raid freezer for curry left over from November’s visit.

Watch football on TV and drink less wine

Thu: Financial advisor arrives with documents to transfer Dad’s ISAs to Mum. Visit neighbours, dropping off two bags of old clothes for a local charity. Visit Mum, with laptop so she can watch the New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna, which she enjoys. Her new clothes seem to fit. Wolf down pasta for lunch. Finish packing, turn off heating and water, and take taxi to Lime Street station 48 hours after leaving Euston.

Brand-new blouse, but does she even notice?

I have two meetings the following day, then a drive to Oxford on the Saturday morning for a OftW weekend, recording meterial for a third album, at Glasshouse Studios. The return trip takes nearly four hours, with a fatal pile-up clsoing the M40.

It’s all go, but I feel more in control than I was a year ago.

Whose cardigan is that? Certainly not Mum’s, but who cares?

I can hardly believe it is 51 weeks since my parents moved into Upton Manor. Dad hated being in a care home, and I don’t blame him for that. But he knew he had no choice, whereas Mum was adamant that she was not going. “We went there before and we were not happy. I’ll get someone to look after me,” is all I heard. But in the end, she went.

Now she seems reasonably content

Almost exactly six years ago I attended Aunt Margaret’s funeral in Glasgow. She suffered from Alzheimers and spent her final years in a care home. She drifted along, eating less and less, losing weight, and increasingly living in a world of her own. But for some reason I never thought it would happen to Mum, her younger sister. She was always so strong-willed.

***

With each visit it gets harder to maintain a conversation. I stayed with her for 45 minutes for two consecutive mornings. When someone can’t even remember what they had for breakfast they don’t have much to contribute.

I arrived wearing my favourite T-shirt (it’s far too hot for me in Mum’s room) with writing on it…

The infamous TRFC shirt

She must have asked me five times in 15 minutes what it said. A friend suggested that we try playing noughts and crosses. It might work, though it would be alarming if she won.

The pace of deterioration is scary

In retrospect, the signs were there three or four years ago, but she was finally diagnosed in October 2022.

***

It would have been my father’s 97th birthday tomorrow, and it is just over three months since his death.

Dad’s room in Upton Manor

I hardly shed a tear when he died, even at the funeral. I was starting to feel guilty, ridiculous though that may sound. But last week when I was listening to a new song written by my brilliant friend Bernard Hanaway, it hit me: partly Dad’s death, but mainly – I think – because Mum is changing into another person.

Somewhere in Memoryland
South of reaching the Moon
There’s an empire, all of my own, where the sun never sets
I’m visiting Memoryland
East of that Turtles tune
Found a place where time is still slow and I’m too young for regrets
I’m too young for regrets

I don’t know why I can’t accept changes that happen every day
Everything I cling to re-arranges in unfamiliar ways

The steam trains in Memoryland
Chug through April showers
Bad things have yet to arrive, backed up on the rails
The meadows of Memoryland
Are full and fragrant with flowers
Best friends are all still alive and wagging their tails
They’re all wagging their tails

I don’t know why I can’t accept changes that happen every day
Everything I cling to re-arranges in unfamiliar ways

But there’s a fire in Memoryland, now it isn’t the same
Words that tripped off the tongue are lost in the flames
Yes, these days Memoryland isn’t the same
Just isn’t the same

The signposts in Memoryland
Are rusty and pock-marked with holes
Looks like a shot from a gun, now I can’t read the names
And the news out of Memoryland
Is that wildfires are out of control
Words that once tripped off the tongue are lost in the flames
They’re lost in the flames

I don’t know why I can’t accept changes, though they happen every day
Everything I cling to re-arranges in unfamiliar ways

These days Memoryland isn’t the same
It just isn’t the same

“Memoryland” © words and music by Bernard Hanaway

Recording “Memoryland” at Glasshouse

***

I do not think that this song was written specifically about dementia. I rarely ask Bern what his songs are about, preferring to find my own meaning. I cried for half an hour when I heard his demo. When I listened to it the following day, I cried some more. It’s called catharsis. I did not study Greek for two years for nothing, you know.

This will sound pretentious…

I don’t care. I seem to have read that Hector Berlioz, in his Mémoirs, recalls a morning when he went to a close friend’s funeral, confessing that he felt no emotion at all. That evening he went to see Harriet Smithson in Romeo and Juliet. Despite not understanding a word of English, he was deeply affected.

The great composer in 1803

Berlioz is a hero of mine, and I have very few. Though I have read the Mémoirs (in David Cairns’s English translation) it was many years ago; so long, in fact, they I may have made up the bit about the funeral. Leafing quickly through my copy, I now suspect that my own memory is faulty. But I still feel that this story ought to be true.

Mum and Dad wave goodbye as Covid lockdown begins

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.