This is for Christmas and for everyone living with dementia
I’ve got the Kings College festival of lessons and carols on in the background.
I’ve wrapped a few presents, decanted the chilli and garlic oil into tiny old fashioned bottles with those porcelain tops that flip down on stiff wire. Like lemonade bottles used to be.
There’s tonnes of food in the house for the next week. And drink.
That familiar phrase…
And yet, I sit here with tears welling, just wondering, thinking…
Christmas at home when I was a child. Drinks next door. Go to bed excited. Turn the light off. Try to stay awake for the door handle rattle…
And then at five o clock jump out of bed and see the door handle pointing up from the weight on the other side. Quietly, ever so quietly, open the door and lift off the stocking, thick knitted, with an elastic garter sewn on to hold it to the door handle.
Elastic garters…long socks and shorts at school. It wasn’t pink and rosy and great…it was just school in the early sixties.
My tears are not for the past. It was not wonderful. I remember the November smog in Birmingham when I could not see more than two feet. Walking home from school four miles. Bumping into trees. School was a trial that lasted twelve years, twelve unpleasant years that moulded me and my values.
And I still get fund raising and commemoration and old boys’ dinners letters through the post. I hated it. Yet they still try to include me in their sham, prejudiced, entitlement world.
This Christmas seems more than ever before like the leaving of something. Here I am, dwelling on a past which really was not good. And yet, I will never recapture the Christmas anticipation and joy of childhood.
I am not alone. Nor are you. But we may be lonely. We may not want company, but we may miss it. We may have little past family left, or none at all. We may, like me, have siblings who don’t communicate, and might be happy, sad or dying. I really don’t know.
But Christmas is a kaleidoscope. All those memories and feelings are squeezed together prismatically, misshapen, colourful but unrecognisable, and just…there. Like a geezer, bubbling away in sulphurous mud, belching, farting out uncontrollable feelings and memories.
It is just too much to control. The lid comes off once a year. Blows up in the air, clatters to the ground, and leaves us staring wide-eyed into our memories and our feelings.
And it hurts.
It just hurts.
And that’s why tears come.
Don’t look, don’t feel, don’t wonder…just talk, eat, drink and be…merry?
Kill the time with booze, telly, games, presents, wrapping paper, food and more food…
That’s what we do.
But actually, Christmas on your own is eye opening, soul opening. Strip away the games and pretences, the hide and seek, the strategies to avoid thinking, and what do you have left…a void. A crevasse.
At the bottom of which are your memories of times past.
And if you have a terminal illness that will either kill you or limit your life, and gradually rot your brain or other organs, it is probably a good thing to have this time to reflect, and weep, and grieve for what you are losing.
It’s a difficult time. Because we have little hope. We know our time is limited. We know the next year will be a little more distant, isolated, removed.
So, please, don’t try to make us all happy and cheerful because, after all, it’s Christmas everyone!
Let us reflect and think and just, well, be quiet.
Happy Christmas and new year. But I might not smile.