It's okay to have fun!
‘Dementia is cruel, robbing everything that makes a person an individual’ is one way to look at a loved one’s diagnosis. But if you can find it in yourself to see a silver lining, even a thin one, it can make the moments and days better than they might have been.
I’ve always been a ‘glass half full’ sort of person (some might have said stupidly optimistic!) and I guess that it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to try and see everything that my Dad still was as his Alzheimer’s progressed towards his later stages. To my delight it was more than I ever imagined it could be when he was diagnosed. It’s true they were just moments, but so very precious at the time and I cherish them now.
He was always a very social person and clung to the handful of anecdotes he could recall, repeating them again and again so he could contribute to the conversation. I used to try and clear my mind each time and experience them fresh, so he could have some appropriate responses and feel included and connected. However, there was one story he used to tell that lasted longer than the rest, about his experience as a driving instructor during his National Service. The real story had got muddled up with a fantasy that he was a driving instructor for a long time, but the details didn’t matter to either of us. He loved to tell it, and I loved to hear it, however many times he wanted to tell it, because he was participating in life and living in the moment.
One day it occurred to me that we could have some fun, so sometimes I pretended that I was psychic and could guess what he was going to tell me. I put on a proper show - ‘It’s coming to me! It’s coming to me! It’s something to do with…… cars? And driving? I know! You were a driving instructor!!’
His delight at both the performance, and my uncanny ability to know what he was going to tell me, was absolutely wonderful. Wonderful then and wonderful to remember now. He didn’t know who I was then, but we could still connect. I still knew something about him that could bring us fun, laughter, joy and connection. I’m remembering it now with a smile on my face.
When my children were young I used to wonder what kind of adults they’d be, and now they are adults they’re not so very different to how I imagined. Their child selves predicted their adult selves in many ways, and it seemed that watching Dad’s journey was almost the reverse. He wasn’t being changed into someone else I didn’t know at all. He gently, slowly, ‘grew down’. Back to the curiosity and instinct for contact that is our collective human legacy.
So it’s okay to look for the light moments, and have fun and laughter whenever you can because they will be the moments that you remember.