I am very lucky and my children are also very privileged because I, and they, have known and had amazing relationships with all of my grandparents. The children are doubly privileged in that they also know / knew their great-grandmothers on their dads side too. Erin didn’t know my nan and Lee’s nan on a very personal level as Erin was young when they passed away but we still have two great grandmothers and two great grand-dads among us who are seen regularly and much loved.
I think my children benefit enormously from these relationships and they have learnt so much from them. Take my grand-dads, one was in the second world war as a soldier and one was an evacuee. The children and especially Dylan have enjoyed learning our family history through them and hearing about their experiences. It saddens me that these stories will soon not be told first hand as this generation are our ageing population.
At the moment we hear lots of stories especially from my evacuee grand-dad who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year. This diagnosis was expected and in many ways was a relief that we now had a name for why popa was repeating himself and asking the same questions. Being diagnosed has meant that I can explain to the children a little of what is happening to Popa. Prior to diagnosis there were lost bank books that he worried about, forgotton pin numbers when paying for meals that we had just eaten and asking the same question time and time again when having Sunday Lunch with the family. Dates slipped from memory but then sometimes they were there with clarity. Take the time mum took him to a music concert and another man spotted Popa, called him by his christian name and struck up conversation. Popa clearly knew this man and spoke to him at length. A short while later dad asked who it was as we did not know the man. Popa could not recall having a conversation or meeting anyone despite my parents seeing him in animated conversation with this man and a conversation in which my grandad took an active part.
However there was the occasion when popa went to the bank twice in a day, worried, confused and upset fearing he had lost some documents. Despite reassurance he worried until my mum was able to sort it all out. There have also been some confused phonecalls and one time when mum and dad found him trying to change a wheel on his car (which was being sold but stored at his home). The children have seen this change in Popa and have handled it really well. They simply reply to his often repeated question as though it was the first time they have been asked. For us the situation is currently not too bad. Medication has lifted some of the fog and Popa is jovial and happy. Popa currently forgets things that have very recently happened and small conversations. History and thankfully all of us (the family) are still very much in reach. He adores the children like he always has.
In time I can imagine the children will have more questions especially if he further deteriorates and forgets their names or their shared history. To prepare for this I have become a dementia friend who have so much advice on their site and will help me to find the right words. Just as important are these free alzheimers resources that have been especially made with schools in mind. The resources will help schools and teachers to explain dementia and guide children through the experience. I am sure we will turn to these if needed.
At the moment I just remember how lucky I am to have had my grandparents as such amazing role models in my life throughout all of my childhood and much of my adulthood. I have said goodbye to one nanny, but at 38 still have three and I know beyond doubt that my life has been blessed with them in it and for that I can always smile through any future heartbreak.
I urge you to connect with dementia friends and remember just what that generation did for us and now let us find the right words and support to keep them well looked after.
Disclosure: I’m working with BritMums and Public Health England alongside the #BritMumsDementiaFriends campaign. I have been compensated for my time. All editorial and opinions are my own. Visit the Dementia Friends site http://bit.ly/1wglQD4 for more information and resources about coping with dementia among family and friends.