I had high hopes for this book. During my time of of vision loss, being unable to read, my truly beautiful grandmother had a fall and ended up in hospital. It was then that my grandfather had to finally let the proverbial cat out of the bag and admit how difficult things had become with my grandmother at her home. We knew she had become vague, but we didn’t realise the extent of the problem. It broke all of our hearts, but she never came home from the hospital, instead going straight to the dementia ward of the local nursing home.
My sister heard an interview on the radio with Michelle Wyatt, and told my mother and I she thought it would be a pertinent read, and a welcome relief from the daily torment that dementia has on those who stand beside a dementia sufferer. I can’t even begin to imagine the suffering that goes on inside the mind of a sufferer but I know too that the ripple effects of this horrible disease pack a mighty punch on a family, a community. For me, I feel like every time I visit my grandmother, I have to say goodbye to just a little bit more of her. It’s like the world’s longest, most painful grieving process for a person who isn’t really still here but is still very much alive.
I’ve seen sides of people I never knew existed; the complete withdrawal of some, and the complete devotion of my grandfather to his wife of over 50 years. He goes to see her every day. I mean every. Single. Day. At the same time. The poor bloke hasn’t had a single day ‘off’ in months now. And his physical health isn’t at its best either. I saw much of my grandfather in Wyatt’s story: her devoted father who sat by his wife’s side despite her mental deterioration, even when she was no longer able to speak. I wonder how many others in our communities are doing it tough but still doing these things for those they love? I think I’d lose the plot doing the same thing, every day, even for a month. But it’s been over 8 months now, and still he goes, every day, and I couldn’t be prouder of him.
I laughed out loud at Michelle Wyatt’s recounting of the unusual dynamics at play in a dementia ward, particularly the way things have a propensity to ‘disappear’- in someone else’s room. For my grandmother it has been shoes. Early on she complained how sore her feet were; I assumed it to be the increase in her walking around the ward compared to home. It wasn’t; it turned out she was wearing someone else’s shoes. Someone else who had, obviously, much smaller feet. No wonder her feet were sore! This week my mother has visited almost every day, and almost every day she has taken off someone else’s slippers from my grandmother’s feet, and replaced them with her own, new slippers, specially purchased at the request of the nursing staff. Yikes. We laugh together about this stuff, but mostly because we know if we couldn’t see the funny in it, it’d be damn depressing.
And on that note, what I really wanted from this book was light-heartedness in the face of something that truly, truly sucks. But Wyatt, as she is entitled to do, recounts the final days of her mother’s life, and that was too much of a harsh reality for me to take; it was a kick in the guts I didn’t need. I’m sure one day I’ll be thankful for knowing how she coped when the final days came, but for now it was too much. I needed to laugh and be light, but this story became too heavy for me. So much so I strongly suggested to my mother that she didn’t read it, as I knew her reaction would be similar to mine- more grief and tears. Thank you, Michelle, for writing a real story that needed to be written. It is not the failing of the book that made me not enjoy it, but my own circumstances, my reality.