Whatever You Do Tonight

So I was watching a television show the other day, and it romanticised Alzheimer’s disease so well, it made me cry.

And the reason it made me cry is because it wasn’t the truth – but if they had recounted it truthfully, then they’d have nothing to tell, nothing to say.

It’s the same every day, only a little bit worse. There are very few good days. Or, the good days are debatable. If my grandfather swore profusely at all the nurses with every profanity he knew, and demanded fish and chips (as is his right, as an Englishman), even though he’d already had fish and chips and forgotten he’d eaten them, does that make a good day or…?

My grandfather on my mother’s side passed away eleven months ago, or thereabouts. I haven’t really talked about it all that much, or thought about it, if I’m honest. It felt like he died years ago, when he stopped really being able to talk or stay awake for longer than twenty minutes at a time. He was moved into a nursing home because he needed a great deal of care and was unable to move about on his own.

My grandmother went every day, sometimes twice. Every time I went with her, she’d tell me, very seriously, under her breath, Don’t get old. I always replied that I was trying not to. Every day, every week it was the same, only a little bit worse. Although I mustn’t forget to mention the little mercies. The brilliant, cheerful staff, the comfiest chairs I’ve ever sat in, the breeze that came through the open doors out onto the garden, a man in the kitchen who’d make you anything you fancied, and the other residents.

The sassy old women with biting words, the belligerent old men, the kind-hearted who wanted their hands held, the diabetics, the expert knitters, the people who always smiled at me, the types who slept all day but had the best and woolliest jumpers I’d ever seen, even in summer.

All of them have stories, every single one. Sometimes there’s good days. Once, my grandfather recognised what juice he was drinking, and spoke up to say that it was apple. It was apple. My grandmother repeated the events to herself over and over afterwards, as though she could hang onto them tighter if she spoke about them. He knew it was apple, didn’t he? He said it was apple. 

Now, sometimes, if I’m lucky enough, I’ll make myself sad drinking apple juice.

The problem with Alzheimer’s is I never knew how far back my granddad was in his stories, in his dreams, in his mind. Are you living at the beach on the east coast of Australia now, with a home with no telephone? Or are you further back? Have you just immigrated to Australia – living four hours out of Adelaide where the middle of town was a dirt road and a pub and a hitching post for horses?  Are you in the thick of the second World War – working as a mechanic? Are you still living in Ireland? England…? Where are you now? Where did you go back to?

I miss him, I miss his gentleness.

…this has all been very sad, but I’ll make my point. I’m not saying that the thing I watched on TV should’ve portrayed Alzheimer’s accurately – far from it. Sometimes we need to romanticise a little bit, because we all need to escape at some time or another. But just because it’s romanticised doesn’t mean you won’t cry. They wrote that show so, so well, to where I knew it was too good to be true.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t wish it was true. I’ll leave you, if you’ve read this far, with something I said the day my grandfather died. (Feels a bit morbid, but it’s not, really.)

Whatever you do tonight, tomorrow, take a spare moment and make some conscious time to think about the people you love. Life is important, love is important, and if you take a moment, you’ll not regret it.


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