A consultant psychiatrist I worked with as a social worker with people with dementia described memories like leaves and branches on a tree, when you are younger you are putting down roots, building up reserves, and starting out fresh shoots, as you get older you establish core branches and reach higher up. In old age bits of the brain start to stop functioning so well, and for people with dementia it’s a much more rapid and cruel process that robs people of core memories that make them the person they used to be. Like being struck by lightening. Normally its the early years, and the roots that stay put, and the later memories which can be harder to recall. Sometimes people have complete personality changes.
My lovely Granny Buster died 21st August 2015, having lived to see her 100th birthday this year. Those of us who knew her (and there are alot of us!) have a whole host of lovely memories to keep. During the last few years of her life dementia took over and although she had good days, it didn’t always seem like the same lady we were visiting. I was lucky to get to know her as an adult, and she helped me choose this rose bush, when I moved into my first home around 12 years ago. This summer it’s been flowering nearly non-stop, and has been a constant reminder of Granny.
I’ve not seen her as much in the last few years as getting down to London with the littles has been challenging at times, and visiting her in a care home I have to admit has been quite depressing, however I am proud that she was sitting next to me at the dinner after I got married, aged 92, and that she got to know my children and her other great grandchildren, and she was happy for me.
Granny was pretty tough.
One day I came down to visit with our eldest when he was about 2 or 3, and she’s started hallucinating due to taking some new medication. Partially sighted and in her mid 90’s she was still able to direct me when I wasn’t sure the route from her home to my aunty’s house in North London!
Growing up we didn’t see as much of Buster as my other grandparents as we lived a long way away and she sometimes seemed very formal to me, and not very relaxed, but as an adult I got to know her better and learned about her sense of humour, and silly side. She told me what it was like to drive ambulances in London during the blitz, to drink gin with RAF officers, and to try and find somewhere to live with a small boy, and a husband away in the war. When my family were having psychological problems she shared her own battles with me, and what it was like growing up with four brothers, and living in New York,and Australia before she got to go school in England. In the main though, I always think of her as a 1950’s housewife, happy at home with her brood, and her lovely Toby.
During my “Bridget Jones” years, she would give very sound advice about men, having been something of a catch herself before she settled down with Toby. Her judge of character was usually impeccable and a passing comment about someone, (sometimes quite cutting) was often spot on!
Granny the last time I saw her, was very confused, had no idea who I was, but at the same time was polite, charming, funny and keen to give me something to take home with me, which is pretty much how she has always been. I asked her if she was well and she laughed and said something like “I think you could do better than me, you must be a bit desperate!”
I’d like to thank all the staff at Morriss House (Abbeyfield Care) in Crouch End, who cared for her in the last stage of her life, and our family in London who did the majority of visiting, organising and sorting out problems. I know the whole family are glad that she has finally found peace, despite the fact we will miss her terribly.