Christmas 2017 was the last day I spent with my Grandad. The following day he attacked my grandmother while she lay in bed as he had woken up and didn’t know who she was. The following day he was sectioned due to his mental instability and he has never been home since.
Sadly, he suffers from a severe and vicious variety of dementia which has left him a ghost of his former self. No more Mr. Jolly, offering sweeties to us kids the moment we walk through the door or flirting with the cashiers at Tesco’s. One day he can be placid and jolly, making jokes and teasing me for my short hair, and the next he can be cruel and violent becoming physically abusive and hurling terrible comments.
Last Christmas I spent the whole of Christmas Day with my Grandad sitting next to him on the sofa. I helped him open his presents, removing endless wrappers off of Wispa bars (his favourite) and reminding him who everyone in the room was - normally my sister’s boyfriend or his son’s relatively new wife - but he never forgot me.
After the fiasco that was Christmas, in which my family spent hours up at hospitals trying to stop my Grandad from leaving, and answering countless phone calls from social services and care homes, my Grandad was placed in a secure unit.
It took me seven months to build up the courage to see him in the hospital. He had briefly been moved into a care home, after struggling to find any that would take him, but within two weeks he had been kicked out due to his volatile and unpredictable behaviour which social services had not made the care home aware.
My Grandad was all talk and no trousers during my childhood. He might have a strong word with someone when he was angry but he was never violent towards them, he was well into his seventies by then. But now, over eighty, with little idea of where or who he is, he has become a physically violent old man and social services do not want to deal with it.
It’s been a year and I’m fast approaching the anniversary of the day I last saw my Grandad and he is only just settled into a nursing home, where his needs can be met with medication, one-on-one care and constant visitation from family.
Christmas is approaching and I’m constantly aware that that was the last time I saw him, that that was when it all went wrong. After six months of dealing with three am phone calls from the police and ambulances who my Grandad had called out of confusion, he had deteriorated to such a state that he no longer recognised himself.
For me, Christmas was always a jolly time. It was a routine I got to a tee, with family coming over at specific hours and food being cooked and served on specific plates. Me and my grandad were responsible for after-dinner entertainment, consisting of games that he and I devised when I was only ten years old. He would bring scratchcards as prizes and I would prepare all the necessary ephemera. This will be the first year that I don’t do that and just thinking about it breaks my heart.
Dementia is terrible for the person suffering, of course it is, but their memories are such that they forget what they said and how they’ve behaved. It’s distressing and terrible but family and friends are the ones that remember everything, and we’re the ones whose memories are intact yet are still being attacked by the horrifically sad images we have to face daily.
The month, after a particularly difficult visit to my Grandad, I’ve been putting off seeing him again, wondering if I should just keep the memories I have of him alive rather than make new ones of him in the state he is in.
But after receiving a photo from my sister, that she took on her last visit before Christmas, in which he is smiling with a twinkle in his eye, I know that my Grandad is still in there somewhere and I would regret not spending the time I have left with him, with him over Christmas.
Even if on some days he can’t remember me he remembered me for that whole Christmas Day in 2017, and he will always be my Grandad. Besides, it was him that taught me don’t worry, be happy. It was our catchphrase.