My parent’s marriage didn’t survive the war, the divorced as soon as my dad was demobilised and he returned to Belgium, where he had a son, born to a woman he had met there. During my childhood I saw him about 8 times up to the age of 13, after which we had no contact, beyond two very stilted phone calls, for over 40 years. Like many children with an absent father I fantasised about him, idealised him and longed for him. When we met again at a family funeral, and it became clear he wanted to have contact me it was like all my birthdays, and Christmases and holidays arrived on the same day. We visited each other, I went to Belgium, he came back to Staffordshire, and for the first six months he telephoned me every day. Gradually the phone calls became less, but always once a week at least. Because his wife found the fact that he had been married before and had a child very difficult: Her wartime experience had affected her badly and she had emotional difficulties, we agreed between us that he would always ring me. And then suddenly the regular phone calls became less frequent and then stopped. I didn’t know why, I had no way of asking why. Given our history, how could I phone and say ‘Why have you gone again’ It broke my heart.
And then one day, while I was on holiday in Croatia, I had a phone call to say that he had died. By this time I had been diagnosed with Dementia but I managed to get from Croatia to Brussels to attend his funeral, where I learned that he had had Alzheimer’s too. Over the next months it all began to make sense, he hadn’t rejected me again, he had simply forgotten me. With so little mutual history to remember, and most of it recent, with so few reminders of my existence, why would he remember me when he was struggling with those who were there all the time. Dementia had taken my dad away from me, his and mine. My Dementia made me hold back from contacting him, fearful of what would happen, more fearful of rejection than I had ever been. Even as I write this I am crying, I loved him so much, the tie we had together were some of the most precious in my life and they were so few.
This is such a cruel disease. Don’t stay away from the people you care about who have Dementia, they need your regular contact and presence, without it you will lose each other before you need to. We need that regular contact with those we love – lest we forget.