Sunday, 27 October 2013

'While my brain is not shaming me.'

Last week, I took my Danish stepdad to an SNO concert at the UsherHall for his 84th birthday. A hop and a skip from me. He loves classical music, knows much more than me, though has forgotten most of what he knows. It's well-documented that music is beneficial for people with dementia, it seems to unlock memories (I've started visualising dementia as having a huge padlock around your head). Whenever I am with him now I automatically take his hand or link in to his arm. He always tells me that he can't walk fast these days - he has completely forgotten that I can't either, and his pace is perfect for me. 

The conductor was Danish, Thomas Søndergård. My stepdad told me how to pronounce his name and when he came onto the stage he said,  not quietly, There's Klaus.  It’s not Klaus, it's Thomas, I whispered back. I had the programme on my lap and he must have taken it about ten times during the concert and read it and handed it back to me. He also had his walking stick between his legs, propping up his hands periodically. I kept an eye on the stick, afraid it would fall and clatter. I felt like I was doing my own conducting, making sure things would stay calm. I kept looking at his knees, he was wearing his new brown cords, so dapper! 

If I sit for more than twenty minutes I get vicious pins and needles, so I kept moving my feet, subtly (I hate fidgeters myself and want to stab them). I held my stepdad’s hand off and on and kept looking at his face to see his responses to the orchestra. At times, he seemed transported by the music, at times, he was not focused at all, looking around the hall. He kissed the side of my head a couple of times.  During the Mendelssohn, he turned to me and said, not quietly, Good pianist. I gently said Ssh, and he said, twice, They can’t hear us. I suppose he had a point. And the pianist was wonderful. I was fascinated by the whole orchestra, their arms, all those arms,  violins and cellos, all that lactic acid. I can’t see this kind of thing without marvelling at the ability to sustain movement without utter exhaustion. 

At the interval I’d pre-ordered a wee Glenmorangie for my stepdad, and the bar, standing only, had kindly put two seats aside for us. My stepdad was happy, but asked if he could have ice in his whisky. He has never in his life taken ice. On the way home, I asked him if he had enjoyed himself and he said, Up to a point. He enjoyed the Mendelssohn but found the Brahms finale 'a bit too fierce'. We both loved the second movement. Later, he said to me, While my brain is not shaming me, can I thank you for the lovely time you gave me? He is still aware that he has memory problems and will sometimes knock his head with his fist in frustration. He had already thanked me several times and will do so again the next time I see him.  I loved my evening out with him, I had a gorgeous time.


Douglas Blane said...

I enjoyed reading this. It seems a strange word to use, but the honesty and restraint of the writing gave me a real insight into a man whose mind is fading and the feelings of someone who cares about him.

nmj said...

Thank you, Douglas. Glad you enjoyed the post.

Cusp said...

What a beautiful and tender post. Having watched my own father and my mother-in-law suffer the dementia journey, I recognise every facet of this piece. Bless you both x

nmj said...

Thank you, Cusp. x

Ciara said...

Aww, lovely post. Ciara x