My dad’s legacy
Since 2012, this slide is how I have finished many a presentation at a conference or event. It’s a simple philosophy, but a highly effective one at helping audiences remain grounded in the most vital aspect of any dementia-related discussion – the need to remember the person.
Remembering the person one of the topics of this year’s World Alzheimer’s Month (or World Dementia Month as I would prefer it to be called). For me, not a day goes by when I don’t remember my dad, either through my personal reflections or through my work. I find that keeping my dad’s memory alive, and helping others to learn from our experiences, is not only extremely cathartic but an amazing opportunity to help others that is really unlike anything else I could possibly do with my life.
I am mindful, however, that for some people whose loved ones have passed away having lived with dementia, remembering those relatives can be an acutely painful experience. We all experience dementia differently, and observe our loved ones through our own unique vision of them; for some people the pain, heartbreak and sadness is all they see and all they can remember.
Whilst I never deny the difficulties, sadness and heartbreak that accompanied my dad’s life with dementia – and actually frequently find that people would rather hear about those elements than the positives – it is the more positive aspects of my dad’s life and care that I feel potentially offer the greatest insight, not least because despite all the awareness raising work that has happened around dementia, negative perceptions still outweigh positive ones.
For people whose loved ones are living with dementia now, if the positive messages don’t reach their ears and eyes, how are they to feel any hope, any sense of being able to live in the moment, and any way of appreciating how there are positive aspects to be found and enjoyed, if only you can find them and capture them, for however long they last?
Me and my dad
Without having those positive influences, so many families feel bereft, and often some family members will walk away from the person with the diagnosis. This leaves any remaining relatives to manage as best they can, and for the person with dementia to be condemned to feeling as though they’ve done something wrong. It’s no one’s fault that they develop dementia, but sometimes human emotions can be strangely mercurial in difficult circumstances.
I always feel immensely sad when I read about or talk to people who are really struggling to remember their loved one with dementia while that person is still alive. People sometimes hope distance brings closure, but if someone has been an important part of your life they can’t just be airbrushed out. Not everyone feels a natural inclination to stand by a loved one after a diagnosis of dementia, or indeed even just keep in touch, but some of those people perhaps just need a bit more support to see the difference they have the potential to make.
In my view, as networks, communities and societies we all have a responsibility here, because while the negative tidal wave of perceptions regarding dementia continues, it proliferates myths, intolerance and stigma, not to mention creating divisions that often wound people deeply, long after their loved one with dementia may have passed away.
So, if you only do one thing this September for World Alzheimer’s Month, make it to put in that phone call, or write that letter, or make that visit, that says you haven’t forgotten a person you know who is currently living with dementia. And if you’re in the position I’m in with my dad and the person you loved is no longer here, think back, find that positive moment and tell people in your networks about it.
We all have the potential to be the change we want to see, and from the smallest actions the greatest difference is often made.
Until next time…