The start of a new year is a time that many people find themselves in a reflective mood, and I have more cause than most to feel that way as 2016 kicks off.
As some readers may know if they follow me on social media, I became a first-time mum last November.
A very proud mummy to a very beautiful daughter, Sophie Rae, born 21 November #totallyinlove pic.twitter.com/gUdhBHlWww
— Beth Britton (@bethyb1886) December 4, 2015
Parenthood opens up a whole new world, and inevitably makes you think about family life in a totally different way. Amongst the flurry of people eager to meet the new addition, you inevitably think about those who will never meet your child, and for me the person at the forefront of my mind is of course my dad.
In the film I made for the G8 Dementia Summit I said of dad’s dementia:
“It’s robbed him of opportunities that, obviously, now he will never have”
When I said this I was particularly thinking about potential future grandchildren. My dad loved children, and would have adored being a grandparent. The look on his face had he had a newborn grandchild placed in his arms is one I can picture vividly in my imagination, and I feel a huge sense of loss that I cannot experience that in real life.
Dementia has robbed us of that opportunity, that moment that would have become etched into our family history and captured by camera to preserve forever. The reassurance that comes from feeling dad’s constant presence is a consolation, but it doesn’t replace the real thing and never will. For that I hate dementia and I hate the fact that by developing it, dad’s life was limited and, in my view, ended before its natural conclusion.
In the midst of those feelings it’s hard to see positives, but they are there. Dad’s legacy is one our daughter can learn from and be proud of. Dad’s life with dementia left a story for me to tell that has much to inspire an enquiring mind as it grows and develops, and nothing will make me prouder than having our daughter in an audience one day when I’m speaking at a big event. I hope that even if she doesn’t want to follow in her mum’s footsteps in her working life that she will see the good, the kindness and the love that goes into what I do every day.
None of those things will replace learning from my dad’s wisdom or having his cuddles, but she will come to know and appreciate everything that made him such a special man. In that way, dementia gives a little – it gives her lessons to learn, kindness to emulate, and a foundation to lead her life embodying the qualities my dad so admired and strove to teach me every day – humility and respect.
Since I would give anything to be able to introduce our daughter to her maternal grandfather, it makes me very sad to think of the many children that could be part of the lives of their older relatives and aren’t. Without any reservations whatsoever I would have ensured our daughter was part of my dad’s life during his years with dementia, including taking her to visit him during the nine years he spent in care homes.
I am certain that the interaction between the two of them would have been magical. Children don’t judge people with dementia in the way that adults often do. Babies in particular have an innocence and a vulnerability that could never threaten, intimidate, or make a person with dementia feel inadequate or less of a human being. There is so much that we as adults could learn from the unconditional love and trust a tiny baby gives us, and use those lessons to impart the aforementioned qualities into our interactions with others, particularly people who are living with dementia.
My memories of my dad, and the many things I learnt from him both before and during his life with dementia, will undoubtedly influence the kind of parent I am and will grow into being in the years ahead. I can’t help feeling that those lessons belong in some way, shape or form in parenting classes – proof, if it were ever needed, that intergenerational learning and intergenerational work in dementia awareness has never been more relevant, or more needed.
Until next time…
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