I’m not a violent person, but this week I wanted to pick a fight.
I mean REALLY pick a fight. I wanted to smash my opponent, play dirty or do anything to cause pain, to meet the blighter in the boxing ring and kick where it hurts.
In this particular boxing ring, my opponent is the heavyweight champion of the world, claiming a new victim every few seconds. Total current conquests number around 36 million. And that’s not counting the many millions who’ve gone before or are still to come*.
Yes, the opponent that I want to pick a fight with is dementia. In the news because of the G8 Summit. And in my own head and heart because I was helping my Dad to make something.
I’ve helped him make or build things all my life. To be fair, I was never much of an assistant – passing a hammer, or searching for the right size nail, about the limit of my practical ability.
But that didn’t matter, because Dad has always been a master craftsman, especially skilled at carpentry and stonework, and perfectly able to install electrics or plumbing, plaster walls, do papering and painting – you name it, he could do the lot.
I remember him converting a loft to bedrooms when I was about eight years old – building a wooden staircase, that my brother, sister and I would climb to bed. “Up the timber hill,” Dad would say, as we headed off to this new space of our own that he’d created for us.
His most impressive feat was building an entire house – our home – foundations through to the roof tiles and all the interior fittings. He completed it in a year, whilst working full time as a builder.
He built stables, barns, walls, fireplaces, rockeries, patios, wooden toys for his grandchildren and more besides. Over the years all of us in our own homes have had cause to ring up, and ask: “Daaaad, would you be able to come over and just build me……..” Whether it was a wardrobe, a bathroom, a shed, he’d always be there and do it. Just. Like. That.
So when I gave him one of his Christmas presents early – a present that involved making something – I thought he would do it, just-like-that. I even hoped he might exclaim or scoff at what I’d bought, complaining to my mum: “Look Roe, what she got me. What does she take me for?”
But he didn’t laugh or get cross. He settled down to “make” this gift. He struggled, made mistakes, had a job to get everything to fit and I had to help him. But he persevered and got there in the end, triumphant when it was complete.
So what was this present, that I’d bought to make with him?
It was a child’s 12 piece jigsaw.
Initially, I felt terribly sad and upset that someone with such practical skill should struggle with something so simple. Then I got mad and angry and wanted to rage at this disease that had stolen my father’s craftsmanship, leaving him with the cognitive ability of a three-year-old. That’s when I wanted to pummel dementia into the ground, punch its lights out.
Then later, I realised I was both yearning unrealistically for the past and longing for a better future: expecting to have a father who would never be the same as he was before; and wishfully pinning my hopes on a magic cure to wipe out dementia.
And I saw that it’s better to focus on the present: make the most of the skills Dad has, celebrate them, even as they decline; and to keep in mind the on-going fight against dementia, but not live in silent fear of this mighty bully.
People with severe dementia can’t stand up and fight their own corner. They can’t get in the boxing ring and throw a punch or two in their own defence, write letters to government or complain about the lack of investment in research.
I’d be hopeless in a boxing ring too, but that doesn’t mean I’m prepared to let dementia win without a fight. I can join the growing chorus of voices, calling on the politicians, the people in power, to put their gloves on and stand up to this heavyweight thug – land it a few direct blows. And I can keep helping raise money towards collective strength in opposition, charities and government fighting alongside each other.
So my game of attack is: to keep sharing quality moments with Dad, making things or doing whatever activities he can manage; to send this blog to David Cameron, telling him I’m backing his corner for a full dementia knock-out: “Whoo-whoo, go Dave!”; and of course, to keep running to try and elicit a few more pounds for the fighting fund.
That’s why I’ll be pounding the pavements of Portsmouth on Sunday dressed as a silver Christmas tree. Really, I will! (Full explanation and pictures next week).
Oh, and finally, talking of Christmas – perhaps the most overblown and ridiculous stocking filler suggestion I’ve seen: a designer leather luggage tag, selling for £130. Guys, if any of you were planning to buy one for me, it’s a lovely thought, but really I’d rather you just stuck some dosh on my Just Giving site* instead ;-).
Thanks, as always for reading – oh and especially you, Mr Cameron.
*Information source: http://www.alzheimers-brace.org/resources
*Fundraising link: http://www.justgiving.com/Jo-EarlamBRACE