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Richard Longstaff: Beyond Watford - disability arts online
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Disability Arts Online

Witnessing dementia / 8 May 2014

I would dread Saturday mornings as a child. It was our morning, my sister and I, to visit our grandparents, Fred and Mary. They lived in a small social housing bungalow not far from us and we had the pleasure of taking them shopping and making sure they were safe and well.

Both had health issues. In fact with the wonderful rose-tinted thing we call 'hindsight' they both had dementia. Slowly the safety and comfort of the world they had known was slipping away.

We called one Saturday, a bright warm morning. My sister, seven years older than me knew instantly there was a problem. We could hear their voices as we opened the garden gate, shouting and yelling. She opened the door and made her way through the small kitchen to find the pair of them fighting, full blown attacking each other. 

She told me to go into the garden whilst she tried to sort the situation out. I watched through the rear window as this old couple had to be pulled apart. It was shocking at the time and even more so now, thinking back. He, Fred had attacked her with a broom handle and she had hit him in the face. Furniture and the breakfast table lay upturned. In the end my sister had to call my mother to come and calm the situation. It was beyond the young mind of my sister.

With so much in the media at the moment about caring for the old; talk of millions suffering dementia in the coming years, I thought back to how we as a family had to cope. It was a difficult time and one that left a deep impression on me.

Within a year my grandfather would be dead. He died at home sat upright on the end of his bed. For hours, grandmother didn't even know he had gone. It was a tipping point and within months she herself was taken into a hospital for the elderly. She went missing in the local countryside and the police and tracking dogs found her half naked in a local stream. She was to remain in the hospital for over ten years before passing away.

Care homes and caring have changed over the years. We have a much greater knowledge about dementia and it’s causes. What hasn't changed is the condition. Families still face the horror of seeing a loved one taken from them in front of their eyes there is little or nothing they can do.
From somewhere up North, love, peace and poetry to all.
Richard

Poppy Hill

They’re fighting again up on the
Heights of Poppy Hill,
Table thumped, tea spilt and
Jam jar rolling.
I’m told to take solace amongst
The raspberry canes,
Still I hear the pitch and fall of
Irate voices.

He pulls the broom handle through
Her grey crown,
Now the slaps, tomorrow the deep
Purple bruises.
In between, arms holding broken
Minds at bay,
A scratch on her face and a phone
Call to our mother.

Confined to armchairs they each
Spit and vent,
Blame, cruel outcome of their
Final years.
Scolded heads hanging more in
Confusion than shame,
Subject changed, he talks of killing
Pigs, she of killing him.