This will be the fifth Christmas that Mary has had to share with Dementia.
The first Christmas was the one where she couldn’t remember whether she had bought enough snacks for everyone and ended up with six family packs of peanuts. Then she forgot to turn the oven on, so dinner was four hours late. She’d already started to suspect that something wasn’t quite right with her memory, but it was still a lovely day.
The second Christmas was the one where her eldest son came home from America (where he’d been living for five years) and she didn’t recognise him. Not because he’d succumbed to LA’s obsession with plastic surgery – it was just that Mary’s mind couldn’t match his face to his name. Everyone pretended that it was fine, but she knew it wasn’t. She bought Christmas cards, as usual, but then she couldn’t remember who she wanted to send them to. Then she got lost driving home from the supermarket, a trip she’d done hundreds of times. That was the last year she was able to drive. Not a great Christmas, that one.
The third Christmas was the first one since her diagnosis and so Dementia was a very unwelcome, official guest. Christmas Day was spent in her new flat next door to her daughter, the one with the long hair whose name Mary couldn’t quite remember. The family all tried to have a good day, but Mary was quite relieved when they left. Trying to keep up with what they were saying was exhausting and she was sick of people asking her how she was. Why did they have to be so loud? Then she couldn’t work out where her bedroom was and ended up locking herself out in the snow, so she decided to try and get home to Ireland. From Bristol. It took her ages to warm up after the policeman brought her home.
Christmas Day the year after that was quite forgettable, like most days now. It was nice to have company, even if she had no idea who all the people were, let alone why they were there. They seemed pleasant enough though. Mary got a new doll called Charlie to look after so that she didn’t have to worry so much about the kids she’d see running round her living room. She could never understand why nobody else would talk to them. They didn’t seem scared by the old lady in the mirrors either. Mary didn’t like her very much. At least she left when they took the mirrors away.
This year, Mary will be woken up on Christmas morning by the man with the beard and the big smile. He says he’s her son, but he’s obviously joking – she’s not old enough to have a son that age. She’ll want to stay in bed – sleeping is the only time she gets any peace now – but he won’t let her. They’ll check on Charlie and the man with the beard and the big smile will make sure that she’s dressed in her new Christmas jumper. Then he’ll have to help her to the sofa; she can’t understand why her legs don’t seem to work too well anymore.
She’ll wonder why these people, who never seem to leave her on her own anymore, seem more cheery than usual. She likes it when they’re happy. Sometimes they seem sad and she doesn’t like that. Sometimes they get cross with her and she hates that. She still doesn’t understand why they keep calling her ‘mum’ though. She’ll probably have a look for her own mum at some point; she still can’t work out where she might have gone. That’s if she can find the front door. It’s not her fault they keep moving it.
She’ll definitely enjoy all the music and singing. She likes music better than films because she doesn’t have to try and follow what people are saying all the time. That makes her head hurt, and she has enough problems with her head these days.
At dinner time the lady with the long hair will help her into her chair and the little old man who visits every day will serve up Christmas dinner. She’s sure she knows him from somewhere, maybe long ago, but she can’t think where. He sounds a bit like a man she used to know, but she hasn’t seen him for years. His grandfather, maybe? The tall man with the glasses will probably annoy her again by trying to get her to eat something. Sometimes she’s just not in the mood, but they don’t listen. She might eat it just to shut him up, but if she’s in a bad mood then she might just keep her mouth closed and not eat any of it. That’ll show him.
After dinner she’ll sit down with Charlie and have a nap. She gets so tired these days. She doesn’t understand why; she’s not that old. She’d hate to be ancient like the lady in the mirrors. She’d quite like to go out with her friends, but she hasn’t heard from them for a very long time. She doesn’t know why. Instead she’ll just sit, quietly dozing, trying to see through the fog in her head and thinking about home. She’ll dream about her mum and dad and sisters, wishing that she could spend Christmas with them. And Charlie, of course.
Next year, the man with the beard and the big smile, the little old man, the tall man with the glasses and the lady with the long hair will spend Christmas Day together, again. Except there won’t be anyone to care for anymore. They’ll exchange gifts, have dinner and raise a glass, trying to make the best of it. Their smiles will be tinged with sadness as they think back over the past five years, wondering where the time’s gone, and hoping that Mary’s Christmas wish has come true.