utilities

A pair of pink slippers for Christmas

Shilpa Saul

Last year, a new Christmas ad premiered. I took notice because a) I love Christmas b) it was conceptualised by an old colleague of mine and therefore filled my Facebook timeline and c) it tackles Alzheimer’s head on.

There’s not a single day that goes past when I don’t think about my mother. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 49, whilst I was taking my GCSE exams, and passed away just after her 60th birthday.

shilpa-and-her-mumDuring my teenage years and my 20s I would dread Christmas. For me, it was a sign of time passing away and every year I’d ask myself whether Mummy would remember me by the following Christmas. Would she recognise my face? Would she be able to talk to me? Would she know I was even there? And I’m very sad and sorry to say that with every Christmas that passed, Mummy became less and less like the woman who took care of me. She didn’t know who I was. She didn’t write me cards or buy me presents. She didn’t say ‘Happy Christmas’. She eventually didn’t say or do anything. She was just there. A shell of herself. Trapped in her mind. Trapped by a brain that could no longer function. And then she died.

For years I didn’t want to acknowledge what was wrong with her. I didn’t tell many friends or colleagues. I tried to pretend everything was normal. I was ashamed. And sad. And scared. And I buried my head in the sand. Trapped in my own thoughts, I suppose.

When I saw ‘Santa Forgot’ for the first time it brought back all my memories of Christmases that weren’t really Christmas. And I remembered, as I do every year, about the very last time my Mummy bought me a Christmas present.

It was the Christmas before she had officially been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. (Up until then, it seemed no one really took it seriously. “She’s just forgetful”, “she’s depressed”, “she needs more help around the house”). A nice old lady who lived across the street from us called Mim would often spend time with Mummy and understood she was ill. One morning, during the school holiday, I was still in bed – because that’s what teenagers do – and Mummy came in to ask me where we kept the scissors. I told her. Then she came in to ask where we kept the tape. I told her. Then she came in to ask where we kept the wrapping paper – exasperated, I asked if she just wanted me to wrap some presents. “No” she said, “I’ve got a present for you”. It turned out Mim had taken Mummy on the bus to do some Christmas shopping.

Later on that morning, I spied two haphazardly wrapped gifts under the tree in the hallway. No nametags attached but I knew they were from her. One for me. One for Pappa.

The next day, before he went to work, Pappa asked me if I knew where his aftershave was, as he couldn’t find it anywhere. Mummy had a habit of ‘tidying up’ and putting our belongings in random places and then forgetting where she’d put them. I had an inkling she’d perhaps wrapped his aftershave and put it under the tree. Once Pappa had left, I asked her if she knew where his aftershave was. She didn’t. I asked if maybe she’d wrapped it up. She said she couldn’t remember. So together we found the gift she’d placed under the tree, carefully unwrapped it, and realised that whilst she’d bought a new bottle of aftershave for him (Mim had suggested she bring his old bottle on the shopping trip so she’d know which one to get), she’d wrapped the old with the new. We put the old bottle back on Pappa’s shelf and rewrapped his gift.

Come Christmas Day, which must have been about a week later, Mummy didn’t remember she’d bought presents for us. I did. One for Pappa. One for me. I opened my present. I knew it would be the last gift Mummy would independently buy for me. It was a pair of pink slippers. I never wore them – I wanted to keep them forever. She remembered I loved pink. And she’d remembered my feet were the same size as hers.

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And so, when I heard the magical voice of Stephen Fry narrating the Christmas ad for Alzheimer’s Research UK, it was painfully clear that Mummy was my ‘Santa who forgot’.

“Once upon a time a little girl was preparing for Christmas but Christmas wasn’t quite as magical as it used to be”, says Fry. “…one Christmas Eve, things started to go wrong. He began to mix up presents and muddle names. He seemed sad, distant and afraid. Year by year things got steadily worse until finally he stopped coming altogether.”

This Christmas please support this campaign by texting ‘BELIEVE’ to 70755 to donate £5 to Alzheimer’s Research UK.

This post is taken with permission from Shilpa’s blog. Read more at: http://mustbethemummy.com/

6 Responses to A pair of pink slippers for Christmas

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    Carole Hough 26 November 2016 at 10:38 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing this Shilpa, it is beautiful as well as so poignant and desperately sad. I recognise so well the story… My mum is still here but the feelings of the loss of who she has been grow each time I see her …I am so glad you have the pink slippers.
    Bless you especially at Christmas xx

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    Julie chandler 27 November 2016 at 6:40 pm #

    So very sad and unfortunately only people who have lost people to this dreadful disease really understand. We lost my mum many years before she died and even over 2 years on its so hard to remember mum as the lovely caring and thoughtful person that she was xx

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    Emily 27 November 2016 at 8:27 pm #

    That’s a lovely blog post Shilpa and resonates with my own experience with my mum who has early onset Alzheimer’s. Christmas is very bittersweet with a mum who doesn’t know who I am, and knowing she’s only going to get worse. I agree the Alzheimer’s Research Christmas ad is brilliant and hopefully will raise awareness for this sad disease.

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    Sharon COTTINGHAM 1 December 2016 at 11:11 am #

    It must be so hard for all of you who have first hand experience of this. Our neighbour went to live in a Nursing Home about 6 years ago or so and we and she realised she was forgetting and getting confused but I reckoned as long as she stayed in her house with her husband she’d be ok. But she wasn’t. I’d often hear him shouting that she was stupid and she’d speak to me over the fence and say people forgot but I’m certain that if the people they live we, hard as it must be, are kind and don’t snap and be impatient that they then won’t become nervous and afraid of doing the wrong thing. I don’t want to criticise but I’m sure that love goes a long way. I say to my male neighbour “How is she” and he says “She’s no good”. Marriage is for better or worse. We had 3 Polish lodgers living here and working in her Nursing Home and they urged me to visit her and I have. She just lays in a bed in a room on her own with the radio on. A pristine room where she just lays with only the radio and no one to be with her apart from meal times I suppose when she has to be helped and times when she is washed etc. She had her eyes closed but when she knew I was there she opened them and attempted to talk. I spoke to her and sang and prayed (she was a regular church goer). I was glad I went. The husband had told neighbours of their own age not to visit her but he hadn’t told me that and was glad I went.

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    Tim Dlamini 17 December 2016 at 2:10 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this Shilpa. The reality of losing a loved one to this dreadful illness cannot be felt deeply by anyone else other than those who have a lived experienced. Having lost my dad last year November, my thoughts at this time of the year are filled with anger, loneliness and fear and I wish I could erase the memories I have about my dad and act like nothing happened; just to stay sane! How I wish a treatment for this illness is found sooner. Have a blessed Christmas

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    Georgia 26 January 2017 at 7:01 pm #

    Dear Shilpa,

    I thought I’d let you know that my physical theatre group (part of a BTEC course at college) and I were really touched by your story and we’re using this blog as one of our stimuli for our final performance which aims to educate people about the affects of dementia on sufferers and carers. We have turned your story into a physical movement piece, where I read your words out as a piece of verbatim theatre, while they move around me. When I found this blog and brought it into class, we all immediately connected with it and it’s such a sad yet happy and beautiful collection of memories that we just had to perform it. I want to thank you for sharing this. We hope we do your words and your story justice:)

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