Last night, my Granny fell and hit her head against a chair. She, I am assured, is OK. It’s just a cut and she’s not shown any symptoms of anything more serious since then.
Recently, my Granny moved into a care home. She has dementia.
Growing up, I saw her twice a week, every week. After school on a Friday, where I learnt how eating crisps and biscuits together tastes better than anything else on this earth, and on Saturday afternoons, when I used to lie, tummy down, on the floor and listen to the football results. My Granny’s house was on the top of a hill and in the winter, when it got dark early, you could see the streetlights for miles. It remains my favourite view in the world.
At the beginning of the year, my Granny started to get poorly. She had been struggling with her memory for some time and she began to lose the ability to live alone. For someone who, at ninety-five, is still fiercely independent, this was not easy for her to accept.
I don’t remember the last time I actually gave Granny a hug. For the first three months of the year, she was in and out of hospital. The first time, I sat with her and she let me stroke her hair. After that, Covid turned up and hospitals were shut to visitors. My poor Granny, confused and probably quite frightened, fell in the night and broke her wrist. She had to go to hospital alone. This was the first time my heart broke: all I could imagine was her being alone and frightened in a new and confusing place, wondering where the people who usually did everything they could to protect her were. It scares me that she thought we’d abandoned her.
From there, she was transferred to a nursing home and then to the care home where she is now. In all that time – twelve weeks – I’ve only been able to see her through windows and on a balcony. I’ve spoken to her on the phone, but she either can’t hear or her brain struggles to process what she’s hearing (a symptom of dementia). Last weekend, I watched through the window as she got out her own tissue from up her sleeve to dry her eyes as she cried. It is, hands down, one of the worst things I have ever seen.
She has dried my tears more times that I can count. And now, when she needs us most, I can’t be with her. It’s heart-rending.
People forget about care homes. People forget about elderly people. Whilst everyone is so busy rejoicing at being able to have their beard trimmed, but also fuming at the government because – by the same token – they can’t have their eyebrows plucked, there are two-hundred and eighty-eight thousand people living in residential care in the UK. Not one of them has been able to see their family or friends properly since March. Not one of them has had a cuddle with someone they love, or been able to share a cup of tea and a cake and a giggle.
For my Granny, and other people living with dementia, spending time with family is vitally important. It is one of the crucial factors which can keep brains ticking over. It is also, for so many, a rare source of entertainment and enjoyment. Whilst we have been very, very lucky – Granny is in an amazing home with wonderful staff and gets the best care she could have – I know that this is not a replacement for the love of a family. Although she does not remember who she has seen, or when the last time she saw them was, I am sure that she is able to feel the overarching pattern of loneliness since lockdown.
It’s my summer holidays coming up. If I could, I would happily quarantine so that I could be in Granny’s social bubble. Nobody is to blame for Coronavirus, but I wish so much that the government would come up with a plan, or a date or even just some guidance on when we might be allowed back into care homes. Sadly, it feels like that’s right at the bottom of everyone’s list of priorities. Probably because nobody is out there making a fuss. Probably because people with dementia can’t speak out for themselves.
I love my Granny. I wish that I could give her the same amount of love and care that she has always given to me. Selfishly, I don’t want her to forget who I am.
But mainly, I just want to give her a cuddle.