Saturday, 14 March 2015


Sad to read that Sir Terry Pratchett has departed the planet this week at the tender age of 66. I hope his spirit has found its way to Discworld. It is well-documented that Terry was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's dementia, the mind going missing by cruel degrees, a literal lacuna.

Jointly with my brothers, I have lasting power of attorney for my uncle Norman. He is 86, fiercely independent and still lives alone in leafy Leamington, but he, like so many, also suffers from Alzheimer's dementia. He has no short- or medium-term memory left. Tell him something and five minutes later he has absolutely no recollection of it. The frustration for him is that he is still physically fit, but his degenerative loss of memory is making him very vulnerable. Everything is contextual for him now. Each minute of every day is a struggle to make sense of his world because his powers of memory and recall are waning. Some things he does on automatic pilot and then cannot fathom why he is where he is, or what he should do next. He calls it dizziness and likens it to being drunk without the assistance of alcohol. My perception is that he's going missing into an ever-expanding cloud of unknowing. No wonder he's frightened and regards bed as the safest place to be.

We speak on the phone nearly every day, (sometimes several times per day) and I visit him every few weeks, but over the last few months it has become clear when we meet that although he recognises me on some level as someone he's seen before, he no longer remembers my name nor that I am his nephew. He has to be very trusting and I'm always advising him to be cautious. We had to get his phone number changed last year because he'd fallen foul of various financial scamsters.

The last time I visited Norman, I found a message from him on my answerphone when I got back to Blackpool. It said: "Stephen, I thought you ought to know that a nice young man has been here helping me today. I don't know who he was, but he's gone now." You have to laugh or you'd cry. When his own sense of who he is finally deserts him, we'll have to put Norman into a care-home for his own protection. Right now he dreads the possibility. I just hope that when the time comes he won't be mindful of the fact.

This week's poem doesn't attempt to tackle the enormous implications of dementia. I toyed momentarily with the idea of just posting: 'This page left intentionally blank' in the best tradition of IBM training manuals, but figured that was too facetious for such a serious subject.  Instead, here's something I've just completed that tries to encapsulate what I was feeling at this time last year following an abrupt desertion.

Just Like Lost Flight MH370
I thought I knew where this was heading,
plans were filed, co-ordinates set.
Take-off proved exhilarating
and the climb to cruising height was smooth;
altitude maintained with certitude
and latitude allowed for attitude -
but suddenly out of clear blue sky
on a mad March morning
just like lost flight MH370
you disappeared without warning
and left no trace;
the wreckage mine alone.

If I could locate
the flight-recorder of your heart
what secrets would it yield?

The motives your duplicity concealed?
Trails of infidelity?
Inconstancy and shallowness of feeling?
Manipulative meanness?
Ruthless self-conceit?

you would never open it -
so how could I?

Fasten your seatbelts. Thanks for reading, S :-)