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  • Writer's pictureJessica Crawford

8 - Birthday Celebrations for Someone Living with Dementia

I'm doing something different today, I'm going off-piste and posting a birthday blog. Mum turned 64 yesterday, it was a sad day because I know how much she loved her birthday, it was always her favourite day of the year. She liked to feel special and spend time with those closest to her. In previous years, the whole family would go for a birthday lunch, most likely somewhere we all hated but mum loved (like Frankie & Benny's). As with many families, however, birthday rules meant she got to choose and she loved it.

This birthday was different, not only because of dementia but also because COVID-19 meant she couldn't leave the house or have a birthday cuddle due to the social distancing rules in place. There are a couple of exceptions; Pete and I (along with carers) have had to maintain the level of care required, which can't be done from a 2m distance. I liked that I was able to give her a birthday kiss, even if not everyone could.

The purpose of this blog is to give you all a taste of what Mum was like pre-dementia and to write something I can look back on and smile about. I want to remember Mum for how she used to be, not just this current version of her. Below are some of my favourite memories of her that I will always cherish:

When I was little

  • 'Muffin Nights'. Every Friday, Mum would make me muffins and we would cuddle up on the sofa watching Will & Grace

  • Every Christmas Eve we would watch Jack Frost, followed by a traditional Disney film with sing-along songs

  • My bedtime routine, each night she would tuck me in bed and we would whisper 'Night night, see you in morning, love you, good girl' to one another. I don't really know why, it doesn't even rhyme and I'm not sure why I referred to Mum as a 'good girl' but still, I loved it

Getting older

  • I could tell Mum anything. We had a really open relationship and she never judged me, despite the many pickles I've found myself in and the questionable decisions I've made

  • Our summer holidays were so much fun. Mum and Dad always paid for one of my friends to come along, they just wanted to make sure I had the best time possible

  • How she embraced me and my brothers taking the p*ss out of her. When we were all together, Mum was typically the butt of our jokes but she always laughed along with us

  • Our trip to Cala D'or. Me, my husband, mum and Pete all visited Majorca for her Birthday and we had so much fun. I filmed one night when we were all drunk and I'm so pleased I have that footage to keep

  • Mum's bonfire nights - she loved to have the family round and cook a giant chilli

Just mum herself

  • How she dedicated the song My Girl by The Temptations to me. No matter where we were, if this song came on she always made me dance with her

  • I love how her nostrils flared when she was angry

  • How she used to laugh so hard she would wee a little bit

  • How she made up her own name. She was upset she didn't have a middle name so named herself Janice Maria (she thought Maria sounded exotic and would pronounce it 'Mar-eee-ya', trilling the R). Despite it not being official, she used it on every form

  • Her lack of success with jobs and interviews. One interviewer asked Mum if she had any weaknesses, and she replied 'Oh I love a good crab salad, that's a weakness of mine'. She didn't get the job

  • An old friend of mine recently reminded me that she pinned a picture of herself to the fridge, but coloured in the sides to make her look skinnier. She used it as inspiration to lose weight

  • Just her personality; silly, a bit ditsy and fun

Of course, this list isn't exhaustive, but it's memories like these that remind me of Mum's bubbly personality. FTD predominantly affects behaviour, so unfortunately, it was her personality that was the first thing to change.

There are also a couple of other things I feel are important to mention. First of all, a lot of my memories are from a time when my parents were still together. They divorced in 2010 but my dad is also responsible for my childhood memories and also some of Mum's personality. Their relationship was fluctuant; when things were good they were really good, but obviously, the opposite also applied. Nevertheless, he was still an important character in Mum's life and no doubt had a big impact on her personality and the person she was.

Finally, my childhood wasn't perfect and neither was my relationship with my mum. I do not want to make the mistake of posting blogs which don't reflect the truth, and me and Mum did have ups and downs. I know that a dementia diagnosis can be hard for many reasons, and it is particularly difficult for those who haven't had a great relationship with the person affected. How do you care for someone you're not close to? How do you put your feelings aside? Why should you now dedicate a mass amount of your time to caring for someone who may not have treated you right? Just because this doesn't apply to me, it doesn't mean I don't understand.

Despite it being a different birthday, I think Mum enjoyed herself. I took her gifts, we had a cup of tea and I tried my best to communicate with her. We drew pictures and wrote notes to each other. I really hoped that Mum would write me a message, but it seemed all she could do was copy what I had written. Nevertheless, at one point I caught her staring at me with a big smile on her face, and that was all I needed. What's more, she drew a portrait of me! So are birthday celebrations for someone living with dementia a thing? I think yes. Happy Birthday, Mum x

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