L plates always remind me of my dad. He was a driving instructor and he taught many of my friends to drive. His driving school was called In-Tuition: everyone knew him for it.
My dad was also the chairman of Panteg Rugby Club for a term. He was very well known and well liked in the area and in the community.
I was quite late to learn to drive myself. I’ll never forget the look on Dad’s face when I came back after my test and told him: “Dad… I passed!” and he just replied: “Oh!” in complete surprise.
My dad was diagnosed with young onsetvascular dementia when he was 56. He passed away on 31st December 2019, aged 65. I like to think he didn’t want to head into another decade the way he was, so that was his moment to let go.
When I talk to people about dementia, they often say: “Ah, my nan had that.” But I was only 23 when my dad was diagnosed, and my brother was only 16. I feel it’s important to realise this condition affects younger families too – increasingly so.
There are a lot of things dementia took from us at a very young age. Our family went through some difficult times – my brother went through a cancer diagnosis and treatment, and I was also diagnosed with and treated for a brain tumour. It meant that my mum effectively had to cope on her own. Dad didn’t understand the situation in either case; he was already in care by the time I was poorly.
I don’t know how my mum coped with my dad’s dementia. She was an absolute pillar of strength. I can’t even imagine how she must have felt watching the man she loved so much gradually succumb to such a cruel process – because it is, after all, a process. Things happen in more or less the same order for everyone – it’s just a case of how that progression takes shape. We all know what the end result will be; we just don’t know when.
We were lucky to have such amazing carers at Claremont Court Care Home in Newport. The staff cared for Dad as though he was a member of their own family, and when he died, they grieved with us. Some have now left and gone onto other things, but they were a massive part of our lives.
I’m eternally grateful for everything they did for Dad, right down to being there with me as I held his hand and helping us choose the clothes for him to be put to rest in. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Celebrating Dad’s life
Even though we had to lose Dad, I’m so grateful that we were able to have a real celebration of his life before the pandemic took hold. So many people came to remember him with us, and as Dad loved a good get together, we ended up referring to his wake as an ‘after-party’! He definitely would have approved.
We are a very close family, and Dad is very much still with me even though he’s not physically around. I think of him every day and while it was hard to watch him deteriorate, I still cherish every second I spent with him right up until the last moment.
The photo on the left was taken not long before he died. I like to think he always knew on some level that it was me there holding his hand, or my mum sitting with him, or my brother visiting – that he could feel us with him.
Everyone responds differently to a dementia diagnosis, and one thing I’ve learnt is that there is no right or wrong approach to it. As long as you make sure your parent, relative, partner or friend knows how much you love them, in whatever way you choose, that’s enough.
Thank you to Angharad Evans for sharing her story. If you have an object that reminds you of a loved one with dementia and would like to share your story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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