Dementia is a cruel disease, robbing sufferers of their personality and their dignity. My father, intensely private, a man of few words, with a past packed with adventure, globe trotting, fine wine and fast cars* disappeared. Just weeks after Mum's death he changed almost overnight. Haunted by hallucinations and terrified, he'd turn up on our doorstep begging us to help him to get the intruders out of his house. He'd ring the police in the middle of the night, convinced that Mum was being held captive in the house next door and that I was part of the plot. Neighbours and visitors would complain about his odd behaviour.
The day I spent with a team of medical staff and social workers, trying to calm him while he ranted, raved and foamed at the mouth, culminating ten hours later with him being sectioned under the Mental Heath Act as being a danger to himself, taken away against his will and held in a psychiatric ward, is the day I finally felt like a grown-up.
After weeks of tests his condition was recognised as dementia rather than schizophrenia. His behaviour was modified with drugs and he was eventually calm enough to be transferred to a nursing home for his own safety, never again to return home. There he was cared for, treasured by the staff and treated with love and respect but the person we visited wasn't Dad. The man who disliked physical contact, popular music, commercial television, baked beans and sweet tea relished full English Breakfasts in front of This Morning, he'd hold hands with the staff, sway to songs on Radio Two and drink mugs of tea with three sugars. At first he vaguely recognised my brother and Jon but with me he was clueless, getting agitated and wandering off, preferring to march up and down the corridor in his own world.
Over the last five years his condition continued to deteriorate. Conversation was impossible and if he sat still long enough he'd simply mutter a jumble of words, often related to the RAF, Interpol, missed flights and border control. The staff suspected he was once involved in some form of military intelligence, something we'll never now know.
Towards the end he stopped eating and refused to leave his bed. For the last month he hadn't opened his eyes or even spoken.
How do I feel? Is it awful to say that I'm relieved? For the last fortnight I've gasped every time the phone rung, fearing the inevitable. Finally that awful knot in my stomach has unravelled, the overwhelming sense of guilt that I don't visit him as often as I should and the feeling of utter powerless when I did and he turned his back on me and walked away.
My Dad died today but we lost my father five years ago.
Norman Ernest Brearley
29th May, 1929 - 1st October, 2015
* Dad's adventurous past HERE