June 30th 2020: The Long Goodbye

June 30th 2020: The Long Goodbye

Dear Edith,

We looked forward to a lot of things before you were born . Everything’s exciting when you’re having a baby! Aside from actually meeting you though, I think what your dad and I were most excited about was introducing you to the rest of your family.

The pandemic essentially scuppered that. Some people have said that it’s a blessing in disguise in a way, because it’s given us the chance to get to know you and bond with you without feeling obliged to pass you round everyone we know for cuddles, but we’re very close to our family and you were so adored before you were even born that it was painful to watch you change and grow and know that you’d be weeks and months old before anyone else got to see you.

But there was one person I wanted you to meet, more than anyone else.

Your Great-Granny Paton is in a care home. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease years ago, and I knew when I found out I was pregnant that the time we had where she’d be able to appreciate who you were was very finite. I also knew that however much I thought we had, we probably had less.

Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. They call it “the long goodbye” because it takes people away painfully slowly, loosening their grasp on memory and reality until they don’t recognise anything – themselves, their relatives, their surroundings.

The last few months before she moved into the home were almost poetic in their irony – she would sit with me and watch TV when I was a baby in the early morning when I wouldn’t settle, and I would sit with her and watch TV in the evening as she asked after her mother (who died when I was little) and fretted about getting off home.

I don’t know where she thought “home” was. I’m not sure she did either.

Last week, as the lockdown restrictions start to lift bit by bit, we got to visit at a distance. Great-Granny sat in the conservatory and we sat outside and shouted through a sheet of perspex placed in the open doorway. I held you up at the window in your little dress and tights and we waved.

I don’t think she knows me any more. Her concept of who I was was already tenuous and she’d quite often say “hello” to me the same way she would to the home staff when I walked in until she saw me with your Granny and then it seemed to click. I knew when they announced they were locking down the home for the foreseeable future that not seeing her for weeks would likely sever the fraying threads that were holding onto the memories of me, and I was prepared.

Even if she doesn’t really get that you’re her great-granddaughter, you’re still a tiny little squishy baby. The staff print out photos of you and put them on the wall of her room, and she likes to see you when we video call. When you started grizzling because you wanted a bottle she offered to hold you while I was fiddling around in the bag.

She might not remember this moment, but I will.