Jean still loves us
The story of what Sue Dowell lost, and what she learned, when her friend sailed into the darkness of Alzheimer’s disease
I was somewhat taken aback when Anna, my four-year-old granddaughter, announced: “I don’t like Jean any more”. A retired primary-school teacher and Quaker, Jean had long been a close friend to all my family, particularly to its younger members whose visits she welcomed with joy.
I told Anna that I was sorry to hear that because Jean still loved her. “No, she doesn’t, not anymore,” replied Anna. Time to explain that the reason Jean didn’t smile so much these days, and sometimes talked to herself instead of to them when Anna and her little cousins would walk hand-in-hand round our paddock with her in the cool of the evening, was that she had a nasty illness which meant she couldn’t do fun things with us anymore.
What I did not tell Anna was that I had felt as she did when Jean began to exhibit the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Jean and I had been accustomed to going for long early morning walks with our dogs, during which, if we did not quite put the world to rights, we were at least able to help one another make more sense of it. Jean was an ever-present help in times of trouble: She saw me through my husband’s illness and death, the shock and horror we both felt when a neighbour’s 19-year-old daughter – a girl we were both close to – took her own life, and the loss of a beloved piece of local land after 11 years of campaigning against its enclosure.
When Jean appeared to lose interest in our conversations, my first thought was that I was boring her; that she had grown weary of my wittering on about this and that. Would that had been the case, because I would have been able to apologise and make amends; but, within a year of the diagnosis, our conversations were restricted to observations about our dogs and our surroundings…
This is an extract from the October 2015 edition of Reform.