OPINION - Dad’s dementia is heartbreaking but it has made my family closer

Rob Rinder.  Evening Standard byline photo.  (NATASHA PSZENICKI)
Rob Rinder. Evening Standard byline photo. (NATASHA PSZENICKI)

My father turns 70 today (if you have a moment, please hum a bit of Happy Birthday in his honour).

He has suffered from Lewy Body Dementia for a number of years. He will know he’s reached this milestone but his joy will need constant prompting. It will be muted, like hearing a party from a locked room that he cannot enter. His disease has robbed him of the uniquely human gift of being present in delight.

I don’t talk about my dad or his illness very much — not just because I want to preserve his privacy but because it’s extremely tough to get down my feelings in words that make sense.

Dementia is a pitiless illness: it steals away those who suffer in a slow and excruciating way that’s hard to describe.

The gleaming light in my dad’s slow walk into his twilight has been the bringing together of my three siblings. It has united us. With the help of a loving family and a truly beautiful Jewish charity we’ve come together determined to provide him with all the love and care we can. But I know how easily it could have pushed us apart.

We’ve never been shy about disagreeing with one another, not least because we’re so different. When we were kids, for example, my brother Craig and I (brought up alone with me by our unconditionally loving powerhouse of a mother) had nothing in common. Football was his whole world, whereas for me it was limited to the album of Panini stickers where I ranked players by relative gorgeousness.

When my dad got remarried (he’s always had a gift for marrying well) I got even more relations … a blended family that I love; ever more varied in our lives and interests. Despite any number of past minor “broiguses” (an essential Yiddish word for simmering disputes), we’ve come together for Dad.

To a great extent, that’s down to the fact that we’ve been truly blessed in my uncle and auntie, who’ve taken on the bulk of his care. Their selflessness has gifted us the opportunity to keep on working, which stopped us sinking into the recriminations that can often overwhelm siblings who share the load of looking after an ill parent.

Crisis — especially if sickness is involved — has a remarkable ability to amplify ancient family conflicts … and no-one else knows so precisely what buttons are optimal for pushing (or has decades of offences to draw upon).

As populations age, many will face this struggle. Those of us with poorly parents must remember that we’re just trying to process our sadness as best we can, and make sure they see how much they mean to us.

It can be hard, but the best you can do is try to shelve any antique resentments and remember how much you have in common: the history, jokes and joys that uniquely bond families.

It’s why we’ve got such a capacity to hurt one another, but also why —when times are hard — we need each other so much.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

So much to love about the Southbank

This Wednesday I’ve got a concert ticket that I can’t use and I’m taking it very badly. Not only was it to hear Mahler’s Ninth (one of the finest works of the 20th century), but it is being conducted by Ivan Fischer, pictured, arguably the greatest conductor alive (he does things with a baton that’ll make your earholes vibrate with pleasure).

The cherry on the top was that the performance was at the Southbank Centre. In fact, it was several cherries and a load of those little silver balls.

There’s an absurdly long list of things that I love about London, but the Southbank is somewhere near the top. Not only is it beautiful (I’ve seen multiple fogies converted to modern architecture by it) but it’s got an amazing programme of events and there’s always affordable tickets.

Snap one up (making sure it’s a date you can actually go on) and I guarantee it’ll change your life.