Jo and Brenda have been a couple for over thirty years, living together in West London. Two years ago, Brenda was diagnosed with dementia but Jo spotted signs well before when Brenda wasn’t her usual self. Here, Jo shares their experiences.
I first met Brenda after she’d put an advert in Time Out magazine in February 1989. We met at Crispin’s in Ealing Broadway. Brenda had been a bit put off as I’d had a perm that was growing out!
I had described myself as late 40s, but I was actually only 10 days off my 50th birthday! Brenda always joked about that. She had a great sense of humour. She still does, on her good days.
We hit it off straight away, and about a year later she moved in with me. Four years later, we bought the home together that we still live in today.
Being out in the gay community
I was always sociable but enjoyed my own company. Brenda was the quiet one. We enjoyed holidays abroad, but now I feel we could have had a lot more going on for us, especially in the gay community. We had some really nice friends.
Brenda and I used to go to Gay Pride marches. I’ve been a few times. Generally, though, you had to be a lot more reserved in those days, compared to now.
I can remember receiving a copy of the Gay news every fortnight through the post. We had it on subscription, but it was sent in plain, brown paper wrapping.
You had to keep a low profile if you were different. You can’t be different, otherwise you get pigeon-holed.
It was very different back in the day. I mean… I never wore trousers. I had a little acorn-shaped hat. Everyone looked a great deal smarter than they do today!
Spotting signs that something was wrong
I spent my career working in libraries. I love books. I took early retirement in my 50s which gave Brenda and I much more time to enjoy life. Brenda had worked at the BBC and spent some time in education too. We were definitely enjoying our time together.
The first signs of illness were there sometime before it was diagnosed. I could see she wasn’t quite her old self.
She wasn’t able to do things we had done all our lives, like putting on the washing machine, and knowing how it works. Simple things like that.
Now I’m doing Brenda’s meals and even though they’re quite simple, she doesn’t seem able to deal with it. She can still make a good boiled egg, but that’s about it.
I used to bake cakes, but with everything going on, I just buy them now. She’s still very good at ironing. She takes more care than I do, I have to admit!
Brenda dyed my hair the other week, but that might be the last time.
Missing shared memories
What I miss most are the memories. All the things we used to do together – she can’t remember now.
When we met, Brenda’s mum was in the early stages of dementia. She didn’t know Brenda and I were in a relationship.
In those days, we used to hire a car and go down to the care home in Broadstairs to visit Brenda’s mum. The next day we would do something for ourselves - we’d have a day out. These were the days when Brenda drove.
Benefitting from Alzheimer's Society support
The most positive thing about dementia, for me, is that I’ve met so many nice, helpful and supportive people.
Rebecca, our Dementia Support Worker at Alzheimer’s Society, came round recently. She stayed for over an hour, and that was lovely.
My local church has been good. Brenda doesn’t go but I’ve been going for some years now. That helps. Talking to people. Cheers me up.
We’ve lost so much, in a way. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, but anyone could say the same thing, couldn’t they?