A dementia poem for my dad – ‘Travel in your chair’

Mandy has not been able to see her dad, who is living with Alzheimer's disease, as much as she'd like during the pandemic. After recently sharing a 'golden afternoon' together looking at old photos, she pays tribute to him with her poem, ‘Travel in your chair’.

My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease over five years ago. Unfortunately, this was only a few years after my sister died from a brain tumour. My family were recovering from our grief of gradually losing one of us bit by bit, and his diagnosis, although different, felt like we were in that place again. 

Dad has always been a quiet, steady person. He sits back observing and then delights in saying the succinct, witty comment that unites a room. He has struggled most as his grasp of groups and the pace of conversation has slipped away. 

He gave my sister and I a love of water, teaching us to swim. This water confidence has shaped our interests and hobbies over the years.

Mandy and her sister swimming with their dad

Mandy's dad shared a love of water with his daughters

Golden moments with Dad

I work in an acute hospital and live some distance from my parents. As a result, I have not been able to visit as much as I would like during the pandemic due to the risk I pose to them.

However, in November I stayed for ten days as my mum had an operation. Looking back at Christmas, I was so glad of that time as I was unable to see them again. 

My poem 'Travel in your chair' is my memory of a golden moment sitting in the early afternoon, when Dad was well rested and calm. We were looking at wedding and childhood holiday photos

‘In that half an hour we were time travellers as we navigated the many ages, roles and stories in each photograph.’

Mandy's dad walking Mandy down the aisle on her wedding

Looking back at old photographs brought back happy memories for Mandy's dad

We shared some laughs and Dad made a few comments that were little echoes of his old self. Even though he was completely bemused by how he and I could exist in both places at once.

Throughout the rest of my stay he kept coming back to his memory of us as children waiting for him on the beach. His arrival after finishing work meant we were safer so allowed to swim out of our depth and be more adventurous. 

This Father’s day will be very different as Dad has now moved into residential care. I may not even be able to see him, so our photo memories are even more precious

Travel in your chair, by Mandy Willis

I’ve time travelled today from daughter, to wife, to nurse and a peer,
Living in the moment to see who next appears.

Pills before hunger,  empty clothes to fill,
a swollen hand  to monitor, perhaps you are ill?

Settled in a chair while I have a quick bath,
Run back but you're afloat your slumberous raft.

Bright eyed now, so an album to view
My sister’s big day, through a lens of pathos and you.

‘That’s me’,  ‘That’s you’, That’s mum’, ‘That’s me’
‘I’m handsome’,  ‘you are’. ‘Amazing it happened at all’.

‘That’s me’,  ‘That’s you’,  her and him,
Remembered in the spotlight but others more dim.

Joy in your eyes then remembered she’s gone
I’m mother, and sister and wife and last gong.

A narrator of sadness and speeches refined
While curator of pain and those lost to our pride.

Your black haired not grey, vibrant and young,
I’m your mum with a stick, your wife in a hat, myself looking fresh while judging impact

Now confusion and exhaustion from a performance sustained,
A glimpse in the prism before darkness regains.

I was mother, and daughter, a wife and a friend,
Moulding history in pictures in a time without end.

Would you like to share your poem or story?

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8 comments

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thats lovely .

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I have many pictures of John, my father in law and the best ones are in my head —Just like the ones I have of Tracey. May they remain as sharp as the day they were made until the day I die. He might have lost me amongst his memories but I prey I never lose him.

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Our family is new to Alzheimer's. Me mammy has it...she has fantastic long term memory, but very bad short term memory., Me son has just 5 days ago brought into this world a new baby boi, we have shown her pictures of him(she's in hospital as she fell off her bed & broke her him) but she's not remembering this baby even though we have tried explaining him to her....im walking for diabetes and Alzheimer's from 1st july...

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A lovely tribute to Dad. Photos are such a lifeline of communication to the past.

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This beautiful and accurate reflection, in a poem , will be treasured by many for many years to come

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That’s such a beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing your experience

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This is a beautiful, touching poem. Thank you. My father has dementia (although not yet officially diagnosed) and I am facing this journey now.

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How lovely and great photos of uncle John xx

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