Stuart Jackson and his family have been writing and recording Christmas songs for 15 years. This year the family are donating their song, ‘Angel on the Tree’, to Alzheimer’s Society, in memory of Great Granny, Yvonne, and the support they received.
It’s been a family tradition since 2006. Every year, instead of sending a card at Christmas, we’d write and record a Christmas song, stick it on a CD and send it to friends and family. Now we’re putting the songs online for more people to hear - and raising money for important causes at the same time.
It means that every time someone listens to our song ‘Angel on the Tree’, every penny from every stream and download will go to Alzheimer’s Society - a cause very close to our heart.
Back in 2010 when I wrote the song, my wife’s Grandmother Yvonne had recently come to live with us.
It was myself, my wife Natalie, our kids William, Amber and Benji, and ‘Great Granny’, all in a three-bedroom flat in Surbiton, Surrey. She had recently lost Trevor, her husband of 60 years, and was keen to live with family again.
'Living with her great grandchildren gave Great Granny renewed vigour and bought us many happy times.'
However it became clear that she was more than just a bit forgetful, and after she moved in with us she was diagnosed with young-onset dementia.
Caring for Great Granny
The symptoms started slowly, but soon became a part of normal life. Great Granny would ask questions multiple times, or forget where the cutlery drawer was.
At the same time, she had an unbeatable recollection of what happened at a dance in the 1940s! Every day at dinner she told the children about her first day at school. To begin with they’d say “Great Granny, you told us that yesterday”, but soon learned just to listen and enjoy her storytelling.
Over the two years that Great Granny lived with us, her condition worsened, and we realised she needed more help and care than we had anticipated.
Our local GP could see that we needed some professional help and guidance to help us care for someone with the disease.
Within a few days, a local Dementia Support Worker from Alzheimer’s Society came around to tell us about the services available to support people with early onset of dementia. She told us about the local community centre days, which we called ‘the Great Granny Club’, and talked about what it’s like living with someone with Alzheimer’s disease or memory issues.
We wish we could remember that lady’s name - she was wonderful, helpful and made sure we didn’t feel alone.
'She helped us accept that what we were seeing in Great Granny every day was real, and may not be seen by friends and family who might only spend a few hours or a couple of days with her.'
Great Granny came to love her weekly trip out to the local centre, where she did jigsaws, quizzes and enjoyed the occasional afternoons of live 40s music.
While finding these activities were prefect for Great Granny, what supported us most personally was learning to understand what it is like living with someone with Alzheimer’s or memory issues.
It was confusing at first to see Great Granny, a strong matriarch in our family, and someone who’d helped raise my wife, struggling with normal everyday tasks. Hearing from the Dementia Support Worker gave us so much comfort that we were not alone and that we were doing the right things.
A tough decision
A few months after Alzheimer's Society's visit, we made the agonising decision to have Great Granny live in a care home - the toughest decision we’ve ever had to make.
Great Granny lived for another year before her passing. We remember her with the largest amount of love a family possibly can. We feel blessed to have had two special years living together towards the end of her life.
We hope our Christmas song can help Alzheimer’s Society support more people to find the confidence and courage to look for help.