Michael’s heart-rending lament for the beloved mother he lost to dementia

Michael Bartlett of Starston, with the moving letter he wrote to his mother Doris in 2006 when her d

Michael Bartlett of Starston, with the moving letter he wrote to his mother Doris in 2006 when her dementia had worsened, which he recently uncovered. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

Letters are normally written to be sent to someone, but Michael Bartlett's letter to his mother was never intended to be delivered.

Michael Bartlett, of Starston, who wrote a moving letter to his mother, who had dementia. Pictured:

Michael Bartlett, of Starston, who wrote a moving letter to his mother, who had dementia. Pictured: Doris in 2003. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

As a writer, he felt it was the only way he could pour out the grief he felt when his mother, Doris, became so ill with dementia that she had to be put into a nursing home.

Mr Bartlett, who lives in Starston, near Harleston, said: 'It is a letter that was never posted. I wrote it to my mother a few years ago when her dementia had reached a stage where she was no longer safe in her own home and had to go into specialist care. I never sent it, of course, she would not have understood it had I done so.

'I suppose I really wrote it for me. It was a painful time. The mother I had known and loved had gone but wasn't dead. Writing this letter made me think of the positives which did not change even though she no longer knew about them.'

The 68-year-old, who has written plays for television, radio and the stage and is now working on a book, said one of the positives is it brought him closer to his younger sister and brother.

Michael Bartlett, of Starston, who wrote a moving letter to his mother, who had dementia. Pictured:

Michael Bartlett, of Starston, who wrote a moving letter to his mother, who had dementia. Pictured: Alf & Doris circa 1985. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Supplied


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The three siblings lived in Hampshire, Surrey and Devon at the time and gathered regularly to help his mother stay in her own home in Sussex for as long as possible, including employing a specialist carer.

But in 2006 it became clear she was a shadow of her former self and too ill to stay at home and they took the difficult decision to move her into care. Like many families, they found the move into a nursing home came at a time when dementia had progressed so far that the change prompted a difficult grieving process although their loved one was still alive.

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Mr Bartlett, whose mother died in 2007, said he hoped that by sharing the letter now it might just help someone else come to terms with a loved one who has forgotten them through no fault of their own.

The grandfather-of-four said: 'Dementia is so much in the public eye these days, with drugs to delay the onset and other developments.

'When I found the letter when I was having a clear-out, I thought: I would really like to share this.'

Dear Mum,

I hope I told you enough times over the years that I love you because although I can still say it, you can no longer understand it. Oh, you smile at me and hold my hand and, if it is one of the days when you have consented to wear your hearing aid, we will talk about the weather and the wallpaper and what you had for lunch. We don't need any more topics than that because, by the time we have dealt with the third one, you've forgotten the first and the cycle can start again.

For a long time I was not happy at the thought of you being in a home but at least now you are safe. The last few years, watching your gradual decline into total memory loss, were very painful. We kept you in your own home as long as possible, Mum, but it could not go on. As your memory declined to nothing you needed more care than we were able to provide.

I hope you are happy, Mum. You seem happy. You're warm, you're safe, you're well cared for, you're fed regularly, (you always liked that), and at least if there is no memory, I guess there can be no regrets for what you have lost. It might be painful for us, but I don't think it is painful for you and that is the important thing.

One positive result of your gradual memory loss has been the strengthening of the relationship between your three children: me, my sister and my brother. We are three very different people, each with our own family and occupations, each living in a different part of the country. And yet, when you needed us, we came together in a way that we had not done since childhood to discuss how we could best help you. I am delighted, if perhaps a little surprised, that over the eight years or so of your declining memory, we have never had a disagreement on what needed to be done for you.

You and Dad taught us well, Mum. You taught us to be honest, to trust our instincts, have respect for other people but always to be true to ourselves. You did a cracking job and I will always be grateful to you.

We have sold your bungalow and disposed of the furniture, some of which you bought when you first got married in 1941. It had no value today, of course, but it was hard seeing it all go. Your dressing table, the sideboard and those dining room chairs that over the years had served as space ship, cowboy ranch, puppet theatre. Gone.

As your eldest child and as the – eventual – executor of your will, I took charge of all the papers that we found in the bungalow. I always knew the time would come when I would have to go through them, deciding what to keep and what to throw away but, of course, I always thought this would only be done after your death. It is very strange having to do it while you are still alive and yet cannot be consulted.

A lot of stuff can go without a second thought, but what about your school reports, correspondence with your friends during the war, diplomas you won? They are no use, but I cannot throw them away, so I have decided to give them to my elder daughter, the eldest of your eight grandchildren, so at least they will pass on to the next generation.

The photos are another problem. We will keep the ones that show our immediate family, but there are hundreds more going back well beyond my memory and, sadly, now beyond yours. That stern whiskery man I know is your grandfather and the little lady beside him – his wife. But who is the rather quizzical lady beside her? We will never know.

A selection of pre-decimal coins, my old Scout badge certificates, your ration book, Dad's fire-watching warrant card, guide books to places I never knew you had been – a life in a suitcase. The bill for your honeymoon. I know it was only a few days in Evesham in 1941 but even so I boggled at it. £9.17.11d plus £1 deposit.

And then I found your diaries. They begin in 1931 when you were sixteen and they continue in notebook after notebook until a few years ago when your memory loss became too much. The entries are not detailed but they are consistent and reading them brought back many memories as well as confirming, (though I had never doubted it), how much you loved our father and the three of us and also our children. Perhaps I should not have read these while you are still alive, and yet so many entries over the years describe things we did as a family, or things you did in retirement or with the grandchildren. But what I found so moving was that all through the years so many entries end with the words: 'Another happy day'.

Sounds like it's been a happy life, Mum, and I am so glad of that, even though you can no longer remember any of it. We'll remember it for you, knowing that your happiness contributed greatly to ours.

With all my love,

Michael

Do you have a dementia story? Email newsdesk@archant.co.uk

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