I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have someone you love dearly think of you as a stranger… Seeing a blank look on their face that tells you that today, they are struggling to remember your name…
When I sat down to talk with Neil for the song that is now titled ‘A Memory’ I had no idea what to expect. But as I set up camp on his sofa with pen and paper in hand (and of course a cuppa), I listened as he recalled many childhood memories. He talked of his family values, of growing up and even of before he was born; his parents June and Henry (Jocky) and how they met and fell in love. It was beautiful to hear their story, a classic tale of true love full of dancing, courting and running away to be wed.
Sadly June passed away a few years ago and when she did, the undiagnosed Alzheimer’s condition that Jocky had developed seemed to instantly worsen. He had often forgotten simple things like locking the doors and closing the windows but now he was forgetting names, faces and places he’d been. Caring for June in the last few years of her life seemed to give him purpose; a focus that in some way managed to delay the effects of dementia. Over time it became apparent that Jocky needed extra care. Neil and his siblings had done everything they could to look after him, but they had to make the tough decision of housing him somewhere where he could get the 24hr professional care he needed to ensure the rest of his life is as long and full as it can be. Anyone who has had to make this decision for their parent(s) will realise first hand how hard it is and what a strain it can be on your relationship with them. But Neil and his siblings did the right thing.
Since the Alzheimer’s took a hold of Jocky he has still managed to recall many memories from his past. One that stuck in my mind was that of his mother’s name. When asked to recall a female name during some memory exercises with the nurses, her’s was the first name he said. I found this incredibly touching because he had not had a close relationship with his mother throughout his life. For me this really encapsulated the unspoken bond between a mother and child that can never be broken.
Amongst all the memories he has retained, Jocky appears to have no recollection of his wife June. Even though Neil and the family have placed several pictures around his room he has never asked where she is or who she was. In fact since she passed away he has not spoken her name. To me it seems as though the thought of her death was too painful to bear so he just erased her from his memory. This was hard for Neil to recall and I could tell it was a painful topic for him to talk about… But to me it was magical; a real testament of true love. His love for her was so great that he quite literally could not bear the thought of being without her. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative condition associated with a progressive loss of nerve cells or neurons. Yet in all the confusion and memory loss, Jocky seemingly has the ability to block out a memory. He has enough control of his mind to so obviously filter what was too painful for him to recall. I do not know enough about the disease to know if this is common in sufferers, but it astonished me.
This of course had to be the subject for the song.
I decided to write the song as a letter from June to Jocky. When I sing it I imagine June coming to Jocky in a dream, asking him to remember her… And in the opening line of the song; “Come with me…” I imagine her taking him for a walk along the pier where they first met, talking for hours about their time together. I see June and Jocky back together again and I see the joy in Jocky’s eyes as he allows the memory of June back in; The realisation that she was always there. All he has to do is remember.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alzheimer’s is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally by 2050.
Alzeimer’s Society are hosting ‘Memory Walks‘; a series of walking events taking place across England, Wales and Northern Ireland every autumn, raising money to provide vital support for people living with dementia and fund research into finding a cure. I am going to be attending the Bristol Memory Walk on 11th October at 10am. To find out what walks are going on near you head to: www.memorywalk.org.uk and enter your postcode into the search bar. When giving to charity we have a tendency to stick to the ones closest to our hearts. It is that very reason which led me donate 15% of all money raised after target through my Pledge campaign to Weston Hospice Care. But one of the thing making this album has taught me is that there are many other problems in this world that also deserve our attention. Writing this song in particular really made me think about how precious moments and memories are and that they should be cherished, rejoiced and revisited as often as possible. ‘A Memory’ is one of the most emotional songs I have written. There is something in it that just reaches into you and draws out emotion. I am yet to perform it without a percussion of sniffles from the audience but I put that down to the wonderful love story of June and Jocky.
For June and Jocky, may your story inspire love in all our hearts.