'I say the flowers are from him and for a few minutes before he forgets, he is delighted'
Valentine’s Day has changed for Steph and Tony – ‘We have lost so much to Tony’s Alzheimer’s, but I cannot lose those gestures of tenderness, or love’
Valentine’s Day arrives in the nick of time to remind us that spring is around the corner
Whoever made the decision to celebrate St Valentine’s Day in February was a genius. The mid-winter feast of Christmas helps us through the darkest days of winter, but by the time the millions of needles from the Christmas tree have been hoovered up and you have thrown the Christmas lights in a box without untangling them, January can seem interminable. All 31 days of it.
I do try to be reasonably positive about January. It is a new year with all the potential that offers. It is also my birthday month, but as I grow older I am not entirely sure why birthdays are so popular. Anyhow, in positive mode the winter solstice has been and gone, so technically the days are starting to get longer. I remain hopeful.
Then Valentine’s Day arrives in the nick of time to remind us that spring is around the corner. Bulbs are beginning to push green through the winter earth. Snowdrops, with their delicate air, peek through glossy leaves. They are one of my favourite flowers. It took me ages to get them going in my garden, but now while certainly not carpeting the garden they do appear in vibrant, small rugs.
Tony has always been a great romantic and views Valentine’s Day as a great excuse. He has always given me flowers. White freesia with white roses are my favourite. Of course, Tony can no longer go to the florist himself. In the past while, I have telephoned and made the order. When the flowers were delivered he could then say to me, “These are for you”. Lately though, his confusion is such that pretence no longer works. I simply say the flowers are from him and for the few minutes before he forgets, Tony is delighted. Over the time the flowers are in the house, he will sometimes ask me if he bought them for me. He experiences again his initial pleasure when I say, “Yes” – and, I have the joy of beautiful flowers.
We have lost so much to Tony’s Alzheimer’s, but I cannot lose those gestures of tenderness, or love, because he can no longer remember our personal rituals. I remember for him and it brings us both happiness.
The first time I visited Barcelona was with my two youngest sons. As it was to celebrate my birthday I happily imagined spending hours visiting and admiring the work of Antoni Gaudi. My sons, huge football fans, had other ideas. The Nou Camp had to be the first place we visited. It is, after all, home to Barcelona football club. A place of pilgrimage and homage. My credit card was severely scorched paying for football shirts with Messi emblazoned on the back. I did though, absolutely fall in love with the city.
A couple of years later I went back to Barcelona with Tony. This was in the early days of his diagnosis before Alzheimer’s had really taken a hold of who he was. We have been a number of times since then, but our first visit was for my birthday. No Nou Camp this time. Gaudi and markets and art galleries. Good food, good wine and just sitting watching the world go by. We are both “people watchers” and enjoy creating complex and fantastical stories about people walking by, or those sitting at nearby tables.
On the morning of my birthday there was a knock on our hotel bedroom door that had Tony leaping from the bed like a young gazelle. He opened the door to a waiter who pushed a trolley into the room. On the trolley were red roses; a bottle of champagne; strawberries and a bowl of melted chocolate. With a flourish the waiter opened the champagne, wished me happy birthday and left. I was so stunned I had not said a word during the whole performance. It was Tony’s incredibly romantic birthday breakfast for me. It was the first and probably the only time in my life I have drunk champagne and eaten strawberries dipped in chocolate at eight o’clock in the morning. It was beyond wonderful.
It is Tony’s ability to think of and then create amazing scenes like this that balance out his inability to buy presents. There have been some disasters – including over sized lingerie, strange choices of perfume and, on one particularly catastrophic (for him) occasion, a power drill. I was not pleased. Seeing my horrified face, he told me it was a joke. As he had no other present for me it quickly became apparent the drill was no joke.
Over time I have persuaded him not to show initiative. Instead, we have developed a system. We go shopping together. I choose. He tells me it is an excellent choice. He pays. It works quite brilliantly. There is a wonderful jewellers, not far from where we live, that sells exquisite, handmade jewellery. Fortunately, Tony has come to understand it is one of his favourite shops for buying me gifts. I believe my gift for Valentine’s Day may well be bought in there. . .
Have you noticed how sometimes it can take a while to discover poets and writers everyone else seems to have known about forever? Recently, I have come across Pablo Neruda. This is an extract I have found to read to Tony on Valentine’s Day. The words move me deeply.
One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.