I have a friend, John, a friend with Alzheimer's, and today 'Lest We Forget' has special meaning for me, because I am remembering for my friend who cannot.
John has been a friend of my family for a very long time. I first met him, through his daughter, when I was a teenager going to a new school in grade 13. On the way to school, on the very first day, I noticed his daughter and I were walking in the same direction, down the same streets. After a while we stopped and asked each other if we were headed to the same school. His daughter had a familiar lilt in her voice, and on the way to school I learned that her family were recent emigrants from County Down, Ireland. Later that day, on the walk home, John's daughter introduced me to her dad. From that day we were friends.
Many years passed and, as sometimes happens, people lose touch. Both John's daughter and I moved far away from our family homes, and from each other, but John and his wife Jean stayed close to my parents. One year John's wife passed away; a couple of years later my own father died. A friendship grew between John and my mom, a friendship my brother and I were very happy about. John and Mom came to rely upon one another; they are best friends. John and Mom happily share stories with one another about their spouses, about their lives in Ireland, about their world travels. I love to talk to John about his family, and his life in Ireland and around the world.
John served in the British Merchant Marine, supplying military bases and ships around the Mediterranean, and not quite fulfilling his wish to 'see the world' before he settled down. My mom always reminds him how lucky he was that Jean, the love of his life, was still waiting for him when he finally returned to Ireland. John has a great sense of humour, and a very relaxed way about him, that makes him so easy to talk to. Talking to John is in some ways a little like having a dad once again.
My friend John has Alzheimer's disease, and so there are times when he no longer knows who I am.
Sometimes he thinks I'm a neighbour who lives in his village in County Down, and he asks me if my husband and I are going to go dancing on Saturday night. I always answer yes, because if I could travel back in time with my friend John, that is exactly what we would do.
Occasionally he'll say he needs to get ready to leave the house, to take the train into Belfast for a football match. I ask him if instead he'll stay awhile and tell me more about his brothers, and to my relief he does. I don't want him to open the door and discover that Belfast, and the football match, are a million miles away from here.
All of John's siblings are dead; all taken by Alzheimer's disease. It is a truth too cruel to contemplate. Although they are all gone, they live in that part of John's memory which is still very much alive, and he tells me about them. It is as though we could walk down through the village at any moment and meet them.
My mom tells me that each time I visit with John, after I leave, he comments that I am 'a nice lady', and then more often than not, he asks her who I am.
During World War Two, John lost friends on the battlefields of Europe, young men who left the village, never to return. Today, on this Remembrance Day, I am remembering them for my friend John.