Thursday, 19 February 2009

Skeleton in the Cupboard

My grandmother often wondered if the family ever had any "skellington's in the cupboard?" She also used to use the names Thorningumbald and Witherunsea for the Holderness villages as well as 'cerstificate' if you ever needed a note from the doctor. Back to the 'skellington.' Ironically, when I started my family history research nearly 30 years ago, the only skeleton I ever found was in her cupboard, but I never had the heart to tell her while she was alive.

I don't need to say that life was tough in the 1920s after the great war and my grandmother's father had eight children. He died when the youngest was four months old. My grandmother told me when I was doing the research that she had been told by her mother he had been hit on the head in an accident on the docks and had died in hospital as a result. I looked all over for the accident record, articles in the paper etc etc, because I didn't know enough about him to start applying for birth or death certificates then - no access to family history on the web like there is now.

By sheer coincidence I went to the local council archive and lo! there was my great grandfather's death recorded in a dusty red leather bound volume and he had died outside of his home city. In fact the sad truth that had been kept from my grandmother is that he had died in an asylum from "softening of the brain" and he had gone into the asylum just three months before his death from the city workhouse. No accident on the docks - he wasn't even working - he was described as a 'pauper' - that was in 1925 post war Britain. A hunt for his death certificate which became easy after I had the information from the archives. Death was due to 'cerebral softening, contributory factor cerebral hemorrhage and dementia'. He was just 41 years of age.

If I meet someone with a mental illness today where it is obvious or a physical condition that renders that person unable to communicate clearly, I become very uncomfortable and nervous. Don't ask me why, I have no idea but I just can't shake it off - I feel a coward for not confronting it. And yet dementia of one sort or another is so prevalent in our society today. We spend money on anti smoking (quite rightly), campaigns on drink driving, excess alcohol, obesity, keeping your heart healthy and next to nothing on highlighting dementia and how to cope with it.

I am following John Suchet's story of him coping with his wife's Alzheimer's Disease in the news at the moment; he says he has gone from 'lover to carer.' Because of where he lives, he has the services of an Admiral Nurse from a group of specialist carers. He is luckier than most but that's nothing to do with his wealth, it's to do with his postcode and a more caring local authority.

I wish him and all carers who have to cope with looking after a loved one with a mental illness well. They have a difficult job which requires courage, patience, stamina and above all, love.

I struggle to find an appropriate one liner today because writing this has dampened my spirit a little, but I lighten the mood with a short sketch from Morecambe and Wise, 1979.

Morcambe, "My wife has a terrible memory."
Wise, "Has she?"
Morcambe, "Yes, she remembers everything!"

Chat soon


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