For many of us, a lot of our fondest memories are bound up with the holidays.
I’m just about to go and spend the festive season with my father, who resides in Florida and has lived with Alzheimer’s for the past four years. As I’ve been wrapping up the last of the presents and packing up two weeks’ worth of hot-weather clothing, I’ve been thinking about the Christmases of my childhood. I grew up in New England in the US, where the winters were long and harsh, and snow at Christmas was guaranteed. And I have one enduring memory from that time that always makes me smile.
I must have been about five years old. I was finally asleep on Christmas Eve and I was suddenly awoken by the sound of Santa’s reindeer and sleigh landing on our roof! I was so excited – I was going to meet Santa at last! I jumped out of bed and ran into the living room, where I saw the Christmas tree surrounded by presents. I looked around expectantly for Santa but only saw my dad standing by the tree.
“Where’s Santa?” I exclaimed. “I just heard him land on the roof!”
My dad came over and hugged me, shook his head sorrowfully and said, “You just missed him. He left all these presents and you must have heard him taking off, not landing.”
And that’s where my memory ends.
Of course, at some point as I grew older, I realised that what woke me that night was snow and ice sliding off our roof. If you’ve ever lived in a very snowy country, you’ll know just how loud that can be and how it really could sound like the clattering of hooves, at least to a child expecting a visit from Santa. And unquestionably, instead of Santa, I caught my dad red-handed putting our Christmas presents around the tree.
But to this day I smile when I think of how quick-witted he was. I absolutely believed him – I had been this close to catching Santa Claus in our house!
What a magical experience for a child. And while there have been an awful lot of Christmases since then, this is the one I vividly remember.
But it’s a bittersweet memory this year because last December, for the first time, my father forgot Christmas. Even though we’d been speaking about it on Skype for weeks, when I arrived at his house, there was no tree, and there were no presents.
Of course, I’m an adult and it didn’t really matter. But I cried anyway. I will always be my father’s child, and this latest moment in four years of forgetting was particularly poignant.
This year has been especially hard as my father’s Alzheimer’s has progressed dramatically. But I’m prepared; his full-time carer will take care of the tree, and I will come laden with gifts. Dad definitely still enjoys presents!
I’ve always loved Christmas and the holiday season. For me it’s always been about family, about dreams, and about hope. But this year it’s mostly about celebrating those I love and what makes our lives meaningful.
Santa may forget this year too, but I haven’t, and I will continue to love him and cherish him, even in his forgetting.
To watch Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Christmas campaign, Santa Forgot, go to www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/santaforgot
About the author
Heidi Taylor is an Alzheimer's Research UK supporter who lives in London. Her dad, Shel, lives in Florida and was diagnosed with dementia in 2013.