“I miss her hugely”. Devoted husband with dementia speaks for the first time in months after ‘sensing’ his wife had died, before passing away just weeks later

27 April 2017

A devoted husband living with dementia spoke for the first time in months to say he missed his wife, after he ‘sensed’ that she had died.

Michael Royce, who had been living with Alzheimer’s disease, died a day after his 71st birthday in November 2016, just weeks after his 68-year-old wife Annette, who died in August from liver cancer.

Michael and Annette

At the time of their mum’s death, the couple’s children Siobhann Ardley, 36, Melissa Royce, 38, and Meryck Royce, 35, made the decision not to tell their dad what had happened, as his dementia was so severe that they thought he would not understand.

But Siobhann said that her parents’ bond was so strong she believes he knew what had happened instinctively.

In September Michael, who had not spoken in several months, turned to Siobhann and said “I miss her hugely”, after Siobhann asked him if he missed her mum.

Siobhann, a mum-of-two from Cobham, Surrey, said:

“We didn’t tell my dad that Mum had died, but he seemed to know anyway.

“He would never ever speak near the end, but I would try to talk to him anyway to feel like I was having a conversation with him.

“Then six weeks after she died, when I said to him ‘do you miss Mum?’ in one of our usual one-sided chats, he turned to me and out of nowhere said ‘I miss her hugely’. It was so coherent, and I said ‘I miss her too’. He had a sadness in his eyes and I had to fight back tears.

“It was like their unique bond in the world was clear to see. In a way, it was easier thinking he’d never know; they were soul mates, and I knew it would crush him to find out she was gone. They’d been together for over 40 years.

“I miss them so much, but I do believe they’re together now, Dad with his pint of Hookey and Mum with her glass of bubbles.”

Michael and Annette were the ‘golden couple’ of their village of Bledington in Gloucestershire, running a hotel, pub and a restaurant.

SIobhann and Michael

Michael’s odd behaviour, not long after the couple’s retirement in 2008, was put down to the fact he was no longer working 365 days a year and was missing work. However, in late 2010 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Annette was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2013, the same year Siobhann got married to her husband David. Her wedding day was the last time Michael was able to leave the house.

When Annette could no longer look after Michael he went into a care home. She was given the all-clear after having her bladder removed, but in June she was told she had terminal liver cancer, and was given just eight weeks to live.

Siobhann, who worked as a personal trainer before becoming a mum, said:

“It was around 2008 or 2009 that Dad started to do odd things. He sold his pub and seemed a bit lost. He went from working 365 days a year to just doing a few days volunteering with disabled children, and playing some golf and squash, so at the time it was linked to depression and being bored and missing his pub. But then he hurt his ankle and could no longer do those things and nothing seemed to fill the gap.

“In March 2010 he took a downward turn. It was my birthday and he was just behaving very strangely, not like himself.

“After that he would frequently drive off and get lost and one time he parked on the pavement instead of in a parking space while out shopping.

“My siblings and I had finished university and my parents were ready to go travelling. But the dementia set in very quickly and he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in late 2010.

“My mum was heartbroken, she just got lonelier and lonelier. She was depressed and lost all self-confidence. My parents were the ‘golden couple’ of their village, everyone knew them, so it was in stark contrast to the people they were. They had an amazing relationship, they couldn’t live without one another. So when Dad became ill my mum’s lust for life was extinguished.

“They had all these hopes and dreams which were all lost and her life fell away as quickly as his did. They tried to let us all get on with their lives as they didn’t want to burden us, so my mum would reject invitations and they stopped seeing the people in their lives.”

Annette’s terminal diagnosis came on 7 June – the same day Siobhann’s young daughter Libelula was born.

Siobhann said:

“Mum didn’t want to upset me when my daughter was born so she didn’t tell me at first, it must have been such a bittersweet moment to meet her new granddaughter while knowing she wouldn’t be around to see her grow up. After she told me I just tried to see her as much as possible.

Siobhann

“When my mum died my siblings and I were left at a loss, we were not able to do much except carry on loving my dad and caring for him. My mum worried about my dad right up until the end and missed him so much. We promised her we would look after him no matter what, and I want to continue to make her proud.

“My dad was my best friend, and the most fun, caring and selfless man, not just to his family but to everyone. That’s what made him so special.

“I don’t believe his heart ever changed, but his mind was filled with sadness, emptiness, loneliness and fear as the dementia progressed. I found myself talking about my dad in the past tense while he was still here, that was one of the hardest things.”

Siobhann signed up to run the London Marathon for Alzheimer’s Research UK in her father’s honour before he died, and ran in his memory on Sunday.

She added:

“Before he died I realised one thing I could do is raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK, a charity which means so much for me.

“Now more than ever I am determined to do all I can to see an end to this devastating condition that pulls families apart. I ran the marathon with both my mum and my dad in my memory and in my heart, and I had a picture of them in my pocket the whole way round.”

Siobhann has raised nearly £7,000. To donate to her cause go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Siobhann-Ardley

Tim Parry, Director of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Michael and Annette’s story is heartbreaking. It’s stories like this that highlight the devastation caused by dementia.

“Alzheimer’s Research UK’s mission is to end the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia through world-class research to find the best preventions and treatments for the condition.

“No one has ever survived a diagnosis of dementia, yet. But our scientists’ work aims to change that.

“None of this work would be possible without supporters like Siobhann. We can’t thank her enough.”