If there is one thing to take away this Dementia Action Week (20 – 26 May) let it be that dementia is an issue that will eventually touch us all in one way or another. The Alzheimer’s Society’s figures show that two fifths of us currently know someone with dementia. By 2051, two million people in the UK alone will be living with this collection of brain disorders (Alzheimer’s being the most common) that trigger a loss of brain function.
Clare Helen Welsh’s picture book The Tide is the perfect introduction to the subject for those lucky enough not to already have experience of dementia. For those grappling with explaining the dementia diagnosis of someone near and dear to children, I couldn’t more strongly recommend this sensitive and intelligent offering.
I wondered how the book had come about and whether Clare had first hand experience of dementia. Clare was kind enough to write the following for Two in a Tepee sharing the very personal story behind The Tide:
“Grandad doesn’t remember things like he used to. But I love him as much as I always have. And I know that he loves me.”
My new picture book, The Tide, illustrated by Ashling Lindsay and published with Little Tiger Press, is about a young girl who loves her Grandad so much. When they spend the day at the beach, she holds his hand as they go for a walk and they build sandcastles together. But sometimes it is difficult because Grandad has become forgetful.
“Grandad’s memories are like the tide,” Mummy explains. “Sometimes they’re near and full of life. Other times they’re distant and quiet.” The Tide is a story about families, laughter, and how we can help a loved one with dementia live well.
Inspiration for this project initially came from an Easter break to Perranporth, Cornwall. Perran Sands is a glorious stretch of beach and our family spent an entire day there. We kept moving our base back further and further towards the cliffs as the tide came in. It was the first time my children learned about tides. They were running in and around the rock pools singing, ‘The tide is coming in! The tide is coming in!’ I could tell even then that it was a very special day and that The Tide would be a very special book for our family. I took a photo to help remember how wonderfully happy I felt.
Around six months later, I was inspired to turn my draft into the text it is today. My husband’s grandmother, Ronnie Spry, lived with dementia. It was the first time my children learned about this word, too.
When I first met Ronnie, dementia was already a big part of her life. I wish I had known her before, when she was a nurse, a primary school teacher and an artist, too.
But what was abundantly clear, even when dementia had taken its grip, was that Ronnie loved to be around children, especially her grandchildren. Her face lit up. Her manner changed. She would sit happily for an hour or more with our son on her lap, chatting and singing and smiling away.
My own children were too young to understand what was happening, although this wasn’t the case for all of Ronnie’s grandchildren. And unfortunately, there are families all over the world dealing with desperately sad and distressing diagnoses in their lives. But Ronnie taught us that it is possible to live well with dementia.
Stories can be an excellent way of talking about difficult issues with young people. I wanted to try and find a way of explaining something as intangible as memory, in a way that’s easy to understand if you’re very young. It can also offer some comfort to know that someone somewhere knows how you feel and that you are not alone. I am so proud to have created such a beautiful and sensitive book that, I feel, does just this.
I think I speak for everyone involved in the creation of this story, when I say that we hope it brings support to families making sense of what can be an enormously difficult time. The Tide was written in memory of Ronnie Spry, but is dedicated to everyone who has or is living with dementia.
Clare Helen Welsh is a primary school teacher and children’s author who lives in the South West of England with her husband and two children. She writes picture books and early readers, sometimes funny and sometimes lyrical, but always hopes her books bring a little added something to story time. You can find out more about Clare here on her website www.clarehelenwelsh.com or by following her on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh. She is represented by Alice Williams at Alice Williams Literary.