Phone calls that became all the more frequent for me and my brother Craig that dad laughed at it at first but just couldn’t remember where he parked his car in Burnley town centre.
We suggested taking pictures of the street name – even though his very old cell phone didn’t take pictures! — or park in the same parking lot every time, but it got to a point where he couldn’t be trusted to get out on his own.
We would meet at Tesco for a Costa Coffee, then spend hours driving around after looking for her car – or hoping that when we pressed the car’s ‘zapper’ we’d see it light up.
At first we laugh about it, oblivion, old age, any excuse, but then we realize that it’s the beginning of dementia and then it’s serious.
My father passed away at the age of 82 on December 14th. Many people know him as Jimmy Robson the footballer. To us, he was dad and a dad who had taken care of us for so many years, and now we had to take care of him.
I scroll through my texts from 2019: “Remember I’m picking you up at 3 p.m.”, “Remember Parkrun tomorrow”, “Remember to give Henry (his grandson) a card”.
Many went unanswered, so I obviously followed them up with a phone call – probably a few phone calls.
We had to stop him from driving and luckily in the late 70’s he agreed. This then meant bus rides into town which in turn was a hassle as we didn’t know where he was or if he was on the correct bus so they had to stop.
Dementia gradually takes the person away. He was diagnosed with it in the late 70s after undergoing memory tests after several visits to the doctor.
Dad was always cheeky and a prankster – he wanted to win it all even when we were kids he made up a rootin’ tootin’ life when he ran out of games that only applied to him and his ‘alternative’ tours of historic sites, pointing fingers at things like ambulances and people watching, got us stitches.
He didn’t drink but was still the life and soul of the party.
He loved his wife Beryl, whom he met as a teenager, and always said when she died in 2005 that he would live only two years.
But he found a new life – meeting family and friends, playing golf, watching Burnley and Accrington Stanley, he worked for the Premier League for a while and he was fit and healthy, so dementia left us hit hard, as in all families.
Dad insisted it came from the ball head – he came to Burnley when he was 15 and played up front, where he kicked the ball and scored goals with his head, before moving to Blackpool, Barnsley and Bury where he ended his career as a defender, heading the ball.
The football dementia campaign was gaining momentum at the time, but it still seems a long way from acknowledging that doing the job they loved has killed many footballers.
We tried to keep dad busy, he still went to Burnley but couldn’t concentrate on the game. He was more worried about what Bertie Bee was doing – the enjoyment of something he loved was gone.
Covid hit just as dad was starting to come down. I remember the early days when we were terrified of him walking to the stationery because he didn’t understand he couldn’t just walk in, he had to wear a mask and people lived in fear.
His progress, however, gradually stopped. We were getting phone calls from neighbors that he had run into – a tall, strong man who was physically fit, but became unsteady on his feet.
It became confined around 2020.
We tried to keep him at home as long as possible, he brought in caregivers. Progress Lifeline gave him a watch so if he falls it triggers their control center and they contact us.
I can’t remember how many times the family has had a phone call at 2am and it’s all about getting up and checking in on him.
It’s tiring and it’s hard. It takes up so much of your time because your thoughts are constantly on that person. Every night you expect a phone call, but we wanted to keep him home where he felt safe.
But then it got to a point where you can’t anymore. It’s not safe for him. The falls were more frequent, the TV was on but he had no interest, it was just on, he needed a frame to move around in and needed 24 hour care. It could be very hot and he put on three sweaters, a cardigan and a coat – in any order.
The moment we place him in a home, then the guilt takes over. We had always promised him that he would never go to a home, but as a family we had to.
He entered Wordsworth House Care Home in July 2021 and we all felt such heartache doing this.
We told him it was temporary but dad being dad he just smiled and accepted it even though it was such a betrayal.
The nursing home was great, the carers seemed to like him, he was well cared for and it was the best for him and for us – despite the financial cost of any nursing home, which is huge.
Dementia can change a person – they can become aggressive or irritated. We were very lucky with Dad, he didn’t change his cheeky, smiling personality.
He was in the nursing home for about six months and at the end of it he was bedridden, he couldn’t hold a conversation and he couldn’t get dressed.
So many dads were gone though the last time I saw him alive he got a question about Useless, Ain’t It!
There were still moments and they were special. He was a special person for many football fans, but he was certainly a special father and dementia didn’t take it away, difficult as it was.