We Stopped Dancing Emma

A Guitar, Glasses and a Bottle (detail). Juan Gris, 1913. © National Gallery of Ireland

George was a tall, strong, fit man when I met him. He was grey, but ageless: I wouldn't have believed he had dementia if he hadn't been an inpatient on a geriatric ward, with a definitive diagnosis. His daughters told me he loved to run, cycle and swim; that he was a warm, intelligent man with a sharp sense of humour. They still brought him The Economist to read; though it lay, untouched, on his bedside locker. 

By the time I met George, his speech was gone. He was quite content, though: one of three daughters would visit each afternoon, and his wife made the bus trip three times a week. They had brought him in a small CD player, and we would walk the corridors listening to Frank, Dean and Sammy. On his happier days, we would dance after lunch, until one of his daughters arrived and cut in. 

As he declined, he stopped eating, and the muscles retreated from his 6'3'' frame. He was still strong though, and he would sometimes lash out if he didn't want to eat, or change his clothes, or if he wanted you to go away. His daughters told me that they had never seen a hint of violence from him before. Music didn't interest him any more: we stopped dancing. It became difficult to spot glimpses of who he had been in this new man.