Raye and Chris
Chris and Raye met at college in High Wycombe where Chris studied furniture design and making. He then went on to the Royal College of Art in London. They married in 1966 and have two daughters and five grandchildren.
In 1974 they moved to Thame and Chris headed the Department of Fine Craftsmanship and Design at Rycotewood College for thirteen years. He then became self-employed.
In 2005 Raye decided to retire from Thame Library where she had been working. At this time Chris was also a part-time lecturer in Design and Architecture at Brookes University in Oxford. One day he returned home and said to Raye, “Can I retire as well, I can't lecture any more?”. He was having difficulty finding the word. He was 62.
In early 2006 Chris saw his GP who performed a series of memory tests and then referred him to a neurologist at the John Radcliffe Hospital. There he underwent four hours of further tests and a brain scan. A month later he was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), a neurological syndrome in which a person gradually loses the ability to speak, read, write or understand what people are saying. As the disease progresses often other cognitive functions decline, such as memory and recognising people. Chris's speech declined quite rapidly. He was still legally allowed to drive but from this time onwards Raye was always with him.
Raye and Chris's older daughter, Thalia, lives in France with her partner Denis. She has a 20 year old son and an 18 year old daughter. Their younger daughter, Kendra, is a teacher and married to an Australian. They initially lived in Wimbledon but moved to Thame in 2000 and have three children, now 16, 14 and 10. Raye and Chris loved having the children to stay with them and Chris had started showing Luke, his older grandson, how to use tools to make things in the workshop. They also used to collect the youngest boy, Sean, from his nursery school on a regular basis. However, in 2009 Chris was diagnosed with Early Onset Dementia. His behaviour became very erratic and he became very possessive of Raye and didn't like Sean taking her time. This was very hard for the little boy to understand and Chris could be quite frightening. Years later Sean said to Raye “I never really got to know Grandpa”.
It is a continuing sadness that Chris has missed so many years seeing his grandchildren grow up.
For the next five years (until 2014) Raye looked after Chris at home. A lovely volunteer named Trish from Age U.K. would come and take Chris out for an hour while Raye went to a carers' meeting run by the Alzheimer's Society. Raye belonged to the University of the Third Age (Chris had actually started one of U3A groups in Thame) and liked to attend a French group. A friend's husband would try and take Chris out for a coffee but it became more and more difficult. Chris hated Raye not to be with him, even following her to the bathroom. Luckily he rarely tried to wander off and when he could no longer drive Raye would take him out nearly every day. They visited every garden centre, coffee shop or National Trust Property within about an hour's drive!
Initially, Chris had a very good psychiatrist but unfortunately there was little continuity regarding his care and two more psychiatrists came and went. This also happened with the Community Mental Health Team, the third nurse eventually refusing to make home visits as she became scared of Chris's behaviour. This meant Raye became more isolated. Friends were wonderful at keeping in touch but Chris could become very aggressive particularly towards anyone trying to give her a hug. However one person has always stood by her, her friend and neighbour Bridget, who has also been living alone since the death of her own partner. She has supported Raye through the initial diagnosis of Alzheimer's (“a death sentence for Chris and a life sentence for Raye”) helped her through the bad times but also shared some happier moments.
In 2011 Raye decided they would 'risk' a holiday so booked a 5-night cruise on the Queen Elizabeth. The ship was wonderful but Chris became more agitated as time passed and one evening decided that the Captain didn't know where he was going and Chris should go up to the bridge to help out. Fortunately that did not happen!
This was their last holiday and Chris's mental health deteriorated. He would wander round the house at night, turning on lights and taps (once flooding the kitchen). When he did get into bed it was usually fully clothed, but Raye didn't mind that as long as she could get some sleep.
By this time he also frequently asked Raye who she was and could be very aggressive.
By 2014 Raye realised she could no longer cope with Chris at home. Bridget and Kendra had looked at some care homes on her behalf but Vale House was recommended by the final psychiatrist. As soon as Raye met Tricia and had a tour of Vale House she knew it was the right place for Chris. He had a not altogether successful stay for respite care, but eventually Tricia offered Raye a room and on 23rd June he moved in on a permanent basis. Once Raye knew that Chris was safe and being well looked after, she went to visit her sister in Australia for three weeks, the first time she had been on her own since Chris's first diagnosis.
It is funny how there is always something deep down in a person with dementia which shows how they were before the disease took hold. In Chris's case it is his sense of humour and love of wood and furniture. When the vicar visited Vale House and everyone had gathered to sing hymns, Chris looked at Raye and rolled his eyes. He was not a church-goer! He still likes stroking the smooth wooden rails along the corridors when he is walking about and frequently moves furniture around.
Dementia stole their retirement, but Raye tries to be philosophical. “You have to get on with life, and do things while you can.” Her friends, particularly Bridget, are always available for meals out, theatre trips and holidays. She remembers the happy times when she and Chris travelled together, visiting family in Australia and going to India, China, Japan and Singapore. A memorable and special trip was coming home from New York on the QE2's last Atlantic crossing when they celebrated Chris's 60th birthday.
Raye is proud of Chris's achievements. He has written several books, taught many students who now have their own businesses and helped to establish a furniture making college in Connemara in the West of Ireland.
Raye visits Vale House often as do the family when they can. Raye also knows that Bridget and other friends will go and see him if she is away. She knows, even if he doesn't, that he is loved.