BACKCHAT — BY SSMITH ON 16/05/2013 10:18 PM
IT’S the letters that mean most to me. They tell stories of the people behind an illness that eventually took over their lives. But the letters are all memories and it is those memories I’ll fight to preserve.
Tommy on Tour started after my own mum, Joan Whitelaw, was diagnosed with vascular dementia about six years ago. I was a merchandiser for some of the world’s biggest rock bands and spent most of my time abroad. But when I came home from tour one day to see my mum, as I never failed to do, my whole life changed.
Diagnosed with dementia, she needed full-time care. Those five years were tough, the worst of my life but when she died in September last year I reflected on what a wonderful person she was, a person who created memories for us all that an illness could never erase.
Tommy on Tour is about raising awareness for dementia and to preserve the memory of people like my mum and to support the people who care for loved ones. For five years I felt isolated. I didn’t know what help was out there or who to turn to and often it felt like a battle.
So I give talks in schools, in care homes, in universities and to MSPs across Scotland raising awareness and saying that you don’t have to be alone. My message is simple: this army of carers in Scotland are worthy of support but are desperate for it at the same time.
In some ways this campaign is my own therapy and a catharsis too. People get in touch to tell me how my story inspired them to seek help or how by realising others are in a similar position, they are not isolated.
When I go home at night, to the house I shared with my mum, that’s when the loneliness is worst. It makes me think of other carers and how they cope. I just want to tell them they might feel alone but they are not. There are thousands of others in Scotland who can empathise and understand their situation.