It’s far from funny – but sometimes you just have to laugh!

Dementia has visited the Courtin clan.

The word itself can raise all sorts of inappropriate and demeaning connotations – labels that conjure up a range of fears that can often be misleading, and indeed, disturbing.

So, instead of giving it a label, perhaps I’ll call it short-term memory, or simply a change in the brain.

That’s how it all started. Just forgetting a couple of events/discussions that had taken place a few days earlier – even up to two weeks earlier. We all do that I hear you saying. Oh, hell, yes! All the time. Names, places, faces – a whole range of forgetfulness.

But, short-term memory is different. It changes. It creeps up slowly, showing its more obvious, insidious character, and before you know it, the label has been attached and Dementia it becomes.

Dementia, especially Vascular Dementia, doesn’t happen just because we age. It happens, or can happen, due to a stroke or a TIA (transient ischaemic attack). And in our case, that is just what happened. Three TIA’s in two years, and Pow!

Marshall, my beloved, is 87. You’d never know it! He’s often told You can’t be, you look about 60! It’s true, he does. He has skin of a 40 year old, no wrinkles, and you should see his arms and legs! 30 year old perfect limbs! And his eyes! They smile and sparkle – all the time. He’s never without a smile – even when asleep. Oh, how I love him!

He has a brain too! A brilliant one at that. His lecturing days in Computer Science, Linguistics and Artificial Intelligence may be over, but that brain of his is still as sharp as a tack. But when short term memory is required, alas, it is a different story.

So, where does the sometimes you just have to laugh sentiment come in?

We went to the Blue Mountains yesterday to catch up with friends we haven’t seen for ages. We had a lot to talk about (or I did!). All sorts of chatter, gossip, family tales, footy (more like, the Swans), politics, house prices (a Sydney obsession), and dementia (just about everyone knows someone with dementia).

I was letting forth – more than usual (cortisone, which I’m on, does that: creates a pseudo high manic energy!) relating some recent events of memory loss, disorientation, confusion and how it has/is affecting us both. (Marsh was more than happy for me to talk about it in his presence.) Towards the end of one such tale, I noticed my friends’ faces. They looked as if they wanted to laugh, but out of “respect for such a terrible thing as dementia” were trying very hard not to. Then, I just found myself laughing. Subdued, mind you, but a sort of laughing. It really was funny! Of course, with utter relief, they joined in. Marshall,  too, was even smiling!

The story goes like this:

On Sunday 9th December I was taken to hospital by ambulance (I remember it well!). Lying on the bed in Emergency, I was very aware of the pillow. Hospital pillows are like lying on raised concrete. Told I would be admitted, the thought of my beautiful chiro-styled soft pillow lying on its bed in Surry Hills overwhelmed me. Marshall kindly offered to go back home and get it, together with medical papers from London to show the doctors at the hospital.

“Thank you, darling, get a taxi, you’ll be able to get one out the front”, I implored.

“Ok, see you soon”.

The trip would be 10 minutes at the most, especially on a Sunday at 3.15pm

Half an hour later, I call his mobile. No answer.

Forty–five minutes later, he answers.

“Couldn’t you get a taxi?” I asked.

“Why would I get a taxi, I went by train. I always get trains” (M doesn’t drive)

“Oh, OK, have you got the pillow and the papers?”


“Please come back by taxi”, I implore again.

Forty minutes later, he arrives back.

“No problems getting a taxi?”

“Why would I get a taxi, I went by train. I always get trains”.

“Oh, Ok. Where’s the pillow?

“Oh, the pillow, I must have forgotten it!”

“Do you have the papers?”

“Was I supposed to get papers? Which papers?”

We sit together for a while and he offers to go back home. I give him a note, hoping he’ll remember to look at it, and ask him to call me when he gets home.

“PLEASE just get a taxi, darling”.

Nearly an hour later and I’m getting anxious. No phone call, no answering of phone.

He soon arrives by my bedside, pillow intact, but still no papers! Same story – he came by train!

Four hours later, at 9pm, it’s time for him to go home. I’m very anxious of him being alone in the house, so my dear sister, Judy, from Melbourne, has arranged to fly up that night to be with Marshall, and to stay until I’m out of hospital.

“Good night, darling, see you in the morning”, we exchange.

“Whatever you do, Marsh, PLEASE, PLEASE just get a taxi!” I plead.

Half an hour passes, he doesn’t answer his mobile. I ring and ring, leave anxious messages. An hour passes, and he finally answers.

“Where are you?!”

“Walking along Crown Street. I’m nearly home”.

“Why on earth are you in Crown St (it’s in Surry Hills), what happened to the taxi?”

“What do you mean, the taxi, I got a bus. I always get buses”.

“A bus!!! There are no buses from the hospital to Surry Hills. Where did you get the bus from? Where did you walk to when you left the hospital? Oh, God, a bus on a Sunday night, why didn’t you get a taxi?!!”

“Why are you crying?” he asks, surprised. “I always take a bus, I know where I’m going. Stop worrying so much”.

We hang up, I keep crying, then remember I’ll need to tell him again about Judy arriving at 11pm, in case he goes to bed and doesn’t hear the door bell, and Judy’s left outside all night!

I keep phoning until Judy arrives, then rest back into my comfy pillow in a ward full of “old” people.

In retrospect, it really is funny!! It has to be funny, in there amongst all the tears. Otherwise…….

And Marshall agrees!



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About Jan Courtin

A Bloods tragic since first game at Lake Oval in 1948. Moved interstate to Sydney to be closer to beloved Swans in 1998. My book "My Lifelong Love Affair with the Swans" was launched by the Swans at their headquarters at the SCG in August 2016.


  1. Stephen Alomes says

    Great piece, Jan.
    Just like footy – the human story.

  2. Citrus Bob says

    Last week I visited a dear friend who had been President of my local football league when I was secretary. We worked as a great team in the early seventies into the eighties. he is in a residential home and is 92. He welcome me with open arms and we spent the next 45 minutes talking about the “old days in country football”. His memory of things that had happened during that time was outstanding remembering every finite detail including scores etc, brilliant! Apparently he is like that with everybody when it comes to talking footy and potatoes!
    As i got up to leave he said “who are you?” When I told him he just laughed and said “you have got older”.
    Thanks Jan.

  3. Neil Anderson says

    I can understand the ‘you can’t help laughin’ reaction to Marshall’s woes, but your story of being in hospital trying to relay instructions to Marshall just sounded exhausting. Which reminded me about the importance of you looking after your self before you can care for others. I am in a similar situation. I have to stay well to look after my son who is autistic.
    I was reading an article earlier today about some research saying how having an intelligent partner can help ward off dementia. Marshall is therefore in good hands as well as yourself, but you can’t undo those damn strokes.
    What a wonderful sister you have. We have started to examine our threadbare family tree to find such an angel if we need someone for our son in a few years time.
    Take care for both of you.

  4. Thanks Jan. I was with friends yesterday with whom I went to uni. For the first time we talked a little of retirement plans! And memory loss!

    All the best to you and Marshall.

  5. A note from the future. Not yet arrived, but no longer implausible as it seemed for 50 or so years.
    Here is a link to the finest piece of writing on ageing that I have ever read – by Roger Angell the New Yorker fiction editor and baseball laureate for decades. Now well into his 90’s.
    By turns funny, wise, sad and disarmingly honest. Read ’em and weep – as the card player said. Or laugh depending on which hand you’re holding.
    Go well Jan and Marshall.

  6. Hi Jan
    Love the way you have written this piece and the accepting nature you display….understanding, and so real.
    I’m lying on the beach yesterday and after smothering myself in sunscreen I had to ask myself “did I do my face?” Naturally the M word, or lack thereof, came to mind!

  7. the way Jan you refer to loss of memory as ‘a changing brain’ is far superior to the damning and limiting word ‘Dementia’. So beautifully written and very moving. sister Jude x

  8. Another beautiful piece, Jan.

    Well done.

  9. Jan, you write so beautifully, it always brings a tear to my eyes….


  10. Jan,

    Such a beautiful piece of writing, so heartfelt and meaningful. It enables people to have the conversation, even with the black humour. We will always need that as well.

    Most importantly the more the dementia conversation it is out there, other people who feel so alone in their individual situations get a chance to share and draw strength from the communal. As you can well attest, none of us know when we may have to face the situation.

    Thank you

  11. Many thanks Stephen, Citrus Bob, Neil, John, Peter, Kate, Jude, Sylvia, Jeni and Robyn for your kinds words and best wishes. Much appreciated.

    Peter: Roger Angello’s New Yorker article is superb. Thanks for sending. Four years on, and he’s still writing. He’s 98. In November he wrote about voting in the USA elections.

  12. Oops! Should have said Roger Angell, not Angello – above

  13. Sharryne Daley says

    Jan how fabulous of you to share your story as you have. Your ability to be able to write in such a way that draws out such intense empathy and emotions from me and no doubt other readers is extraordinary. I felt I was right there with you. Your strength of character, your humour and unconditional loving approach to this journey will see you
    and Marshall through. Yes it will be a road of ups and downs, but as you reflect in your story, you will enable the ups to overshadow the downs. In the last 12 months, having read your book and the many other stories you have shared, I have come to admire and be inspired by your personal journeys and this one is no exception. You have touched my life more than you know. I hope you continue to share your journey with us all as there will be many lives you will touch and encourage to get through such challenging times. You are an extraordinary woman Jan.
    Wishing you and Marshall much love, strength, courage and laughs along the way.
    Much love
    Sharryne Daley xxx

  14. Jan spot on re dementia if you don’t laugh you go crazy heart felt thanks for sharing,Jan

  15. Nice work Jan; well put together.

    My mother experienced dementia in her final few years, but could recall Corowa in the 1930’s, living in Footscray after moving to the ‘big smoke’, though forgot how to use a fork; sticking it in her soup! She forgot how to walk, forgot where she was, forgot everything happening to her at that stage of life.

    Around the world people are living longer, dementia is a fact of life. We can’t fear it, we need to understand it to support those afflicted by it. Articles like this where as a writing community we share tales, memories enhances to have the capacity to respond to these situations if we’re ever encountered with them. This helps demystify dementia,giving us a valuable insight.

    Take care Jan.


  16. Tony Courtin says

    Jan,response tad late but just to say live the moment and go out with a bang!

  17. Sharryne, Rulebook, Glen! and Tony: Your kind words and individual stories are much appreciated. Many thanks.

    Tony, it would indeed be a celebration if I were to “go out with a bang” having just sung “…..while her loyal sons are marching onwards to victory” after a grand final – many years from now!! Cheer cheer!!

  18. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    It’s tough, Jan. So many emotions and trying to keep your sense of humour among it all.
    I went through it with my dad. Short term memory loss. TIA’s. Check.
    Some lighter moments: for a period dad thought the nursing home was his mansion. “Who invited all these old people? ” he would say totally oblivious. We had to laugh.

  19. Beautiful, Jan.
    The love Marshall and yourself have for each other simply shines through in this piece.

    And it is so true: sometimes you just have to laugh!

  20. Luke Reynolds says

    Jan, lovely piece, I concur with all of the comments above.
    Love that final line!!

  21. Hi Phil, Smokie and Luke. Thank you for your comments. Love “Who invited all these old people”! Phil. I just hope and pray Marshall doesn’t have to go to a “mansion”! Nor, me, for that matter!!

    Luke, presumably you’re referring to my final line above, to Tony? Can’t imagine it would happen, but it’s nice imagining it!
    All the best

  22. Luke Reynolds says

    Jan, was referring to the final line in your piece-

    “And Marshall agrees!”

    A great, uplifting ending.

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