Dedicated wife’s decade of care inspires play on dementia struggles

NADV 1502232AM1 Cindy Toulman. Picture: Adrian Murray. (1502232AM1)
NADV 1502232AM1 Cindy Toulman. Picture: Adrian Murray. (1502232AM1)

Cindy Toulman visited her husband every day for ten years after he was diagnosed with early onset dementia.

The 68-year-old grandmother made the trip to Thistle Hill Care Home six days a week after her husband, Chris was diagnosed with early onset dementia.

Cindy Toulmand and Brian Daniels

Cindy Toulmand and Brian Daniels

A lot of the time he was so unwell he wasn’t aware of his surroundings, but Cindy remained devoted and spent all day with him, feeding him, talking to him, laughing with him.

“Sometimes people would ask me, ‘why? He doesn’t know if you are there or not,’ but I knew. And he knew he was loved.”

Cindy’s unwavering dedication to her husband, who she describes as the love of her life, was one of two personal stories which inspired playwright Brian Daniels, to write Don’t Leave Me Now.

His friend Professor Rachael Dixy nursed her partner through dementia for seven years, through Rachael he met Cindy and has woven the strands of these two stories to create a documentary style play on the effects of living with dementia.

Brian said: “I am interested in social issues as I feel that the theatre should reflect what is happening in society and dementia is having a huge impact. It is the thing that over 50s fear more than anything, it is so scary because there is no cure.”

Chris Toulman died last February, aged 68 after he was diagnosed with dementia at 55-years-old.

Cindy said: “I didn’t pick up on it at all, he had always had quite a bad memory so I just put it down to that.”

The couple were teenage sweethearts after meeting on the bus between Ripon and Harrogate. “He fell asleep on my shoulder on the bus one time, then asked me for a light and it went from there.

“He was my life long love, I still love him very much, in a way I think I am lucky because some people never find that.”

The couple married, moved to Ripon and had two children, and four grandchildren before Chris’s diagnosis.

“I remember sitting at the doctors and I couldn’t help him, he could only answer two out of 20 questions the doctor asked him about his life. It was devastating.

“It almost seems silly now to think I didn’t know.”

Cindy sought help and companionship from the carers’ resource during Chris’s illness.

She said: “I visited six days a week for ten years, I would have gone for another ten years, I really would, but I am relieved in a way. It was very difficult at times, but I had great support.”

Cindy thinks that awareness of dementia has increased in recent years. She said: “There is a lot more about it now, everyone seems to know someone who has had it.”

The play reading is in aid of the Royal Hall Restoration Trust and Dementia Forward. John Harris, trustee of the trust said it was an important issue which affects almost every family.

“It is terrifying to see a bright, articulate, intelligent person you know suffering like that. It has such a big effect on people. We wanted to do something different with the play reading, followed by a panel discussion, so hopefully people can find out more.”

Don’t Leave Me Now has been performed 25 times across the UK, and Brian hopes it will help to open a dialogue about dementia.

“It is a very powerful story and Cindy has always been so open with me about how the dementia has affected her life,” he said.

“People are ashamed to talk about it, there is that embarrassment there, but it can be very cathartic to talk about the emotion of it all.”

The play reading will be held at the Cairn Hotel on Ripon Road on Thursday, March 26 at 2.15pm.

Following the play reading Dementia Forward will lead a panel discussion about dementia introduced by the Mayor of Harrogate, Jim Clark.

Tickets cost £10 and are availble from the Harrogate Theatre box office, 01423 502 116 or www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk

Money raised will go to the Royal Hall Restoriation Trust and Dementia Forward.