Teaching children how to deal with dementia
Dementia affects more than five percent of Singaporeans aged 60 and above, so it’s an issue that many families have to grapple with as their seniors begin to drift away from themselves, their children and, as Daryl Kho’s enchanting book reminds us, their grandchildren, too.
In Mist-Bound: How to Glue Back Grandpa, we follow the adventures of little Alexis as she tries to revive her grandfather’s memories before he is lost to the deepening mists fogging his mind. In this magical world, there is a cure – Memory Glue – and to brew it up, Alexis must gather special ingredients from the land of Mist, wherein live the mythical creatures from Grandpa’s folk stories.
Stalked by the kenit (forest imp) who cast the spell that laid Grandpa low, Alexis doggedly collects nose hair from a baku (dream-eater) and sweat from a duyung (sea siren), encountering all manner of strange beings, both friendly and threatening. Grandma is with Alexis every step of the way, helping her outwit treacherous tree nymphs and ravenous snow ogres.
Kho, who was born in Malaysia and resides in Singapore, writes from personal experience. His own father was felled by two strokes in 2009, taking away his mobility and independence, while the resulting vascular dementia robbed him of his memories and much of his personality. This experience was the genesis of Mist-Bound which, poignantly, was only finished after Kho’s father passed away.
Kho’s engaging blend of the real world and mythical folklore from Southeast Asia and beyond is beautifully illustrated by SillyJellie. It appeals to children while at the same time being a heartfelt take on dementia for all the family.
Published by Penguin Random House SEA with support and a foreword from Dementia Singapore (formerly known as Alzheimer’s Disease Association) and TOUCH Community Services, you can buy the book at Kinokuniya and MPH Bookstore. You can also purchase Mist-Bound: How to Glue Back Grandpa here.
The A List chatted to author Daryl Kho about his hopes for Mist-Bound.
Did you have a particular audience in mind when writing the story?
It’s classified as a middle-grade book, with core readers being around 10 to 12, but I always say that Mist-Bound is meant for readers from ages 8 to 800! It’s a book for children, their grandparents, and the people in between. It’s a story about family, inspired by a family, to be read as a family. Just as a Disney or Pixar movie isn’t called a kids’ movie, but a family movie; Mist-Bound, to me, is not a children’s book, but rather a family novel.
Do you think the heartache caused to youngsters when a grandparent is taken away from them by dementia is something that has been rather neglected?
Speaking from personal experience, I think what’s more often under-valued, by children themselves, is their relationship with their grandparents. The book was motivated by my regret that my daughter never got to know my dad better due to his dementia and his eventual death. But it’s also influenced by my own regrets about not getting to know my own grandparents better and earlier. I only started writing letters to my paternal grandfather when I was in secondary school. Alas, we only got as far as his second letter, in which he wrote that he was becoming weaker and could not walk to his favourite nasi lemak stall to buy breakfast anymore. Soon after, he passed away. If only I’d have known earlier to spend more time talking to him whenever I visited for Chinese New Year instead of just running off to play or watch TV. Because of that I would say, to the contrary, that if a grandchild feels heartache when a grandparent is taken away from them due to dementia or death it’s actually a positive thing, because it shows they took their opportunity to form a meaningful bond while they were around. The deeper the bond, the more pain in the loss.
Is one of your goals in Mist-Bound to suggest to children ways in which they can interact and keep a connection with an older relative suffering from dementia?
A big focus was on getting children to appreciate their grandparents while they are still around, mentally (pre-dementia) and physically. This quote served as my north star for the book: “When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground” (Amadou Hampâté Bâ). Elders, our grandparents, are living libraries; they have so many stories, so much wisdom and knowledge within them. When they have dementia, the library is up in flames and the books are burning away before our very eyes. So value and appreciate them while they are still around, go borrow those books from their minds while you can because, when they pass on, all the stories within them will be lost for good. Especially now: Covid can snatch the ones you love away so suddenly, and you often can’t even say goodbye in the hospital. Another key message is the importance of family. Of all the funky ingredients that my heroine Alexis tries to gather to make Memory Glue, ultimately family was the most important one. It’s the bonds of family that keeps us glued together. When all else fades away into the mist, all that remains is family.
Replies were edited and condensed for clarity.