Actor Shobna Gulati released her first book – Remember Me? Discovering My Mother as She Lost Her Memory – last September. Her deeply personal memoir reveals what it’s really like losing a parent to dementia.
Speaking on White Wine Question Time Gulati revealed to pal Kate Thornton that there was somewhat of an urgency behind her writing the book.
“I was actually doing it whilst I had Covid because I thought I might die,” she admitted.
“The sense of urgency was certainly that because I didn't know – I mean, it is quite a thing to say – I didn't know whether I'd survive, and I had all of this in my head ready to come out.”
Listen: Shobna Gulati talks about bringing up her son as a single mum – and how her mum helped out
The former Coronation Street star came down with the illness last March, just after her theatre tour of Everybody's Talking About Jamie was shut down by the pandemic. Driving back after being dismissed from the show, Gulati said she started to feel poorly.
“I was driving home. I felt really hot and I thought it's the stress of losing a job, losing income, losing everything in that instant,” she recalled.
“I thought that's what it was, but no, it turned out to be Covid.”
Scarily for the actor, just a few days later, she starting struggling with her breathing.
“By Thursday, I couldn’t breathe,” the actor said.
“I went to see a doctor. It was all very cloak and dagger… You arrive and there's somebody in a hazmat suit and there's the doctor just in an apron and hardly any PPE herself. She said, 'You've got secondary pneumonia and your lungs are not working'.
“That's what she could just see from that moment of being with me. I mean, she listened to my chest. She said, I think one of your lungs is having a difficulty.”
While the star, who is currently appearing on BBC1’s Celebrity Best Home Cook, didn’t end up in hospital, as she continued to struggle with her breathing, she wondered what would happen to her.
“I followed all the different suggestions that came up – you know, lying on your chest – because there were points where I couldn't breathe and I'd have terrible days,” the star confessed to Thornton.
“It was bad. It was bad. And you know, there were moments where I just thought, who would know?”
While Gulati had planned to write the memoir of her mother while on the tour, having COVID not only propelled her to get on with it, but it also connected her to her late mother.
“I felt very connected,” she said. “I think having COVID sort of really connected me to my mum in her sort of lockdown world of having her dementia and the walls, which she was in all the time, and the walls in her head as well.”
She continued: “I felt like I was in her world. I mean, COVID for everybody has locked us all into our rooms. I wrote a poem about that. I wrote we've all been sent into our room and we've been locked in!”
The TV star, who moved in with her mum 25 years ago just before her son was born, said while her relationship with her mother had been complicated over the years, she loved hearing her mum’s memories of her life.
“I think she was quite pleased that I was happy to go on that journey with her,” she recalled.
“Be transported, get on the train from Mumbai, as she did as a little girl. Eat the sandwiches with her – she remembered the cucumber sandwiches she'd have in the old British Raj tea place at the station at the Victoria Terminus!”
Gulati is extremely honest about the reality of caring for a parent with dementia – saying it’s “no mean feat” – but she says the book helped her come to terms with her the grief of losing her mum, and she hopes it does the same for others.
Writing on her Instagram account last year, she said: “I hope that any of you whose lives and loved ones have been affected by dementia will find comfort in this too. I really miss her.”
Hear Kate Thornton chat to Shobna Gulati about losing her mum, bringing up her son solo and her love for musical theatre on the latest episode of White Wine Question Time. Listen now on iTunes and Spotify.
Watch: Former rugby union player Steven Thomson talks about what it’s like having early onset dementia