Sunday, 15 August 2010

location location location

I'm sitting at a table with Mum and two of the other more high-functioning residents. All three ladies are neatly dressed, articulate and plausible. All three look askance at the woman by the next table, still in her night-shift, which is wet and which she is asking me to feel. There is a hierarchy here - I'm sitting with the Heathers. In conversation, of course, all plausibility is quickly shattered. Each of these women is living in her own world, a world she has shored together from a heap of broken images, the shards of her life. 

Heather no.1 brings the conversation back to her favourite anecdote. In her head, she is a young girl again, living at home in a large family of older brothers with whom we must all be familiar. They are evidently just out of sight for now but will be here soon. Her story is one where she scolds one of them and he shrugs his shoulders, looking sheepish. She swells herself up to mimic him. She finds the tale hilarious. I've heard her tell it for two years now. She is always happy, firmly rooted back home in the bosom of her family.

Heather no.2 drums her fingers on the table and tolerates this story. She knows that she is an adult and that she is retired. Just retired, in fact. And she recognises where she is, worked in the same building, in a different wing. Perhaps I know it? She worked "with the infants" (hospital or school, I don't ask). She is serious, professional, rising above those around her. Just occasionally she will betray a little nervousness as to our precise location. She names first one town and then another. I reassure her that we are nearby to both. Then the tape loop begins again and she's telling me that she used to work here. At one point Heather no.1 asks her a question, calling her "Nana", and she scowls.

Mum's preference is to listen rather than tell stories. Over the years, as her dementia grew, I think she learned to stay quiet and not volunteer information which might then be queried and lead to her exposure. It's only when I open my laptop and begin showing her pictures that she perks up. We go through the usual responses to my childhood pictures (adoring) and to pictures of her Husband (completely baffled). And then I show her a video of the approach to her last residence, her retirement apartment and ask her if she remembers it. She says, "That's this place, of course." I distract her and stop the video before it becomes obvious that she is wrong. It won't do any good to correct her, and I'd rather she believe she is home, too.

Each woman at this table addresses herself to me almost exclusively. I see their need for confirmation, for me to validate their conception of the world. They can't get this from each other because their realities conflict. For Mum and Heather no.1, they are both home and that's all that matters. As the property shows keep telling us, it's all about location.


accidental carer said...

So you can add advocate to your list of skills now. Well done and I admire your patience so much.

Greg said...

Thank you, Trish. And I hope you had a very Happy Birthday on Sunday!

LSL said...

I was thinking about your patience while reading this as well. Patience and your ability to be present for the others. It's very honoring of you.

Sorata said...

Wow, that was a great post!

I find it very interesting that the ladies are all in a different "era". It's almost like time travelling... a little...

Greg said...

Thanks LSL. It's funny how you can write something and not really pick up on what you've actually written - I don't see myself as patient normally, but who am I to disagree with two of my regular commenters? :)

Sorata, thank you. It's also funny how sometimes I post a story thinking it's not as interesting as others and then get great feedback. I suppose I don't always understand fully what I've captured until all of you respond. It's helpful.

Fiona Hunter said...


My name is Fiona and I am the information development worker at Carers Support West Wilts. You may well have heard of what a Carers Support agency is, and does, so I will not go into that and give you what may be unnecessary reading!

We have recently created a website for our organisation and I am in the process of setting up a ‘Bloggers Corner’ page. It aims to introduce blogging to Carers in our area and as a way of giving them some inspiration and ideas for starting one I’d like to feature links to several blogs written by carers from around the web.

I came across your blog and would really like the opportunity to link to it from our website. Though you do not live in our area; the experiences and things that you talk about are still very much relevant to the carers which we support.

If you are happy for me to do this all I would need is a very short paragraph about you – simply to contain a bit of detail about who you care for and what their illness or condition is. Just to give a bit of background to the blog so that those who are in similar situations can click to read blogs that they can identify with.

I very much hope to hear from you soon,

Best Wishes,


Greg said...

Hi Fiona

I only went through a short period of being a full-time Carer, during which time my Mother and I were on the hunt for a Care Home. However, if you feel that there is still enough on my blog that would be useful to your readers, you are welcome to link to it from your website. Thank you for asking.

My Mother's condition is dementia (vascular dementia resulting from a series of mini-strokes as well as damage from Alzheimer's disease). I tried for a while to manage her affairs from a distance (I live in Yorkshire and she was in Sussex), but eventually I had to intervene and rescue her from where she was living in 2007. She spent a short time with me in my home, but we worked together to find her a Care home because her mobility was poor and my house wasn't suitable. There was also the small matter of her driving me round the bend... Like I said, not a Carer myself, but I try my best.

I prefer not to send personal emails to people or organisations, so I hope you revisit this comment thread to read my reply.

Thanks for your interest


citygirl said...

I love this entry and the reference to Heathers. One of my fav movies.

My mom also became quiet and preferred to listen. Definitely a survival strategy to not get exposed or questioned. I never thought about it in that way before!

Greg said...

You know what? I'm so relieved you got the Heathers reference! I almost put up the movie poster, but decided against it.

I'm glad you think I'm on the right lines with my theory about the listening and I'm glad I helped you think about your own Mom's behaviour in a new way. Even at this stage in life, people are fascinating, aren't they?