Memories Of Us
I remember visiting my Grandad in the nursing home. A beautifully restored house, with spectacular grounds, and a garden that looked like it had just been freshly painted. It was the most idyllic setting anyone could imagine.
Once upon a time, my Grandad was a Master Gardener, and he would have loved this place; he would have trimmed the roses, dug the straightest garden edges, and definitely found a small patch of his own to grow the finest fresh vegetables for the kitchen.
But his memory was going, and he couldn’t remember. People and places were confusing, and all he knew was that he was in a different place, without his wife, being shuffled from room to room like an inconvenient child; told where to sit, and when to eat, by strangers. When we visited, my heart broke; and I know that this happens, and I know that they are cared for, but why doesn’t that make it feel any better?
The best treatment for Grandad was to see people who loved him, and knew him; people who smiled and talked, and reminded him of what had been, and what was going on at the moment. No matter how little he understood, there were still grains of recognition, and a comfort in things that were vaguely familiar. I want to believe that every visitor he had were like pennies in a jar, allowing him to save happy thoughts for when his days were not quite as full.
Of course, we can’t control the future, but we can try to preserve memories for when we (and others) may need them later on. When we find it difficult to process our thoughts, we become grateful for simplicity; we need to go back to our childhood, recreating a more tactile world where life was easier, and explanations were brief.
Photographs are one of the simplest things to take on a visit. Lots and lots of photographs. In small albums, so they don’t get scattered on the floor, but are still easy to hold. I like to write the names of the people and places underneath, and a brief description of who they are (eg. Sara, daughter of Jessica (your niece) Age 17 at Seaside Heights). This way, a caregiver, or another visitor, can also read it to them, and the interaction will make the pictures more meaningful. If you can, include photographs of them at all different ages, so that they can see that where they are is just a tiny part of their story. Show them that they mean something, and they have done things. That they have lived, and are loved. (Wedding photographs are particularly good, because they usually show several generations, and they always provoke happy memories and lots of storytelling).
Most care centers will let you hang things on the wall, so why not make a collage of photographs, or create a vision board of their favorite hobbies, or dreams. Buy a poster of their favorite vacation spot, band or movie that they used to enjoy. Take a few CD’s and a small, portable player for them if they like music. Print out meaningful words, or names, and tape these to the walls. Find a treasured childhood toy for them to keep, and cuddle.
The list goes on, but really, it is so easy, and means so much. Next time you hesitate to visit someone, remember that they are still there, they just need you to help them remember…
p.s. The photograph above is of my Grandparents at Hever Castle. My Nana was just starting to show signs of dementia, and she jumped up on the edge of the fountain without warning. Grandad caught her just before she fell, and I shot this wonderful photograph.
For more by Wendy and the Blue Giraffe, go to: http://www.thebluegiraffe.com/