My friend dementia. The story of a Memory Matters staff member.

I intended to be a maker of things. Working from a secluded studio, quiet with my materials and thoughts. I was studying a contemporary crafts BA at Plymouth College of Art, working predominately with clay.

I love the cool, quiet world of ceramics; how the slowness of process makes you appreciate each stage more so and the resulting alchemy from the fires.  I became despondent however, not with the craft but with the direction we were being pointed towards so I opted to take some time out and discover more about how community based arts and whether it could be a path for me.

I’ve been working in elderly care now for the past 5 years since having this “gap year” and have just never really found the right time to go back. I may do one day.

I say this every year.

I’m a Cornish girl with London the mothers side and Cornish the Fathers. My ancestors descend from Beowulf himself and so cultural heritage has always had a big place in my life. It makes me feel connected to something that has roots, strength and makes me feel more certain of myself. The stories from my family have always been what interests me most to hear when I am with them. I never tire of their stories, even if it is the 50th time they’ve been told. I am fascinated by the epic stories of my Viking ancestors but also the everyday moments of my grandparents time during the post war years in London. The tender sweet, heartbreaking tales of their loves and losses through the years and then the seemingly mundane events. My Gandi (Grandfather) once played me a recording of the family playing cards together around the big kitchen table in the 4 story house his father in law, Popa Jim and Clara my great grandmother lived in in Camden along with their 6 children and all their spouses. They were chatting about the new washing powder that had just been invented in-between a game of gin rummy. It was so candid, you almost felt you were there with them. In retrospect it is such an insight into the changes in domestic and social history just from that few minuets of audio footage. Something seemingly mundane as the washing becomes this golden nugget of history. To me, these are the most precious parts of our existence. I now hear regularly my elders talk of things like this and I sit like a child on Christmas Eve as they tell me about the coppers, carbolic and mangle duty.

I started working with people with dementia 4 years ago through my apprenticeship at a music charity and soon after as an activity coordinator. Looking back I really didn’t fully understand what dementia was. I was doing a job I had never done before and with little support. What I noticed is if you can go into their world it can help them get back to them and where distress turns to into contentment. It was a baptism of fire but I was at my most relaxed spending time with my residents as posed to my co-workers. Wanting to make sure I was doing the right things I sought out the best dementia course I could which is what led me to find Memory Matters. I booked myself onto the course as my the home I worked for wouldn’t fund my training and I went along. I was relieved ti find I was doing the right things, but also learnt some really interesting things like how putting something really odd as a marker could help people navigate. For example placing a giant frog at a turning in a home would help those people living there remember their turn off as it is so unexpected and out of the ordinary.

Working with people who are living with dementia can make you feel and see things in a completely different light. It’s personally brought me closer to the relationship I have with the world, where I can truly live in that moment.

I have become a shepherdess of stories, a tender of memories. I let the people I support show me the way they want to grow, while I gently hold and guide them through the unknown territory that is dementia. Learning it’s unique ways and working with it, not against it. Accepting the changes and celebrating it with them in what ever way we can, celebrating the small things. Even when the last memory is gone and we no longer know ourselves as we once were, we are all creatures of this earth. Human love and kindness is one of the most rare and beautiful things to be witnessed in the universe and we can all share this in abundance.