We all have a story.
Whether we choose to share it or not is another matter. Following mum’s death I started to write about her, and our, struggle with dementia. It helped but I didn’t ever envisage sharing my writings.
I shared a piece called Handbags which was really about the ending of a mind.
I never leave the house without a bag of some sort. In the main they are large bags full of everything from cameras to nappies – I don’t ‘do’ dainty clutch bags. It wouldn’t even occur to me to go out without a bag. My favourite is an orange Harris Tweed messenger bag which somehow always has what I need hidden in its depths. Safety pin, lip salve, screwdriver (honestly!) pens, spare change – no problem, they are all there. Tommy and LJ love it and will play for hours exploring its contents and looking for hidden chocolate.
Mum loved bags. Small leather bags which were smart were her favourites. We knew if we were stuck for a Christmas present a leather bag was always a good fall back option. Her wardrobe often had a new bag that she hadn’t yet used and was saving for a special occasion. When she was in the later stages of her dementia but could still walk and get into the car we would take her to family occasions. Rosa’s christening was one of the last times I can remember taking her out. I’d dressed her and helped with her hair – she looked lovely. On the way out she suddenly remembered she needed her handbag. I brought her one that matched her outfit. Unlike mine which are always full there was nothing in mum’s bag (there’s a metaphor in there somewhere). I asked her what she wanted to put in it and was just met by a blank stare.
What did she need?
Apart from not knowing what she needed she couldn’t actually use any of the things you would normally put in a handbag and had to rely on others to do things for her. She didn’t need her purse as she had no concept of money and counting was beyond her. Makeup and hair brush? Again no, I’d done her hair and she wore very little make up. Keys? It struck me that she never needed keys as she was never actually on her own. How does that feel? Did she know she was never alone? To her that was a positive she was frightened if you left her – even if it was only to go and make a coffee she had to be able to see or hear you.
I always have photographs in my bag – she didn’t recognise faces any more.
When she went into care we put a large family portrait on a canvas on her wall – with a sheet underneath that had the names of the family members so that the carers could talk to her and answer questions as to who they were.
I have various items that would prove my identity – driving licence, bank card, business cards – mum literally had a completely empty bag – no identity at all.
Friday saw Sharon and I at Kala Sangam meeting with the members of Company of Others. They treated us with real understanding and performed the section of Crackle Dust based on ours stories so that we could respond.
I responded with tears, as did Sharon. It was a real privilege to see your memories brought to life through dance and drama.
The performance is touring the Uk and I hope my memories help others – I’m going to keep writing x