Dementia Diary – Stuck in a Moment
In amidst the bubbling and boiling emotional sea that
can beset the voyage of any dementia carer, there can be intuitive and
insightful moments. Needless to say, the depth to which we are almost submerged
in that sea can mask any level of learning and discovery we may get from the
insights. It is in the very nature of those things that we are coming to terms
with all the time.
Yesterday my Dad was awake and came downstairs early
and, as happens sometimes, he ‘dressed’ by putting another pair of pyjamas over
the top of the ones he was wearing when he woke up! Life is easier for us both when
I choose to not take an interventionist line, so I paid no attention to this
double layer of nightwear. However, I did fetch his dressing gown and helped
him on with that, as I knew it would afford him an extra layer of warm and protective
raiment – however long he would be choosing to stay up.
Pottering around, reading, eating, drinking and playing a considerable amount
of music on the pedal harmonium in his ‘lounge’. I’d written him out a list of
Christmas songs and carols and he worked his way through it several times, and
at some point he found me and proceeded to tell me all about them – and “what a good list this was that someone had done” for him! And this
was another thing there was little point in labouring, i.e that the someone was me!
We are all conditioned to certain habits and
behavioural loops. It is part of how we pattern up our world, make sense of it
and make it work for us. Routines are just that – strategies to help things
function at both a macro and a micro level. From how we brush our teeth and get
dressed, to the route we take to work, to how we deal with our social interactions,
eat our food etc. Patterns and routines; how B follows A and how we make our
way to X, Y and bed.
My Dad was a POW for most of World War 2, and
through the winter of 1944-45 he was part of many camps in Poland and the east
of Germany where the inmates were moved westwards ahead of the Russian advance.
This movement was not by transport, but on foot – day after day, week after
week. It was known as the Long March to Freedom.
he’d arrived back home in England. He’d gone out one morning for a walk up into
Wimbledon town, yet well into the afternoon time was moving on and he still
hadn’t returned home. Eventually he arrived back after dark, worn out and
hungry and when asked where he’d been and what he’d been doing he just said, “Walking and finding my way home.” However,
after some further enquiries and discoveries it transpired that, when left to his own devices, he’d always
walk on the right hand roadside pavement, and he’d always turn right at road
junctions. Needless to say this accounted for his somewhat convoluted route along
the suburban streets, back from his visit to the town.
He’d got into marching rhythm as he was coming home from the centre of town –
and got into a loop that had been imprinted on him during the trauma of the Long
Matter of Life and Death
They’d been told by the accompanying guards on the
march that when they were ordered to get off the roads – because of swoops by
Allied aircraft – they were to ALWAYS get off to the right. If they stayed
where they were they would probably be shot by the strafing cannon fire from
the aircraft, and if they went off to the LEFT they would be shot as escapees
by the German guards. Apparently, some prisoners failed to obey orders and ended
up being shot dead. So the imprint – and the habitual loop – went as deep as it
gets. It was, quite simply, go right to stay alive.
So the time came round and he eventually made his
way back upstairs to bed. But it was taking him ages to get into bed, and every
time I looked in to see, or take him the promised cup of tea, he was still
walking around the bedroom clearly looking for something.
when I ask him, but last night I got no meaningful answer to my questions. He
kept looking in the bed, feeling how warm the electric blanket was and so on,
and then he’d carry on the search elsewhere. Even when I invited him to take
off his dressing gown and I’d hang it up, so then he could get into bed, he was
still just Stuck In The Moment – as the U2 song goes!
He couldn’t get himself together as he
was stuck in the moment and he couldn’t get out of it!
And then I realised he was looking for his pyjamas.
He was looking for what he was wearing, but he couldn’t see the pyjamas on
himself because he was wearing the dressing gown and they were hidden from
stepped out of the loop and got into bed!
Later Was better;
His way had faltered along his stony path;
But it was just a moment and the time had passed.