Dementia carer Linda Harman shares her thoughts on how hard it is saying bye when she visits her mother in her care home, and the best way to go about it.
The image will be burned into my memory forever; Mum stands in the upstairs lobby as I enter the lift to leave. I repeat several times that I have to go, but will be back in a few days – business and my own family await my return.
She nods and says simply, “yes” then turns and walks sadly away, her shoulders hunched and her tiny frame communicating regret to me. It is a scene that has happened several times now. How to leave gently is a question faced by anyone who loves a parent living in residential care.
My mother has lived with dementia for over 10 years now. I am her safety blanket and I know that my family and I are fortunate that her particular dementia, though severe in many aspects, has not robbed her of knowing who we all are. She is often confused, her comprehension variable and her speech now non-existent apart from an occasional word.
But the dementia wheels turn in the most unpredictable manner and I am careful about the conversations I have with other people when around Mum, as I am certain that she understands far more than she can tell us. It must be the most frustrating experience and I always try to remember that however uncomfortable the dementia journey is for me, it must be far worse for her.
I take great comfort in knowing that my visits bring my mother pleasure – indeed they bring pleasure to the whole group of people that she now lives with, many of whom I now count as my friends. We share whatever items I have brought with me to support a short chat, photographs, Smell & Connect cards, hand cream, perfume, flowers or food. Inspecting them, we gossip like a group of friends over a cup of tea or coffee.
We amble slowly around the garden or take a short walk up the road. The walks are necessarily brief now, but Mum enjoys the fresh air and exclaims over the things she sees, raises her arms upwards to celebrate the fresh air, always comments on a blue sky with a pointed finger. The simplest thing can make her smile. I am rewarded by her smiles and know that my efforts are valuable in helping to maintain her quality of life despite dementia.
It’s all about communication. So back to the start of this article, how to say good bye gently? Once more it is about using all the senses to soothe, connect and reassure; a hug, the touch of a hand, a stoke of the arm, allowing yourself to be kissed (in my case, as an up-tight Northerner, I’ve even learned how to be embraced by people I don’t know!).
And then a gesture that was first taught to us by our parents – a wave of your hand which says “adieu” but also means “I’Il be back soon”…