I was sure that when I started working as an Elderflower I would find it very sad. The word Dementia brought to mind words like loss, grief, despair. I know from the response I get when I tell people what I do that this mindset is commonplace.
What I have since learned is that far from being sad, my days working as an Elderflower have been some of the most profound, enriching and joyful days of my life. This work has confirmed my hunch that we are so much more than our memories and our personalities. We are also our bodies and our senses, our emotions and our need for connection. As Elderflowers we know that sometimes friendships are made and re-made instantly and joyfully and sometimes they take many weeks to build. Sometimes they involve chit-chat and sometimes they are silent. However they are made, we make them wholeheartedly, person to person.
In her book Lost & Found, Jules Montague says that ‘the declaration of the disease is not a declaration of character’ and as Elderflowers we see evidence of this every day. With no expectations or requirements, we meet people wherever they are – be it in deep distress or pure joy – and journey on alongside. A day might involve discovering hidden ‘Scat’ skills to laughing uncontrollably for no reason at all, to being given advice on how to find love (you’ll know when it’s the one) whether to get married (don’t bother) and how to get rich (move to Guernsey and marry a banker). It might involve untangling an old bicycle chain, sorting out a petticoat or being told off for teasing an Elderflower cousin…We are gifted with gems of pure wisdom and we are always met with unapologetic (often hilarious) honesty.
If you have ever considered becoming a Dementia Friend or are putting off visiting a relative or neighbour who is living with Dementia for fear of not knowing what to say or finding it upsetting, you are not alone – it can be a daunting prospect. But please take this Dementia Action Week as an opportunity to take the first step. Don’t just take my word for it that it is enriching and worthwhile. I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly encourage you to go for it and find out for yourself.
Hearts & Minds run workshops for people who are caring for a loved one living with dementia at home. We know you can feel anxious, frustrated and isolated. Let us help you with techniques we use that will encourage communication and engagement with your loved ones.