When I heard of the strict no visitation rules for care homes during the pandemic, my thoughts were filled with concern for Ruth. In my role as a Creative Companion, I was a regular visitor to her in her care home, as she has no family that live nearby. I knew that connection was very important to her and would be key. She was struggling to understand what Covid-19 was and the implications of lockdown. Ruth appeared to get a lot out of her visits, and I was concerned about the impact that the pandemic would have on our relationship – I felt so helpless.
I started to use an app called TouchNote, which allowed me to take pictures that I could then send as postcards. I decided to send Ruth pictures of her famous aunt, of whom she would frequently speak. I had previously taken pictures of her in and it had elicited a fantastic response from Ruth, so I thought it would be ideal.
I remembered Ruth telling me of a hockey team that she used to belong to, and I managed to find a picture on the internet. She was also in a ladies cricket team, but I didn’t have much luck finding any team photos. However, as chance would have it, the cricket pitch Ruth used to play on is only half a mile away from my house, so I went for a walk and took pictures of the cricket pavilion. Ruth also happened to have mentioned that she would frequent the local pubs after a match, so I took pictures of those too and wrote about how I remembered her telling me that she learnt to play darts there.
In all my postcards, I avoided using questions that started with ‘Do you remember?’ as this can lead to frustration or embarrassment when sometimes she can’t. I had to be mindful of how I worded my messages. By recalling the chats we used to have, I came up with lots of memory prompts for the postcards that might support reminiscence and the feeling of connection. I found Ruth’s old high school in Leeds, her brother’s school in Bradford and her family’s old grocery store in Yorkshire. I searched for anything of personal relevance I could find to provide connection so she would feel part of something.
Then, one day, I was informed that Ruth had had a fall and was in hospital. In a normal world, I would have been able to visit her in hospital to provide reassurance. During the pandemic, this was out of the question. All I could do was to think of what I could send to her ward. I decided to send a puzzle book, as puzzles provide exercises in brain memory and I know that she enjoys them. I also sent a newspaper, as Ruth likes to know what’s going on in the world, and to feel that she is part of it.
When you are in hospital, you can feel incredibly disconnected from the world, so I sent a letter so that she would know that she was being thought of, along with some chocolates, which I knew she would be very pleased with (Ruth frequently requested chocolate on my visits). I knew how scary it must have been for her in hospital, especially during such a stressful time, so I hoped the knowledge that someone was thinking of her served as an anchor. Feeling connected to someone is a vital psychological need.
I am absolutely thrilled to say that I am now able to visit again, and I have seen Ruth a couple of times now. I was overjoyed to see her. As I walked in, her eyes met mine and her face lit up. I noticed that all her postcards were placed on the walls, and we looked over each one. Some touched some memories and we chatted a lot about her aunt, and Ruth discussed her wish to put all of the pictures we have of her aunt in an album, which I look forward to doing with her. It feels wonderful to be able to start planning activities and sharing precious moments again.