I was so excited to be able to go back into Emma’s care home recently to finally visit her in person again! It had been a whole year since the last time I’d seen her. Although I couldn’t wait to visit again, I was surprised to also feel apprehensive. I knew it wouldn’t be a case of going back in and simply picking up where I’d left off. I realised it was possible Emma wouldn’t remember me, and that she would have deteriorated due to the degenerative nature of dementia. I tried to be realistic in my expectations, and prepare myself for the fact that I might not get my usual greeting where she would place her hand on my cheek and call me ‘duck’, beaming a wonderful bright smile. I knew that I shouldn’t expect this, but deep down I couldn’t help but still hope she’d greet me this way. I was afraid of how much of my Emma I would still have, but I know that, in dementia support, it’s so important to focus on what we have rather than what we don’t have.
You may have read in our blog ‘Writing To Emma During The Pandemic’ how I had kept in contact as much as possible by sending personalised postcards twice a week through TouchNote and dropping off flowers. The carers had been so thoughtful and placed all these pictures on Emma’s wall so she could look at them from her bed. Another reason I had sent postcards like these was in preparation for when I was allowed back in to see Emma, as I knew they would make fantastic talking points, as we could discuss which ones she liked most and she could tell me about the many different varieties of flowers that I previously hadn't known about. I had recently drawn inspiration from David Attenborough, using some of his amazing photographs of flowers and the wondrous places that he has visited. One example was a picture taken from the inside of a blue hydrangea which looked like a cloud. Drawing on the creativity of this, I wondered what it might remind Emma of. I now had the opportunity to be able to ask all these types of questions in person!
After I’d done my lateral flow test, I was taken in to see Emma. I was struck by how frail she looked, and I couldn’t help my heart sinking. Although I had tried to prepare myself, I couldn’t help but still be hopeful. Emma’s eyes were open but she was falling in and out of sleep. I slowly and calmly came to the side of her bed and gently touched her arm. I made sure I spoke softly but loud enough for Emma to hear; the environment was ideal as it was calm and peaceful. When I spoke to Emma, I tried to sound unrushed (even though I knew we had only 30 minutes) and as though we had all the time in the world together and nothing else mattered. I greeted her and told her how much I had missed her. I decided at this point that talking about the postcards wasn’t appropriate for this visit, but I had prepared a second option, as it’s always best to have a choice so you can adjust to the feelings of the person on the day.
I had prepared something that we could enjoy together in the moment, as focusing on the ‘here and now’ is a great approach when you are rebuilding a relationship. I knew that Emma had a great fondness of British birds, so I had taken along different recordings of robins, blackbirds, sparrows and blue tits – Emma’s favourite! I played each of the bird songs, and her eyes widened slightly at the beginning of each clear call, which indicated to me that she could hear them. Then, a little smile appeared. I asked, ‘Can you hear the blackbird? The robin?’ and so on. I very softly stroked her cheek like a mother would a child, which can be very comforting for those living with dementia. Emma’s eyes became watery, and she smiled a soft smile. I had the feeling through eye contact alone that we had created such a meaningful connection, and to me it felt like I had ‘found’ her again in that moment (I must admit, my eyes became a bit watery too!). I was overwhelmed that something so small could have such an impact on both of us. Those 30 minutes seemed to rush by, but I was so happy to be reunited with Emma and I look forward to having time together again soon.
If you would like to read about more approaches you could use when revisiting your loved one now restrictions are easing, click through to our blog: How to Reconnect with Loved Ones After Lockdown.