A blog by Heather Cartledge
Grayson Perry’s recent fascinating series ‘Who are you?’ explored the different identities that people assemble around themselves, like armour. Perry particularly noticed how we brandish our accomplishments, whether they be professional or personal, like swords raised against those whom we imagine judge us. When Perry interviewed a man living with dementia and his wife, Perry came to realise that the man’s armour so hard won and carefully constructed, was disappearing as he forgot his accomplishments one by one. Interestingly, Perry observed that the gentleman’s wife was slowly taking on more of her husband’s identity – not becoming him but becoming the vessel that carried her husband’s achievements and memories for him. She was becoming his armour against sympathetic looks, generic treatment and against dementia. She was the one saying ‘look what he has achieved, please don’t write him off’
Jane, the lady at the centre of my circle, lives with dementia in a nursing home. I went to see her yesterday and while sitting there I wondered who would be her vessel? Who would make sure that Jane was not ‘written off’ before her time?
Let me tell you a little about Jane from what I know of her. She is gentle. She has curly grey hair that is always neat. She has a twin whom she adores and a fierce passion for tennis. She has two sons and grandchildren who live in the South and don’t get to see her very much. She is a perfect hostess who gets frustrated with the fact that she can’t make me tea herself. She has a room of pictures and photographs, and likes to keep everything ‘just so’.
And yesterday, reflecting on all that I knew about Jane, I wondered if it were us circle members that would become vessels for her. However, as I watched her busy away and chat and talk, I thought…’we aren’t supposed to be here to act as a memorandum, we are here to make sure that that which is important to Jane continues to happen’.
We as circle members are not supposed to collect her stories like dream catchers, we are here to make sure that she has stories to tell. We do that by making sure that Jane continues to do what she likes to do, that she carries on living her life in the way that she would like to. Admittedly, there are limitations to what is possible; Jane lives in a residential home and will continue to do so, her illness will eventually be a bigger influence on what we can do than it is now and staff at the home are very busy and so finding a regular activity that the staff can participate in is quite hard. Nonetheless, I realised the importance of Community Circles lies not only in improving a person’s lives but also in helping people to keep their identity. For a person living with dementia, Circles can provide a different type of armour – a community armour that allows a person to continue to be part of the things that they want to be.
As I left yesterday, I felt glad to be part of a circle and glad to protect part of the person that is Jane.