Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dementia, or light through a window

I was doing my usual walk to the tram stop yesterday when I noticed an old lady pottering around in her front garden. She told me that she was celebrating her 70th wedding anniversary and proceeded to tell me about the history of her house and would I like to see inside. The house was old and quite large so I accepted her invitation. As we walked from room to room she pointed out various things she loved and along with them stories from her life. The rooms were cluttered and utterly gorgeous, there was an old railway clock on the wall and many antique French and English clocks on the mantle over the fireplace. Indeed, there were clocks in every room. That one’s made of marble. There were old dolls sitting together and sharing space with all kinds of objects on the leather lounge; prints in frames – all with an Australian theme and one large original oil painting after the style of McCubbin hung on a wall near her kitchen. A woven basket from their trip to Papua New Guinea on the top of a cupboard - her walk in pantry overflowing to capacity. And wood, glorious wood was everywhere. In the heavy chest of drawers, cupboards and even one ceiling that they had refused to cover over with paint. The little wooden shoe rack that looked to me like it was from the 1940s; the parquetry floor in the kitchen. A blow up plastic rendition of Superman sat on a table alongside an antique figurine, a small statue of a man with a cloth suit and hat, underneath a feather bower gracefully falling beneath the mirror. Lace curtains graced each window and thick drapes from another era at their side. So much furniture and so much clutter, it was like walking into an antique shop, so many memories – a life lived. And her stories endless, one thought leading to another. Her daughter was sitting quietly in one of the rooms folding paper napkins around a knife and fork. We had a party last night to celebrate their anniversary. I’m just cleaning up. She lives with us the old lady said and proceeded to point things out in the house – the carvings on various pieces of furniture – she ran her fingers over the design as though to make them more real. I noticed the light through the window, caressing the curtains and falling into the room. May I take your photo I said. She smiled and I took a few photographs vowing to drop them back to her after I had them printed. When I came back a few hours later after having my photos printed, her daughter opened the door. I handed the photos to Iris (I finally found out the old lady's name, who was 88 years old) and she said when she saw them that she didn’t know that she looked so pretty. When did you take these? I don’t remember you taking them. I looked at her daughter who quietly mouthed the words ‘dementia’ and I then looked at Iris and I said well I took them a few hours ago. She couldn’t remember and then said to her husband who had walked into the kitchen with his walker. Isn’t she lovely, when did she take these pictures? She walked me outside and then began again to tell me the history of the house, then she looked at me and said you are lovely, who are you? I repeated my name and said I had to go. She smiled and waved goodbye. It was only after that I realized that this was my first experience of being with a person suffering from dementia, but she is certainly more than that!

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