Not doom & gloom

During the first seven months of our separation there has certainly been lots of depressing days and nights – and they erratically persist! I am grateful to my doctor who prescribed a pill to make me feel better and another to help me sleep. Yes, I think I still need both for a bit longer, but I am learning to live better and sleep easier. It’s a long road and still a bit bumpy.

Having an occasional meal with Dorothy at her care home really helps us both to feel comfortable together, too. Sharing the meal table with two other residents also provides an opportunity to encourage conversations or, at least, some happy interactions. The food is good, too!

Dorothy does talk readily, although it is mostly unintelligible. It’s usually one of three types, although that’s an over-simplification, clearly she initiates lots of other conversations!

The first example is when she instigates a usually unwanted exchange with another resident. She sometimes remains so focussed, face-to-face on that person, that it is sometimes difficult to break the intimate one-sided talk. Usually the other resident doesn’t want the encounter, which can lead to a physical rejection and a possible ‘strike-back’. The staff are usually alert and try to avert this happening, but they can’t see around every corner! A second example is when Dorothy simply speaks softly to me (or others) about a number of topics known only to herself. All I can do is try to understand and respond with ‘possible’ replies, or simply just a gentle agreement with a nod.

The third kind of ‘conversation’ is the aggressive response when I suggest she get ready for bed and try to remove garments. I sometimes undertake the task of getting her into her nightdress as a way of helping the staff, who tell me she can be difficult with them at bedtime! I can only do it whenever I am there after the evening meal and, sometimes, it’s easy! At other times she will try to bite and punch me (without actual bodily harm, to date!), so I usually desist, go for a walk with her, talk about other things, then try again a bit later. She will also break into tears and apologise profusely (for resisting), so hugs are needed to restore calmness (for us both!). I guess it must seem to Dorothy like an unwanted violation to be removing clothes when she doesn’t want to. I understand that. Nevertheless, I try to be firm and gentle and we finally succeed! Remarkably, she is then quite content to join the others in their dressing gowns in the lounge and I can give her a kiss goodbye and walk out the door. She quite accepts that routine – doesn’t ever want to leave with me (as she did in the first few weeks of her stay).

I am learning to relax a bit more these days, I am confident that Dorothy is settled and comfortable with three good meals a day. And I know she is being stimulated with a range of activities in a safe environment. There is a great variety of activities carefully planned and orchestrated by the professional staff and I join in whenever I am there. Group exercises and mental stimulation is scheduled daily in the late morning, and they have all sorts of other events at various times of the day and the week. The building has its own ‘cinema’ (even have popcorn sometimes!) and show short films, like travel documentaries. Last month, they had some ‘sensory perceptions’ there, with pictures, colours and scents, as a special stimulatory experience. There is also a ‘safe’ kitchen in Dorothy’s area with some opportunities to help with simple cooking, usually with the senior students from a nearby school. Then there’s craft, jigsaw and other puzzles, games, singalongs and seemingly lots of other things they get up to. There are not too many idle moments! And there’s even a ‘Happy Hour’ on Friday afternoons – carers welcome!

The dozen or so residents in Dorothy’s wing also have ‘walk-at-leisure’ paths, outside in their own secure backyard area, lined alongside with raised garden beds planted with tactile and fragrant plants. All the outdoor paving is of a soft, slightly spongy material often used under children’s playgrounds, and is accessed through any of three auto-opening/closing doors (weather permitting). There are a couple of raised garden beds where residents have planted various vegetables and herbs for touch and smell and colour. In their backyard there is a mechanical diversion of four, safe, spinning ‘steering wheels’, and several bench seats (set at an easy height) for sitting in the sun. Alongside are some large red-flowering gum trees with resident birds! When the weather permits, they also have walks around adjacent streets, and short excursions in their small bus to nearby parks.

A really nice alternative to being ‘inside’ all the time!