What Greater Gift

ImageMeet Tom. He’s the latest arrival at Mum’s care home and is every bit as cute as he looks. Tom was found by two of the care home team in a nearby beauty spot and, as cats sometimes do, he followed them home. None of the occupants of the houses around recognised Tom, so he became the youngest resident of the care home community. The title of this post is taken from a quotation by Charles Dickens – pretentious, moi? – and in full it reads: “What greater gift than the love of a cat.” Judging by the look on Mum’s face, it’s a sentiment with which she’d readily agree.
Conversation with Mum was very stilted today. It was clear than when I talked about her cousin who’s recently left hospital after a bout of pneumonia, Mum hadn’t the least idea who I was talking about. Pam is ten years older than Mum and has known her longer than anyone. In the world of dementia, though, that means nothing. So, I rattled on telling Mum news of people which once would have consumed her interest but now is just audible wallpaper. One thing was different today though – Tom. As he lay sleeping on my lap, he gave me a ready option and a means of capturing Mum’s attention again, albeit briefly. I’ve written before about the semi-resident dog at the home – Cocoa – who was absent today and will probably be decidedly put out by the new arrival. Mum has a natural affinity with Cocoa and her calm presence struck a chord with Tom too. He happily settled on her lap and would have stayed there all afternoon but Mum wanted to move when I left so Tom was displaced. It wouldn’t have taken him long to find another lap-shaped home.
Much has been written about the positive impact pets can have on those living with dementia. Alzheimer’s Scotland recently launched a “Dementia Dog” project in association with Guide Dogs and Dogs for the Disabled. The early signs are promising. You can read more about it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-23277537
A care home specialising in Dementia – Telechapi Manor in California – began fostering kittens two years ago. I’ve no idea whether the project is still going on but one of the staff commented at the time that although the residents struggled with memory, the kittens helped them remember feelings. That struck a chord with me as I sat with Mum today. Eye contact with me was minimal (that might have been because I was even boring myself by the end) but Mum never stopped stroking Tom. She seemed very relaxed in his company. Surely, Tom’s presence will do Mum and many others a power of good.
And so I left in a more positive frame of mind than I often do. Mum struggles to express love these days but her actions sometimes speak louder than words ever will. I returned to my two cats – neither of whom deemed my homecoming worthy of anything more than a briefly opened eye. Home wouldn’t be home without them though. As the French novelist Collette once wrote – there I go again with my literary allusions -: “Time spent with a cat is never wasted.”

Tom is very much at home

Tom is very much at home

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2 Responses to What Greater Gift

  1. Anna Connolly says:

    It is lovely to see your Mum smile with the cat.
    Something I will share with you and others – I bought Mum an Easter bunny holding an egg. A big cuddly toy bunny. To be honest I was avoiding too much chocolate for her as she would eat the whole thing in one go. I was astonished to find that Mum loves the bunny and it has pride of place sitting beside her pillow on the bed for over a year now. It is a very strange illness with lots of twists and turns but this obviously reached down into her childhood and she gets comfort from it (which helps me). We often connect by singing together which also helps.
    You are not alone in this.

    • Thanks Anna.My youngest niece bought a knitted rabbit for Mum many years ago and hat still lives on her bed. I think we take comfort in the smallest things but as carers/relatives, we share a lot of common experiences.

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