It’s Mum’s Christmas party today. Well, not her’s exactly but it’s the care home’s Christmas party for residents and family. In a sense, we’re all part of one large family, occasionally a little disfunctional (“You’re sitting in my chair…”) but a happy one nevertheless. Family has always been so important to Mum and I’m thankful for the sense of warmth and community which greets me when I visit.
So, my first task today is to find my santa hat. At one time, I was the proud owner of a full Santa suit which I was given for taking part in a “Santa Dash” for a local hospice. Sadly, in straining to cross the line, the suit tore in a rather unfortunate place and even a hoarder like me could find no good reason to retain it. So, the hat will have to suffice. I’m looking forward to the party. I remember last year that Mum seemed a little bewildered when the Christmas Tree appeared – “Look at that, I’m not sure what that’s doing here….” – but she seemed satisfied with my response and, as always, joined in with the carols with as much gusto as she could find. It isn’t like Christmases of old – of course it isn’t – but it’s joyful. As I’ve said before, this care home does what it says: it cares about the people under its roof.
I thought a lot about Mum yesterday. I was at a conference on MIndfulness, a technique or concept which is useful in my role as a coach but perhaps should also be part of all our daily lives. I won’t rattle on about it too much – suffice to say, it’s about awareness, paying attention to the present, being non-judgmental and has roots in buddhist meditation. (There – far better minds than mine have written weighty tomes in search of a definition and I’ve done it before breakfast.) Mindfulness works for me because of the emphasis on attention to what is happening now. It’s so easy – well, it is for me anyway – to focus on the past, on what might have been lost or on the future, on what might or might not happen. For Mum, for most dementia patients, there is only the present – the past is gone and for Mum inaccessible, the future means nothing. All she has is now. All I can give her is now.
The title of this post comes from a song by a favourite band of mine, The Flaming Lips. The song’s content is hardly relevant as the protagonist is a time traveller and I’ve never thought of Mum crossing dimensions. But the song concludes with these lines:
All we have is now,
All we’ve ever had was now
All we have is now
All we’ll ever have is now*
Perhaps that’s not the most compelling definition of Mindfulness but for me, it’s a starting point. I’m guilty of living in the past, particularly when Mum is concerned and particularly at this time of year. Recently, after a visit, I drove to the house in which Mum had spent her teenage years and early 20s. It’s a house, in an area of Birmingham, in which I spent happy years up to the age of eight when my grandparents moved (or downsized as it would doubtless be called today). I’m not sure what compelled me to go there but I’m sure it had to do with trying to re-connect with happy times, to bridge the gap between Mum today and Mum then. I was relieved to see that the house still appeared to be loved. The detour, even though it was focussing on the past, had a positive outcome.
I told Mum about it but, predictably, it seemed to mean nothing to her. For Mum, there is no past. Even five minutes ago is a lifetime or more away. If dementia has one thing to teach us, it’s about living in the here and now, and – if possible – valuing every minute.
Now, where’s that santa hat?
*”All We Have Is Now” by Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd
Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing