“My mums name was Joan Whitelaw. No one ever asked.”
A tweet from the inspirational dementia campaigner Tommy Whitelaw – @youcanmakeadifference http://tommy-on-tour-2011.blogspot.co.uk/
I met Tommy at an event in Birmingham earlier this year and regular readers will know of Tommy and the marvellous work he does. That tweet really stopped me in my tracks when I first read it. “No one ever asked.” It’s as if a diagnosis of dementia means a person loses their identity altogether. “No one ever asked.” As if a person living with dementia no longer needs a name.
It came to mind again when I visited Mum today. It struck me some time ago that the staff at the home always use a resident’s first name every time they talk to them. As a regular visitor, I’m greeted by some of the residents and I always try to make sure I use their name when I say hello. It’s a small thing but the response – usually a smile and a lingering look – suggests it means something. Today, I spoke to one who seemed quite withdrawn:
“I’ll see you next time J.”
“I might not be here. I’m trying to get out.” She tells me that regularly.
“Well, if you are here, J, I’ll see you next time. It’s a date.”
“Oh,” a smile slowly crossed her lips, “I’ve got a date. Have you got a wife?”
“I have, J….”
“….but I won’t tell her if you don’t.”
“Well, your Mum’s heard it now, it’ll be all over the place.”
“You can keep a secret can’t you Mum…” and so it went on.
What’s in a name? So, so much.