Our project at the Pinfold Centre in Bury is to work with people who have a dementia diagnosis, devising life stories for use as their memories are eroded by the disease.
We’re trying to find a space in life story work that speaks to the subjective, quirky, curious, complex mix that we all are. Life stories are of course forms of narrative and there are many kinds of narrative and narrators, including the unreliable.
|Paula's family tree (detail)|
The life-story books that are our guide are a wonderfully helpful resource for people dealing with dementia and who might need prompting in order to access their memories. The books contain lists of likes and dislikes, favourite people, family photos and much else. They are used by carers to get a sense of someone’s life and so that they’re able to talk with them and include them in activities. There is a side product of these books that is to do with legacy, the handing on of family stories and traditions and information.
However, these books can also be prescriptive and limiting. What other ways are there to tell these stories?
Our first explorations have been around the idea of family trees and the metaphor of trees more generally, with their subtle networks. Trees also bring along ideas of fairytales, renewal and growth – and being lost in the woods. It’s a kind of family tree centred around one person that we’ve in mind. Perhaps this could be a beginning for some people, from which all of the outgrowths of anecdotes, memories, artworks and poems can take shoot?
But families can also bring disastrous memories – of trauma and abuse - stories of which we’ve encountered in the sessions. And in other cases, the very fact that family memories are being displaced by dementia is upsetting enough – people don’t want to be reminded that memory itself is under attack. And so other shapes, other narratives are needed too…
|Kathleen's family tree (detail)|