My journey of understanding about dementia began as a carer for my mother. She came to live with us following the death of my father. Her entry into our daily lives was a shock as we struggled to understand her life and needs. Reflecting on this now of course I am aware that I got things wrong so many times. To try to understand what living with dementia meant I read everything I could. A colleague advised me to look at Tom Kitwood (1997) and Kitwood’s flower made a lot of sense. I also looked at the Alzheimer's website (www.alzheimers.org.uk), and personal stories about dementia (such as Christine Bryden 2005). I signed up for e-mail alerts from the Stirling University, Dementia Research UK and Alzheimer's Society and became a Dementia Friends Champion. On Youtube I found David Sheard talking about the 50 pence piece moment: a revelation to me and I started to think about Butterfly moments and was inspired to build on my work as a lecturer and qualify to become a dementia trainer - to contribute to changing the culture of social work and social care in relation to dementia.
Exploring my own feelings and emotions was a challenge during this training. I was put to the test when my mother died shortly before the third set of training days. I realise now that I had relied on her when being a trainer - she was my inspiration, my teacher, the reason for me doing the course. I told one person on the workshop that my mother had died but then I did not talk about it for the two days until I found an exercise particularly difficult because it brought so many feelings up for me. I thought about how I could have managed it differently and about the importance of acknowledging how my feelings affect me on a daily basis. Learning as a trainer the importance of monitoring thoughts and emotions as they happen - to be aware of what is happening inside me, acknowledging and accepting them - has helped me to be more self aware. Prior to my mother’s death I could happily talk about her when presenting dementia training sessions, using examples from my daily contact with her. Even when there had been difficult moments and sad days, I knew that the next day could be different and wonderful. Without her I felt bereft, with nothing to draw on to enhance my training. Working through my grief however brought a renewed energy, and awareness that her gift to me was the passion to support people living with dementia. More than anything else I realised the importance as a trainer of using an experiential and feeling based approach…of the need to include my mum and not leave her out. The impact that emotional memory can have has been very personal here and something that I try to bring into my training now.