Dementia is more than just a room full of elderly men and women sitting in orphaned armchairs around a television that’s been cranked up so loud that you feel the volume coming through the soles of your shoes.
It’s more than the old man with medals pinned to his chest, who speaks to me as if we are lifelong friends – even though I have never seen him before. He asks me if I know why his wife hasn’t been to visit him for years, and with the very next breath he tells me that she died during the war.
It’s more than the old woman who taps my shoulder every day and continually asks me for a pen so that she can write down the seven digit number that she just keeps repeating over and over and over, until now, it’s something that I’m sure will bounce around inside my head until something else pushes it out.
One of the first three paragraphs is entirely fiction. I made it up. Call me an unreliable narrator… because dementia is more than all of those things. Dementia is also material, for whatever I happen to be writing at the time, or perhaps something I haven’t even started yet. And while that sounds extremely brutal and self-serving, to use a phrase that I absolutely loathe: it is what it is.
Being around the disease daily – I’m ashamed to admit – stimulates the creative juices within me. I love the random and unique conversations I overhear or become a part of while visiting my grandma; nuance and detail that I otherwise may have missed. Nursing homes are (ironically) extremely deep wells of experience, and rich with the history of the individuals who live there.
Now, I’m not advocating a field trip to your local old folk’s home if you don’t have a relative or friend there who you care about, but those little moments have become a crucial side effect of the excursion.
So whenever I doubt myself or try to dismiss the blood, sweat, and tears that I’ve put in to my words over the years, it’s guilty moments like these that remind me: yes, motherfucker, you are a writer.
And if I’m doing all that while I’m there, I guess I really must be.