The Memory Cafe by Ian Small

Ian SmallCaring for a loved one can be a very isolating business. You may not have close relatives. Somehow your pool of friends tends to evaporate. Then your world becomes you and the person you care for, and four walls and a television. Even prisoners get a chance to socialise. I was offered a few hours a week respite with a carer sitting with Dad so I could get out if only to do some shopping. Then the carer told me her organisation ( a registered charity) was starting a Memory Café.

I was a bit uncertain at first. I had been to formal Carers meetings before. These tend to be dominated by lectures about how wonderful the caring experience was at a time when my self-worth was reaching rock bottom. I dreaded going to somewhere where a lot of older people wanted to talk about their illnesses. I was assured the Café would be whatever we wanted it to be. It would be on Tuesday morning which was the highlight of our week (pension morning!) and it was to be held in a local Community Centre

So I got Dad into the wheelchair and we went along, full of dread but with an open mind. Our carer was one of the facilitators and we were made most welcome. The sessions have never been formal. We can be as involved as we want. There has never been a set agenda. We have, over the months reminisced, played games, read books, had sing songs, craftwork sessions or just talked. Yes we talked about illnesses but even that could be therapeutic. We also had visits from children from local schools to entertain us. Over time, the personnel has changed. Sadly a couple of people have passed away but even then their surviving partners have still been welcomed as part of the group.

Dad was taken ill again in April and after a long spell in hospital eventually admitted to a Nursing Home. In the meantime my health suffered and I had two lots of surgery, the second of which was for prostate cancer. After that I have never felt so alone in my life. The house always had people in it and now is empty. I sometimes sit here as I am when composing this piece and all I can hear is a clock ticking. Then our previous carer contacted me and invited me back to the group. My old fears returned. Were the effects of a radical prostatectomy really something I wanted to discuss with a group that was otherwise all female?

I needed have worried. I was welcomed back. I have friends again even if they do enjoy all the gory details! I would suggest to you that if you are isolated, try to find out about a Memory café near you. Or maybe start one yourself. The emphasis has to be on friendship and informality plus the value of reminiscence. I intend to continue going to the group and maybe act as a volunteer in some capacity. My life has some meaning again

Ian S Small
Twitter: @IanSmall4

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