wings and things

Make Believe


When Anthony asked me about the faulty electric fence today, I reassured him that it was fixed.

Anthony: Really?

Me: Yes! Would I lie to you?

Anthony: I don’t know.

Me: Well guess how I know the electric fence is working?

Anthony: How?

Me: Because I put my hand on it and got a terrible shock!

Okay so this conversation elicited one of Anthony’s amazing smiles (when we were married I didn’t realise he was a sadist!)

Anyway, now that I am being more diligent at recording our conversations, I’ve noticed that my responses to Anthony’s questions or statements (often bizarre due to dementia) are really bland. So today I thought I’d liven things up a bit by telling the electric fence story – total make believe!

There was a period of time recently where I thought Anthony had completely lost his ability to speak, converse, tell stories. But now – just like the return of his smile – his verbal skills seem to have improved.

Of course he is still dozy, and/or incoherent, and sometimes has that blank Parkinson’s expression on his face, for much of the time.

The fact that Anthony looked through his nursing home window and saw an electric fence that wasn’t there gave me an opportunity to enter today’s ‘story’. I am so excited to realise something I should have realised years ago – that I can make things up to match what he is saying – that I can use my imagination to meet his hallucinations.

Make Believe



Empathy requires effort

A few thing have happened lately that have drawn my attention to the notion of empathy – that ability to identify with someone else’s suffering and to feel it too. This is not as easy as sympathy.

Okay the first thing that made me think about empathy was (as blogged previously) Ming’s inability to feel it for Anthony. Then, last night, after Ming got home from his weekend away, he was obviously unconcerned about my asthma until I said, “Why don’t you care?”

“Because I don’t know what it feels like, Mum!” he said. Ïf you want me to care, you have to tell me to; if you want my support, you have to tell me how.”

Food for thought: empathy doesn’t necessarily come naturally.

The second thing that made me think about empathy was a blogpost by a friend whose beautiful daughter died recently after years of suffering. This mother’s grief is raw and almost unbearable to read about, and my sympathy for her is enormous, but what about my empathy?

So I tried to imagine it; I tried to imagine my only child, Ming, dying and dead, but I couldn’t get my imagination to get beyond his dying to his death because it was too hard. I felt so wretched with grief I had to stop my imagination.

Food for thought: Empathy does come naturally to some and I thought I was one of those, but I’m not sure anymore whether it is possible to feel empathy (automatically) for someone who has experienced something that you haven’t.

How can 19-year-old Ming feel empathy for his 77-year-old father? Is it something that needs to be taught?

I wonder.