by Guest Writer
Basically, we’re all trying to get home, by Kirstie Richardson
Recently I started work in a care home which specialises in people living with dementia alongside residential assisted living and a nursing wing for end of life and more complex conditions.
What struck me immediately on the dementia floor, and later on other floors, is that everyone is trying to get somewhere. They were late, needed to pick up children, needed to be picked up by their parents, needed to put on the dinner for their husband or their elderly mother. Or they simply needed to get home. Their sense of urgency, desperation and panic is heart-breaking. Indeed, many dementia wards have installed a bus stop specifically to respond to this innate urge to return from where we came from.
I began to wonder why we all feel such a strong sense to return to our nests, to our places of comfort. As the environmental movement artist Helen Poynor once expressed when talking about returning to England after living away for many years, ‘I needed to go where my bones felt at home’. Furthermore, Liz Koch writes in Stalking Wild Psoas that ‘it’s the sense of being in bone that increases our sense of embodiment’. The idea that home is not just a physical place and that we each have the capability to connect deeply within to find our inner nest offers great comfort and encouragement. It is a call to explore one’s inner landscape.
As I find myself here in California for three weeks after leaving the UK in a whirlwind family drama, I think of the many residents who have had their lives packed up and found themselves somewhere else trying to find their ground, adjust and make a new home. But what if a new home can never be realised while we are in a state of shock, unwell, confused, disorientated? What then? What if we are outside of postcode and country with different smells, food, accents, people, common ground and sense of humour? How then do we re-connect?
And to add to this list, what if all those we trusted are no longer with us, ignoring us (or so it might seem) or unable to visit? Everything we know now and have previously known has disappeared. We have landed on the moon far far away and nothing will ever be the same. And to make matters worse, we need care, lots of it and we are going to need much more as time goes by. And sadly, for those individuals who are painfully aware of their deterioration, all of the above is amplified.
As a movement practitioner, my interest lies in my somatic practice and I constantly ask myself how do I reconnect? What do I need to put in place to gather myself? I lie on the bed in my hotel room and can feel the panic in my cellular self. I am not at one, not rested and not able to rest or to feel. I am numb. I tell myself “first things first: remember to breathe, don’t panic, go in deep and listen.” This is a luxury because of course, I can do this. This is what I do and teach but what about those others that I am looking after from a very different generation – those taught to toe the line, to sit still and be quiet, not to make a fuss. What about them? After all, most people don’t know what a “somatic practice” is.
And so I suppose that is what my job is and what I find myself constantly trying to do. How can I connect with this individual who is discombobulated and unsure of almost everything so that I can then connect through them and with them? I want to facilitate and create the space and allow them to unfold and perhaps notice what they need and want. Above all, I want to be able to assist them in this process of feeling at home, physically and mentally. Noticing what they want to surround themselves with and their creature comforts – for example, smells, cushions, lighting, music, books and objects – is a very individual process and not always obvious and is only the tip of the iceberg.
So finally, how do I connect on a less superficial level with another person? The only way I know-how and the only way we all know-how. We have to smell, crawl, taste, hear, touch and feel our way through. And always to ask the question: how can I be of service and how can I help carry your bones home?
Kirstie Richardson is an Entelechy Arts affiliate artist. In September 2019, you could find her in a sea of people at the Age Against the Machine Festival 21st Century Tea Dance at the Albany, working with a queue of elders on touch-based Alexander Technique, whilst the atmosphere buzzed around them.