It was one of those doors with a keypad entry system and I didn’t have the number. I was clutching a bag containing a tub of allotment strawberries and a posy of Gertrude Jekyll roses and feverfew from the garden.
“I’ll follow this gentleman in,” I called to the receptionist.
The man’s reply was instant. “I’m not a gentleman,” he said, his face breaking into a broad grin. “I’m a geezer!”
Of course! I was in Essex, deepest, darkest Essex. There must be no greater insult to a proper Essex geezer than to call him a gentleman. I apologised at once. We both laughed and he asked who I was visiting. Shared humour can lighten the darkest situation.
There’s something about dementia units that make you wonder (especially when, like me, you had great difficulty remembering how to get there…) This one is kind, caring, nurturing, but still disturbing.
I shared the allotment strawberries like a boarding school feast with the dear lady I’d come to see, hoping that the sensation of taste had outlived the ability to speak and see. The strawberries were soft and delicious and picked from the allotment that morning. Sharing them, feeding them so someone so dear – herself a great gardener in earlier days – was a poignant and precious experience.
I left the roses in her room, hoping she might still be able to smell the heavenly scent of Gertrude Jekyll.
On the way out I passed my geezer friend. He was cradling his wife gently in his arms, giving her a cup of tea from a trainer cup. Love. There it was, right in front of me. A daily act of tenderness for a woman who no longer recognises him.
We left the unit together, the geezer and I. Our arrival and departure times coincided to the minute. It was an amazing and uplifting Positive Random Encounter.
In the car park, him puffing on his roll-up ciggie, he told me of the distress of seeing the poor treatment his wife had suffered elsewhere, and his relief at seeing her so well cared for now.
And we laughed some more. Horror and humour are necessary bedfellows.
We didn’t speak directly of the cruelty of dementia: how it slowly robs sufferers of their whole selves, and relatives of their loved ones long before they are physically gone. We didn’t discuss the oddness or pain of visiting people who’ve long since forgotten who you are. We both knew that we both knew.
A diamond geezer. And a proper gentleman, whatever he says.