We're delighted to have a guest blog from Penny Greenland, Artistic Director of JABADAO and an inspiration for Finding Joy

One in three of us will get dementia. We have to make it as good a time of life as any other. We have to...

Rachael [Savage, Artistic Director of Vamos], who’s an old friend, came to stay at our cottage when Nursing Lives came to Suffolk. Curled on the sofa, late into the evening, we nattered about our families, our lives, our work. With me Artistic Director at JABADAO and Rachael Artistic Director at Vamos we had much to share. Two women completely tied up with our families, but also with our work.

Already with much in common, we discovered that both of us were at the start of new work in the area of dementia. And we started to talk about my mum, who has dementia, and my family, (brother, partner, children) all of whom are involved in looking after her on a daily basis.

The stories tumbled out. I suppose it is a big thing to do - a big part of life. So there are many, many stories. And Rachael listened. Really listened. This was a treat for me ... it is quite a hidden thing, looking after someone. It’s not that we don’t go out together, or that I don’t speak about our lives.  It’s just that how I feel about it, what I think about it, is generally not on the agenda. Life with someone with dementia is pretty full of reacting in the moment: or making space. There isn’t much time for reflection.

A long time later Rachael came to stay again. Things have moved on. Now we are living at my mum’s, as she needs 24/7 company and support. Curled in an armchair in Audrey’s sitting room (she doesn’t recognise it as hers, but likes it all the same), Rachael talks with my mum, with me, with the other carers. We put on music - probably ballet music - and dance, Audrey and me; and Rachael dances too. She spends two days with us, mirroring our daily routines, being part of them. And what a huge treat it is to share them; to be seen, recognised, as I go about this hidden part of my life.

On her last of several visits, Rachael meets the most important person in all of this: my son. Two years ago Rowan said - out of the blue -: ‘I want to look after Gran and I’ll train to look after other elderly people as well”. This was the start of an extraordinary time when he spent each weekday with his grandmother, and his mates would visit too, companionably supporting her to make life good. He was an inspiration - they were a joy to watch together. He knew just how to be with her. Never patronising, always attentive, totally focused on her needs as an older woman with much to offer. How did he know that? I have no idea. He just did.

Rachael recognised Rowan’s stories as special and she knew how to share them.

My brother or I will be putting my mum to bed tonight, as always, just about the time that Finding Joy will be starting in a theatre somewhere. And many other families will be doing just the same, enjoying each other, facing challenges, making life work, making life good.

One in three of us will get dementia. We have to make it as good a time of life as any other. We have to... Finding Joy asks some important questions about how.

Penny Greenland

Our headline picture is of Audrey and Rowan