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Picking a favourite

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about which of our talks is my favourite. Luckily, during the editing process, I have been able to watch them all again to help me make my mind up. There are a few it could have been, I’m a big believer in producing clean energy locally and who doesn’t want to watch Antoni Rago talk for hours about just about anything, but for me the stand out talk was Tracey Guiry on the power of poetry to unlock memories.

Tracey’s story of how family life changes when a loved one has dementia will be familiar to many of us. For me personally, it brought back memories of my gran; the person she was before dementia and the person she was with dementia. Like Tracey’s mum, my gran was at the centre of family life. My memories are full of a warm-hearted woman who loved nothing more than being surrounded by her family and taking care of them. While I listened to Tracey speak about her mum’s role in her family, this is the gran I thought of.

However, there are also the other memories of her, the memories of her with dementia. I always think of my family as lucky that, when gran’s condition worsened, she never lost her happy and caring inner self, even as her memory faded and she retreated into a world of her own. However, there is a heavy burden placed upon family members and a tremendous sense of loss as you see the person you knew slowly dwindle. How Tracey spoke so vividly about this without being overcome still amazes me now.

Just as many of us will have experienced the sorrow that dementia can cause, we will also have enjoyed those moments when, as a fond memory suddenly comes to the fore, that familiar person shines through. Tracey’s experience of using poetry to unlock these memories shows that, perhaps, these memories are not as lost as we thought they were.

But it wasn’t just that Tracey told a story so familiar to me that made her talk stand out. Telling a room of strangers about something so personal is a brave thing to do and Tracey did so with eloquence and humour. The whole audience were captivated from start to finish and the attentiveness and emotion in the room were almost palpable. That feeling is something that will stay with me for a long time.

John Petrie