Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to a lovely, receptive audience at a Grey Power meeting. I started by talking about why I wrote What Are You Doing Here? Reflections on Dementia, but spent most of the time discussing why it’s important to talk about dementia and why personal stories are so important.
There are plenty of very good caregiving handbooks or guides around, and they are invaluable for people in the middle of day-to-day coping and caring. But I wanted to reach a wider audience of people who probably know someone with dementia or a caregiver, but don’t necessarily have those daily caregiving demands themselves. When I first started writing, people told me that they weren’t so interested in caring tips—they wanted to read personal stories.
Here are just a few of the things that make personal stories powerful and engaging:
- People connect with stories
- Stories are a way of sharing experience and can illuminate a subject in a way not otherwise possible
- It’s reassuring and validating to read of others with similar experiences
- Stories ‘fill in the gaps’ and can reveal what not obvious to outsiders
- Stories come from the heart and touch our hearts
Stories invite other stories. One person tells their story and another adds theirs. When I invited questions at the end of my presentation, one woman stood and told a little of how she and her husband coped with dementia. I had spoken about the importance of concentrating on what a person can still do, rather than what they can’t. The woman illustrated this point beautifully by telling us how her husband was still able to add figures and she would give him lists of figures, which kept him happily occupied doing something that he could do well.
Obviously this was just a glimpse of a much larger story, but it was important for many reasons. I’m sure, for example, it’s a revelation for many that a person with dementia is often capable of intellectually demanding tasks.
It’s so rewarding when people connect with stories and a talk becomes a conversation.