Sunday, 3 March 2013

A busman's holiday...

What does an Oyomesan do on a Saturday night off?

Go see a documentary film about dementia...毎日がアルツハイマー (Everyday is Alzheimer's) is a Japanese film by dierctor Yuka Sekiguchi about living with her mother and the big A - Alzheimer's.

I went to see it for several reasons: a) to compare Okaasan to this lady, b) to try and see how I and Dear Son could be doing better and c) to see what our future might hold.
Excellent movie. Really recommend it. Hate the phrase heart-warming, but it was. And depressing. And funny. And a bit scary.

Sekiguchi returned to Japan after 29 years away in Australia - so virtually a stranger to her mother - and moved into mum's home  to care for mum amid a house stuffed-full of STUFF.

Lots of familiar things: the food hoarding, the mess, the compulsive buying (toilet rolls), the repeating conversations, the stony face, the worried face, the giggles and simple laughter, the negativity, daytime sleeping and nighttime activity.
All there and so familiar.

The movie spans about two years, and mum's face changes - as her eyes show more confusion and sadness and her personal care gets worse and worse. In one shocking scene the daycare workers get mum's socks off and everyone realises she hasn't cut her toe nails in ages...and they are knarled and yellow and animal-like.
There are two interviews with a doctor - the old "What day is today and can you remember three things I told you a few minutes ago?" tests, and brain MRI, and interiews  with experts. And many, many scene of life at home.

The audience in the movie theater was mainly middle aged women - I bet all of us carers to demented family members. All of taking a night off at the movie theater with a film about our daily lives!

Comparing Okaasan? I think her conversation powers are not as strong as Sekiguchi's mum, and her determination NOT to do something (hula/social/buy a coat) is very strong. But she goes out a lot and wants to engage with the world more. That's good.

As I trudged home in the blizzard - Sapporo got hit by a huuuuge

storm yesterday - I felt that the main take-home message of the film was the importance of human interaction, the chats, the little laughs, the breaking up of a day, light, activity, routines, more laughs.
Scenes in the film between mum and grand-daughter were pretty awesome, the simple communication, and then the final scene - where mum watches a video of grandson in Australia playing piano - and her eyes soften as she enjoys the music and applauds. My old, stony heart was warmed.

So, back at the local station I popped into the supermarket to buy cat food. And then bought some sprigs of plum blossom for Okaasan.
Today is Doll's Festival in Japan, a day for families with girl children to display dolls and eat foods colored pink.

While I was out at the film, Okaasan was home with a tabletop cooker pot of food....which she somehow managed to burn. I think I'll be scrubbing that into reuse...

But, for a moment I put THAT to one side, and like a little ray of sunshine I trotted into Okaasan's room just now and asked her advice about arranging the plum blossom. Then together we cleaned the Japanese room display area and set out blossom, dolls, snacks and sweets.
(while she was kneeling I checked her toenails.....all ok there, she is still doing that herself!)
Okaasan happy. Chatting about how she had a big 7-step display of dolls when she was a child. But then all the younger children were boys, until the final girl. And then there was the war....and then her childhood was over.
Happy and chatty. Positioning the dolls, dusting the alcove.
A little bit of happiness in life.

I think I do a good job with Okaasan generally. But I'm not a chatty, big personality person at home (THAT all goes into work as a language teacher), and I envied Sekiguchi her ability to chat along, roar with laughter and generally be a force of energy in her mum's life...and her ability to hold a camera and think of camera-angles while doing domestic stuff.
But I can try to do the little bits of lighthearted things. The chats, the playing cats entertainment, the seasonal/traditional things. I can do that.

A day to be good to my Okaasan and lighten her world.

* P.S. "busman's holiday" is British? slang for a holiday that isn't really a holiday, cos it is doing a familiar thing. Bus drivers who go on a bus tour for their holidays aren't really escaping their everyday working lives.

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