Friday, 23 January 2015

Essential me.

Dementia changes so much - but it doesn't change the essential "me" of a person. The deep down, who you are and how you react with the world.
Been thinking about this recently.
After seeing the documentary film "Alive Inside/Personal Song", and rereading "And Still The Music Plays" by Graaham Stokes.

Who is the essential Okaasan? And how is she coping with this life situation? Dementia and living with a son and his non-Japanese woman?

Okaasan was born in 1930s Kawagoe, a large regional-center city north of Tokyo. Surrounded by farms, full of temples and tradition.
Her father had his own truck driving business - delivering goods all over the Tokyo area. A rare thing: having a driving license and having a truck. Kawagoe was famous for making the wooden chests called tansu, and his customers were local manufacturers who gave him their chests to deliver to customers. The family home was in the city center and had a telephone for business use. Local people came to use the telephone for emergencies. They had a pond with carp in the garden.
Her mother had come from the far north of Japan, where HER father had been a kind of community leader. She had six kids, and Okaasan was the oldest and expected to do a lot of housework and helping with the younger siblings.

War changed it all.

The family stayed in Kawagoe, Okaasan's school sent the children to work in the fields helping farmers, or in a factory making underwear for soldiers on big machines. Her father was a military driver. Kawagoe wasn't bombed so much, Okaasan firmly believes this was due to a US decision to protect Japanese heritage - like Kyoto.
After the war she went back to school and tried to make up for lost studies.
She started work as a book keeper in a company, and met a smart guy who'd moved to the Tokyo area from Kyushu. He'd left a fishing community to go to university and move to the center of life in Japan. It was the 1950s and Japan was rebuilding.
Eventually he worked for an engineering company - rising to be the vice-president. The couple married and moved to different places for his work - living near Osaka and Kyoto, then finally buying land and building a house in a newly developing suburb of Tokyo.
Okaasan stopped work after marriage and supported her husband's business life. She had two sons and was active in their education. She cooked big meals for the company staff at New Year, helped her husband get out of the house for the work-related golf trips. There was enough money in the family eventually for Okaasan to attend cooking and flower arranging classes at high class schools. She could shop in famous department stores and buy good quality clothes and household goods. In her 30s she was introduced to the teachings of a natural-health/exercise advocate.
After her husband's death when she was about 70 years old she traveled all over the world with a religious studies group, and enjoyed English and Hawaiian dancing as hobbies. She liked cooking and pickling, and sewing.

The essential Okaasan?
I think she is: polite, well-mannered, appreciative of quality in life. Believes that housework should be done correctly. Has a good sense of humor. Has an interest in people and what they do. Cares deeply about children and flowers. Loves pretty things. Respects hard work. Believes strongly in natural health, diet and exercise routines. Does not have much respect for hospitals and doctors.

And now she has dementia.
But the essential Okaasan is here: the politeness, the manners, humor, the "correct" way to do something, the interest in health, attitude to doctors.

She is very polite. Usually. Thanks me profusely for doing things, expresses concern about work, sometimes helps by washing dishes and tries to offer her prickly foreign daughter in law advice about food......
Often funny. 
Loves arranging flowers and admiring a bloom.
Enjoys TV shows about music and food, children and health.
Fiercely independent.

All of that. Still here.

I whinge a lot about Okaasan on this blog. It's one reason I started this blog. 
But, if I put aside the whingeing..... I can see the essential Okaasan. And I am grateful for who she is. I'm grateful for this story she has told me of her life, over countless dinners...endlessly repeating many facets of this story. It helps me understand her.

* Normal whingeing service will resume in the next post. :-)


  1. That's really lovely. My FIL has Alzheimer's, and whilst there is the essential part of his personality in there, there is also a very unpleasant personality emerging. Such a terrible disease.

    1. Oh I know - we've seen some of the unpleasant side of Okaasan. Too much in the first year or two. The change is scary, with a high level of aggression and rudeness. It comes as such a shock, because she is usually such a happy/polite person. I expect I'll be rereading this post in a year or two when she the essential Okaasan is slipping away give myself strength!

  2. What a wonderful tribute to this woman you care for. I hope you had a chance to know her some before the disease took over.

    1. Not so much. Before she came to live with us 5 years ago I'd only met her twice in her own home near Tokyo. Stayed a polite weekend, made small talk. Not really been more than a nervous guest. Spoken to her on the phone a few times. My Japanese wasn't so good then either. But now I learn about a whole pre-war life in a Japan you only see in NHK TV dramas.

  3. I admire the way that you can find the good through all of this - it's marvellous.

    1. Thankyou. I try. Usually fail. But try. :-))