This is a collection of stories people living with dementia, their families and carers have shared with me in the four years I spent working as an artist, and later as a mentor, on the cARTrefu project. The largest project of its kind in Europe, cARTrefu aims to measure the positive effect art activity can introduce into the care home setting.
I have learnt that the person who tells a story is as important as the person who listens to it. Only when we give up our arrogance, can we truly communicate with another.
The first time Derek and I met was on a plane from Canada to London, soon after his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take part in a space journey to the Moon. We remained good friends.
The next time we met – and this is the meeting that I recall – was at a care home, when he was looking for his moon landing photographs.
We instantly became friends. Again. And we kept becoming friends each time we met.
He would tell me in detail what it was like to be weightless, and his face would light up.
The wonder of the story kept crashing against my rational thinking. I listened, but struggled to let go of my grip on reality. What was making me think I knew better? The story may have been hard to believe, yet I had no doubt, listening to his voice and looking into his eyes, that it was true.
It took me some time to realize that the problem lay with me, not him. It was my mind that was not open.
But I had a choice: to see and hear a man, or to ignore him.
I chose the former. I wanted to be weightless, so I decided to follow Derek, all the way to the Moon. And it was glorious. What a thing to share with another human, what a privilege.