The Pearl within the Shell (Community story)

Community Story

By Anne Smyth from the Adventist Retirement Village, Victoria Point, QLD


Anne tells a delightful story about how changing her approach to people with dementia bought a special relationship into her life.

Since attending a Spark of Life seminar, I came to a deeper realisation of the part I play when communicating and interacting with a person who has dementia. I realised more than ever before that when I treat people with dementia with the utmost respect, as an equal, as a true friend, totally believing without even a trace of doubt in their ability, they respond accordingly. I would like to share a little story about Pearl, a darling lady I came to love and cherish.

When I first started work in the hostel where Pearl lived, for the first few days she looked unhappy and would look away when I spoke to her. Grieving for her lost daughter and husband, she had no family to visit her. About the fourth day, she came up to me and asked if I would sit with her to have a chat. We sat beside each other, she took my hand and held it in hers, and looking into my eyes she began to speak, ‘Little Darling, don’t get offended by what I am going to say, but when I first saw you, I didn’t like you, black hair and black everything. But then I watched you, I thought to myself, she is a lovely little girl and I am going to like her. I hope you forgive me, Little Darling.’

From that day, and for the next two and a half years, Pearl and I shared a deep friendship. She loved being a member of the Spark of Life Sunshine Club and played a major role in club activities. Every morning Pearl would sit in the lounge and wait for my arrival and as soon as she saw me she would stand up, clap her hands and say, ‘Little Darling, I am so happy to see you. Come here and give me a hug!’ After our hug, we would walk down to the Sunshine Club and start setting up for our morning program.

Here we shared countless hours of fun and laughter, joy and sorrow, good times and bad and through it all we learned to celebrate life. We took time to appreciate and enjoy the ever-changing colours of nature, the sound of the wind, singing of the birds, and the warmth of the sun. We smiled and giggled. We talked about our childhood, teenage years, marriage, family, children, work, and hobbies.

Pearl was 89 when she passed away. To me she was never a ‘demented’ lady, in fact I never saw her dementia. I simply saw the ‘Pearl within the Shell’ – a vibrant, down-to-earth, fun loving, fashionable lady who loved wearing bright and beautiful clothes and jewellery. She was a lady who loved life and who loved to feel special and important.