Polly Wolly Doodle all the Way!
The 14th – 20th May, marks Dementia Awareness Week in the UK, all of which has got me reminiscing about conversations with my Mother, when she still had the ability to speak. I can remember in the early days of her dementia, that we would have the liveliest conversations. They would take a regular, predictable pattern, but could be thrown off course by the unexpected. All of which meant that it was wise to keep your wits about you, or have at hand, a very good interpreter.
The conversation would usually start with my Mother asking, how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were getting on. Tuning into the fact that she was probably asking about family members, I would respond that Sam, the Father, was doing well at work; Andrew, my Son, had sore feet from dancing; and Beth, my daughter, beautifully equated with the Holy Spirit, was managing her team at work creatively. This would please my Mother who smiled in response and I felt reassured that I was responding sympathetically.
One week, however, she threw things off course by following up with a supplementary question, enquiring as to how the Polly, Wolly, Doddle was? I felt totally floored by this request and asked her to repeat the question. She rolled her eyes and became increasingly emphatic. Fearing that we were straying into an area of incomprehension, I tried to change the subject, but she remained committed to exploring the issue of the Polly Wolly.
At this point, Andrew, the Son, looked up from his mobile phone and said, “Granny, the Polly Wolly is fine, though she was in the dog house yesterday for eating Dad’s steak.” To which my Mother laughed out loud and shook her head.
Looking helpfully to the Son, for interpretation, Andrew enlightened me that, a Polly, Wolly Doodle was obviously a “labradoodle”. Granny was asking how the dog was. He then helpfully followed up with an analysis that it would help if I thought of things more laterally and that communicating through song lyrics was clearly the way to go! My Mum, feeling that he had hit the nail on the head, began singing, at the top of her voice
“For I’m goin’ to Lou’siana
For to see my Suzy-anna
Singing Polly wolly doodle all the day.”
This was all a revelation to me, and made me explore the issue of music, song and communication. To me the word dog, seemed a simple word to retrieve, compared to the complexity of labradoodle, but for my Mother singing and a song lyric became a form of communication. I am no expert here, but through reading, I understand that its something to do with the fact that the area of the brain where memories of our past are supported and retrieved, also serve as a hub that links familiar music, memories and emotions.
All of which makes music and singing so important and at the heart of Memory Worship, held on the 3rd Monday of the month at Wesley. My Mum has become increasingly closed in and hard to reach, but when she came last month to the service, the hymns and songs caught her concentration and warmth came into her eyes.
A Prayer from a person with dementia
Listening God. I can’t talk the way I used to,
But I can still communicate.
Be patient with me, as this will help me feel connected
Wise God. I don’t have the judgement I used to,
But I can still make decisions.
Give me choices, as this will make me feel part of things.
Creative God. I can still sing.
Help me to enjoy music
And send me friends who will sing with me, as this will enrich my life
In the name of Jesus. Amen
Rev Julia April 2017