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Pride Week at Asquith Hall

It was a week ago – how time flies when you are doing something you love – that I was travelling up to the really rather lovely Todmorden, home to Asquith Hall Specialist Nursing Home.  I had been invited to deliver some sexuality, intimacy and dementia training as part of their Pride week.  I travelled up the night before and felt like a rock star when they sent a driver to pick me up the following morning.

 

I was particularly interested in the work that Asquith Hall were doing as it relates directly to the work of my Churchill Fellowship which saw me travel to Australia and USA to investigate inclusive aged care for the LGBTI+ community.  I had seen some examples of good practice on my travels and I was delighted that Asquith Hall seemed to be tackling this often overlooked issue.

 

Having an appreciation of the history, stigma, inequalities and trauma experienced by some members of the LGBTI community is essential in health and social care and I was delighted to see the rainbow welcome that awaited all visitors during Pride week at Asquith Hall.  There were banners, inflatable rainbows, Pride flags, pom poms – I was even presented with a lovely goodie bag on my departure 🙂

 

The training sessions were well attended.  It was interesting because I sensed that I was really challenging some of the preconceptions of a couple of attendees, but I was delighted to see that by the end of the training session they had shifted in their attitude a little.  It is complex, nuanced and challenging work considering the sexual, intimate experiences of people living with dementia, so I get how tough it can be to think about these things.  If I can get people to even consider it I take that as a win!

 

My ethos is a rights-based, person centred, relational approach.  My brief when originally developing the training was around challenging assumptions and offering practical solutions.  The use of ‘real-life’ case studies and a dash of humour also helps.  Another consequence of hosting this type of training is how it makes LGBTI+ staff feel safe.  On several occasions, staff members have confided that they have felt they need to keep their sexual identify a secret from other staff members and residents and that this type of training enables them to feel safer in their workplace.

 

I am delighted that 100% of attendees (even the ones who looked very doubtful when they first came in) would recommend the training, with some suggesting it should be mandatory. I am not sure how many other care homes are hosting Pride weeks, but I am hopeful that many more will.  I’m only sorry that I couldn’t attend the whole week – it looks like everyone had an amazing time.

Asquith 2

Dr Jane Youell is a Chartered Psychologist and dementia specialist. Her research interest lies in sexuality, intimacy and dementia.  Any organisation wishing to find out more about her training and consultancy work should contact jyouellconsultancy@gmail.com

Dad: Two years on

My father died two years ago today.  It was a good death.  He planned it all and apart from a couple of troubled moments where he doubted he could die, he managed it in the end.  It was with great love that we held his hand and told him his body would know what to do and that this was ok.  It was with great humour that we sat with him as his breathing laboured and stopped only to start again 30 seconds later.  They don’t tell you that about the dying, but as Dad had a great sense of theatre we started to smile as he slipped off this mortal coil.

I miss him.  I’m angry with him that he went before I was ready to be the grown up.  I want to tell him I was on telly this week and that I got engaged to the clown and that I read a good book recently.  I want to tell him that my response to his death was to host death cafes and how amazing they are and that I travelled on my own to Australia and America.  I want to tell him that I played Al Martino Here in my Heart for someone in my CST group this week and that I remembered Dad singing it even though I hadn’t realised it.  I want to tell him that as it dawned on me during the CST session I had to swallow my grief as it felt like a punch in the stomach.  I want to tell him that I had a conversation about Jussi Bjorling and how amazed the person was that I knew who he was at all!

Mum and I are going out for lunch as a way of marking this day.  We will probably order the most Spanishy thing on the menu and we will raise our glasses that we have survived without your bloody moaning, your humour and your advice (which I rarely took).

This is what I read at my father’s funeral and is still true 🙂

We should not be here today.   Dad’s wishes were that he should leave his body to medical science so we were rather hoping that we could ship him off to the University of Leicester and we could raid his wine cabinet to toast the old boy privately.  However, we are deeply grateful to all of you who have joined us today to pay tribute to Dad’s life and celebrate his memory.  We are aware that there are some who are close to him who could not be here today but we feel their love and support just the same.

Dad was a wonderful, warm-hearted, funny and eccentric man.  He was also irascible, difficult and stubborn but we are only going to focus on his best bits today.  We are deeply grateful to our father for many things, our big noses, Crispin’s hair loss, our disregard for authority and rather smelly feet.

We are also very grateful to him for taking us out as children to fancy restaurants and the theatre, which in the 70’s was not a common approach to parenting in working class families.  An appreciation for food, art and culture has remained with us throughout our lives.  We both, in different ways, are life-long learners and have a thirst for knowledge and a curiosity about the world which has been heavily influenced by our father.   Crispin said I have to say that he has also inherited Dad’s dashing good looks, compassion and sense of humour.

Our father’s theatrical style of parenting combined with a wicked sense of humour meant that he often dressed up as a vampire when we were watching Hammer Horror films as children.  He thought this was incredibly funny but has resulted in neither of us being able to sleep in the dark.  Luckily, his approach to cuisine meant that no vampire real or imagined would ever be able to get close to us.

We have both inherited his over optimistic ability to ‘finish a project’.   We both horde useless objects in the hope that one day we will find a purpose for them.  Cars are a particular favourite waste of time for both of us.  We are grateful for the vision he bought of the rest of the world.  He would often work away and come back with stories of food and culture which broadened our horizons, we both, particularly Crispin, love to travel.

We would also like to acknowledge our Mum today too though.  She too has passed many qualities onto us and supported my father to pursue his many interests.  We are grateful for her constant presence.

Finally, we are incredibly thankful to have been able to sit with Dad, to hold his hand, play him music and to reassure him as he made his final curtain call.

We would now like to read a piece which we feel sums up how we would like to think about Dad.

Death Is Nothing At All
Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way you always used
Put no difference into your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effort
Without the ghost of a shadow in it
Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
(Canon Henry Scott-Holland)

I’m afraid I don’t think we will meet in the afterlife (sorry Sister Hazel) as Canon Scott-Holland probably meant when he wrote that final line.  But I definitely meet Dad in my dreams, when I look at Crispin and to a lesser extent in my children.

A friend recently told me that grief initially feels like a huge rock, impossible to move.  Gradually it lessens in size until eventually it is a small pebble in your pocket, always there, never forgotten.   I think that grief is the price you pay for love and I can see that there will be lots of people who will carry a small pebble for Dad.  He would have liked that.

Thank you.

Bye Bye Boston

What a fabulous end to the week.  A very warm welcome to the Emanuel Church elder LGBTI lunch.  They very kindly facilitated a discussion about what the community lunch club meant to them.  They moaned about the food quite a lot, so it wasn’t that – I thought the chilli was nice, but I’m easily pleased.  It was the sense of community, it was a safe place to be, when they entered everyone assumed they were LGBT, which was in contrast to pretty much everywhere else they went.  It was assumed when I mentioned my partner was heading out that it was a woman and for the first time in my life I had to declare my sexuality.  This was an important understanding.  The location of the club was easily accessible, it helped that there was free parking – I think.  The members that I met today were overwhelmingly gay men with only two women present.  One woman travelled some distance just to attend this club just for the companionship.  Memory concerns were definitely present within this group.  There was a beautiful point at the end of the group where members enquired about other members who they hadn’t seen in a while and there was a kind of update.  This is a community who looks out for each other.

 

I had to say goodbye to the lovely Bob Linscott who has taken such good care of me all week and hooked me up with such great contacts.  I have a few Churchill Crowns which I can give to people as a thank you.  They are a nice commemorative coin from the Churchill Trust.  I presented Bob with a crown and he complained that he would rather have a tiara 🙂

 

I headed up to a lovely café and cake place (took all my self-control to resist the cakes) to meet with Cherri, a dementia champion.  We are definitely kindred spirits and it was great to appreciate the vibe in the USA around dementia training.  I need to send copies of my articles to her and we might even manage to meet up in the UK later in the year.  It was interesting that Cherri uses validation therapy, which influenced my early work a great deal so was nice to discuss that with her.

 

My last appointment of the day was with Sean Cahill the Director of Health Policy Research who provided me with a really great insight into what the issues were in terms of aging LGBTI community and how they were responding to that.  I’m looking forward to reading their latest report about how the landscape has changed in the first year of Trumps presidency.  My head is reeling from all the information, the love, the support and the friendships I have made here.

 

The chilly walk back to my hotel was just what I needed and there was a mental toss-up between going to the gym and enjoying the complementary wine.  Wine won.  Early night needed as I have an early start tomorrow as I head to NYC and the best boyfriend in the world.  I have a list of restaurants, bakeries, sights to see from all those I have spent time with over the last two days.  I fear the diet will go out the window…

Hearts, chocolate and the worst kidnap attempt ever…

This has been the best day ever.  I woke up to several messages sending me notice of an Independent Age study about sexuality and intimacy in the over 65s.  I had 30 minutes to muster up a blog post for the most wonderful Jason Day, my PR guru.  Soooo pleased that I managed to just sit down and write something, managed to set up some more appointments in New York, then it was off out to make my first appointment.

Enjoyed an interesting conversation with Dale Mitchell, the CEO of ETHOS.  ETHOS is a ‘mainstream’ care provider who support people in their own homes.  They have been instrumental in forming the LGBT aging project and was really great the hear Dale’s perspective.  I am going to have to really take some time out just to consider all the different perspectives I’m hearing.

I then navigate my way back to the hotel to write up some notes and generally process stuff before heading out on the bus/train to the Hebrew Rehabilitation Centre where I met the lovely Rabbi Sara.  This centre is enormous by UK standards.  Sara and her team are working at rolling out LGBT sensitive care across the whole of their service.  I can’t wait to find out how this work progresses and have made some great contacts here.

 

Hebrew rehab

From here it was a bus ride back to join an elders of colour community dinner.  I arrived before Bob but was made to feel so welcome that it really didn’t matter.  This is a monthly dinner which is hosted by Whittier Street Health Centre and it is fab.  It has such a great vibe and the room was all decked out for Valentines.

I met such lovely people who were so interested and supportive of the Fellowship it was just great.  Bob left before me as I was so busy chatting to people.  I have everyone’s details and promises of keeping in touch.  After dinner of salad, pulled chicken and potatoes, there was news of an upcoming theatre trip, a talk by a new clinician working within the clinic – who handed out Valentines candy, my GP never does that….  We were then treated to a seminar about the importance of humour in older age.  I was lucky enough to have a key ring under my valentine’s card which meant I won a bag of goodies 🙂

Goody bag of loveliness

I was introduced to such an interesting group of people, it was just a joy to have so many interesting conversations, especially as I am so far away from my loved ones on Valentines.  I met a wonderful woman called Eugenia who had only recently retired and I was told was such a powerful advocate for better services in the area.  I love meeting women who change the world. I feel like I just met a legend!

I was slightly concerned because I had to make my way back on the train and it was getting later and later.  I feel totally safe here but three women offered me a lift to the T station and I was grateful.  I left the dinner feeling the love.

We walked to the car park together and I was put in pride of place in the front.  Then the hilarity began.  If one of my kids got into a car with a bunch of strangers I would be furious with them!  Anyway, we started to drive out of the carpark but the ticket didn’t work.  Her wife couldn’t get out of the back because the door lock was malfunctioning so there was all sorts of silliness trying to get people in and out of the car.  Luckily, someone pulled up behind us who had a fob for the barrier and we were out.  We were then heading off towards the T when it was decided that they would just chauffer me back to my hotel.  All three women had a different idea of how best to get to my hotel and I did comment that this might be the most inept kidnapping attempt ever.  So much fun and laughter in that car this evening.  I was safely dropped off right to the door and I very much hope to meet these wonderful women again someday.

I arrived back to my room still with a big grin on my face from such a wonderful evening and was welcomed back with this by the world’s friendliest hotel:

Hotel chocs

Equally busy day booked in tomorrow. Cannot wait.  I ❤ Boston!

Lost gloves and heartache

I’m of an age where gloves feature large in my life as an essential accessory.  I guess this happened when I was about 43 before that I was so hip not even weather could get to me.  Now I’d rather be comfy, which mostly means warm.

 

I have gloves for different occasions – there are the emergency gloves I had to buy when I was Christmas shopping in Camden with the best boyfriend in the world, then there are my driving gloves that live in my car, knitted silver yarn with yellow (my fave colour) which have rainbows bought for me by Sheryl, the beautiful long length black leather ones which make me look like a dominatrix or that I’m about to handle something corrosive. Then there are my everyday gloves.  Dark blue faux leather which are scuffed and worn.  When it rains and they get wet the dye comes off on your hands and you spend the day explaining your frozen looking hands to people.  These are now also my ‘Boston’ gloves.

 

I woke up this morning and couldn’t find them.  I have returned to my hotel in between appointments just to look for them.  I lose things all.the.time.  My brain just doesn’t retain information like where I last had a thing.  I end up replacing everyday items with amazing regularity.  But these worn out hand dying gloves cannot be replaced.  My Dad bought them for me and now he’s dead so they have been elevated to my most precious things.

 

On this Valentine’s Day, text your loved ones – including parents, grandparents, children, chosen family, whoever makes your heart bigger – because when they are gone it will hurt you in ways you cannot even imagine.

 

I found the gloves.  I had chucked them in a shopping bag with some souvenirs so everything is ok again.  Now go, tell those you love that you love them xx

pexels-photo-207962.jpeg

Boston Bits

I have arrived safely in Boston and am completely in love with the place.  I had a pretty dreadful flight here from San Fran, turbulence, over-crowding, nowhere to stow hand luggage, stuffed right at the very back of the plane where we were served last by the grumpiest Steward I have ever known.  As we were the last to be served, the Steward explained he had run out of cutlery so would we mind sharing – really!  You can’t go anywhere without tripping over a hand sanitizer in SF and the current flu epidemic is making people even more anxious, so no, we will not be sharing our cutlery.  I opted for the cheese and cracker option…

It was with slightly heavy heart that I ventured out into the cold, dark rain on my very first visit to Boston.  The airport shuttle was waiting and my driver was nice enough but not very chatty.  I was up to this point not overly impressed.   Then I got to the world’s friendliest hotel and all was well with the world again.  My room is nice enough, I screwed my nose up when I realised there were no tea/coffee making facilities in the room but complementary refreshments are served in the lobby.  I wasn’t initially enamoured with the idea of having to get dressed to pad down seven flights of stairs for my morning brew but I love it now.  I am greeted with a cheery good morning by the housekeepers, on the first day I was asked how my night was, I explained I was in a slightly different time zone still and was cheerily told to take my time.  The reception staff are equally cheery and helpful.  I live with teenagers.  I’m lucky if someone grunts at me in the morning.  I could easily get used to hearing ‘have a great day ma’am’ every time I leave a building.  When I return the concierge guys out front welcome me back – even if I just pop to Star Market next door.  It’s not at all cheesy – it’s lovely.

Fenway Health

Initially I had planned to meet with folks from the Fenway Institute but Bob needed to have some dental work so this was postponed until Tuesday (today).  I was so grateful for a day to catch up.  My inboxes are overflowing already despite my best efforts and I have little time to write up all my experiences, adventures and meetings.  I did manage to walk to the Cheers bar and buy some souvenirs which was really the only thing I’ll have time for sightseeing wise.

Today was spent with Bob and Lisa from the LGBT Aging Project.  In contrast to San Francisco where every other building is a gym, in Boston every other building is a café (my kinda town) where Bob, Lisa and I met and had some lovely, insightful conversations about working in the LGBT space, the challenges, the gains, collaborations and who else I should try and link in with.  I could easily spend another month here making links.

I’m deeply grateful for the time today, my head is again buzzing with ideas of how I can bring this knowledge and understanding back to the UK to have a positive impact.  I was even more fortunate that Bob, Lisa and some of their colleagues are moving so they were keen to offload some bits and pieces including this – which I love!

They were even polite enough to give me a small, that’s how lovely people are here.  I hot footed it back to the hotel – I cold footed it back to the hotel, it’s -3 here – to write up notes and plot more fabulous plans based on today’s discussions.  I wandered over to the shopping centre opposite the hotel in search of gifts for ungrateful teens.  I got a bit excited to see a Neiman Marcus in real life, I’ve only ever heard of it on TV before 🙂 I can’t afford anything from aforementioned store so left.  I did drool at the window of Jimmy Choo for a while though before bracing the elements in search of a subway.

I’m a huge fan of travel cards and by far the best way to get to know a place is to travel by bus.  You get to meet the most interesting people that way.  On my last day in San Fran, I met a really interesting chap who introduced me to three of his personalities, they all seemed nice and he gave me some great tips on travelling to New York.  It never ceased to amaze me that pretty much everyone I met talked openly about having a therapist, except the people I met on the bus who I suggest would greatly benefit from some psychological intervention.

Charlie card

I bustled down to the subway – you have to bustle here or your ears drop off from the cold – and in my own bumbling inept way could not get to grips with the top up system of the travel pass.  It’s called a Charlie Card here which again is just a lovely friendly name for it.  I sent a photo to my step son, Charlie.  (I’m never sure if I can use the term ‘step’ children as G and I are not married but for brevity I’ll use it here in the hope that it will not cause offence to anyone and because to say ‘the son of my boyfriend’ makes me sound a bit grandiose).  With my Charlie Card I can travel any bus or train except the commuter line.  I have no idea what that is but have three appointments spread across town tomorrow so will suss it all out by then.  I’m such a chilled out seasoned traveller now.

The nice lady in the subway who probably has to deal with people like me visiting and not knowing what the hell they are doing all day was super helpful.  By which I mean she assessed me as very needy and did the whole transaction for me including paying with my bank card.  I wasn’t sure how the Charlie Card worked – some travel cards you swipe on but not off, some on and off, some you just flash at the driver – so asked for some clarity.  These you swipe against a reader on the barriers.  She made me swipe and go through.  I didn’t actually want to travel anywhere but I got on the next train because I’m British and would rather pretend I wanted to do something than let a helpful person down.  So I went to Arlington for a bit, then took a return train which took me out another exit and so helpful lady never knew.  Sometimes it is exhausting being British.

Walking back I found a lobster shack.  Not where actual lobsters shack up but where you can go in and eat something called a lobster roll.  I’d heard talk of these and wanted in.  They are delicious and I’m going back.  Obviously, I’ll have to wait until staff changeover because they might think I’m a lobster roll addict or something.  Here it is (totally acceptable to photograph food for a blog kids, just saying) The pickle was free 🙂

Lobster roll

I missed out on the complementary hot chocolate from the worlds friendliest hotel but the lobster roll made up for it.  Chatted to the family earlier and everyone is surviving without me, which is good.  Remember kids even when I’m not in the country I know what you are up to, don’t forget that.  Always watching, always watching (Roz, Monsters Inc)

Busy day planned tomorrow and tired out even though its only 9pm.  Bob has recommended an evening stroll around the Italian quarter, but I’m pooped so that’ll have to wait another day.  Big love from Boston x

 

LGBT+ Dementia care training, Chinatown and secret gardens

Was fortunate enough to experience some cultural humility and dementia care training yesterday back at OpenHouse.  I like the cultural humility ethos, but there were some differences between the way we work in the UK with those living with dementia and the tenet of the training.  Attendees were encouraged to say yes to all the demands and requests from the person with dementia, therapeutic (compassionate) lying appeared to be the norm and there was talk of offering hope in the face of the diagnosis.  Attendees were healthcare professionals who mostly worked in care home facilities from what I could gather, with a couple of exceptions.  Examples of residents not being told that their loved one had died and distraction appeared common.  Pretty interesting to note the different approaches.

OpenHouse

Nice walk in the sun to the next appointment with the lovely Stu Maddux. Stu is a film maker and executive producer.  He produced a film called Gen Silent which was shown at the LGBT conference I attended in Melbourne on the first leg of my awfully big adventure.  Gen Silent is a beautiful film which talks of the concerns and anxieties of the LGBTI+ elders as they age.  Here is a link to the trailer – http://gensilent.com/   I would urge people with funding to watch it and find ways in which this film can be shown more broadly in the UK.

Stu works in the heart of Chinatown and generously offered to show me around while we chatted.  He explained that the water line used to be at the same level as this building!

SF Shard

Walking around San Francisco you can’t help but be in awe of the resourcefulness of those pioneers who decided to build here.  The Bay was bought under control so that they could build on it.  Apparently old ships were used to secure water lots in the age of the Gold Rush and so beneath the finance district there is a whole fleet of ships.  It’s weird to think that San Fran was little more than a small town in 1848.  My house back home was built in 1860 – we have a different sense of history, for sure.

Stu navigated us towards a tall building to ride to the 15th floor so we could take in the sights from a little-known patio.  I’m so grateful for the experience and definitely not one I would have had left to my own devices.  Stu has plans to make three further films, the first addressing loneliness and aging.  I’m hoping we get to meet again in the future.  We walked back to his offices in Chinatown and he wished me well and gave me a hug.  Not for the first time on my travels I realised that this was the first hug I had had since leaving home.  I walked away wondering how I would cope in isolation or in a care home which monitored and managed by intimate behaviour…

I wondered back through Chinatown and found the secret patio building again, this time taking photos of the views and the marketplace.

 

 

So that was that.  All the meetings are done, my brain is fizzing with the new knowledge and insights I have gained from this most duplicitous of places.  I have met with some genuinely lovely people and am now looking forward to Boston.  I’ve just had an email suggesting that we have a friendly chat over bagels and coffee before I get to meet all the people at the Fenway Institute.  I think I’m going to be just fine 🙂