Every year, everyone on the team at Dementia Adventure is encouraged to volunteer on at least one of our holidays. It shows us first-hand the amazing difference we’re facilitating from the office, and serves as a hearty reminder of why we do what we do.
As a relative newbie at Dementia Adventure, I knew when I signed up as a first-time volunteer on our holiday to Norfolk in May that the experience would give me a new perspective on my work. What I wasn’t expecting was to come away with a new outlook on life, too.
As a holiday volunteer, you’re there to make life as easy and enjoyable as possible for the people you’re supporting. As people began arriving couple-by-couple on the first day, this meant being ready to strike up conversation and help people get to know each other. With people settling into the group dynamic over the following few hours, it became more about carrying bags, lending an arm while walking, and checking map directions.
Over the course of those five days I worked very hard; I cleaned and cooked, made cups of tea, helped people in and out of vans and boats and trains, loaded and unloaded equipment, and kept bright and enthusiastic. But it didn’t feel like work at the time. I went to bed very tired every night, but also happy, and excited for what the next day would bring.
What was I so excited by? Partly it was the activities, of course; seal spotting and glass blowing aren’t things that you get to do on a regular basis! But ultimately the activities are a vehicle for something greater. When I think back on that trip, what jumps to mind is how much love there was in our little group. Watching the way that each couple navigated every day with their own unique brand of tenderness reminded me how crucial it is for people with dementia to be seen for who they are, rather than the condition they live with. And how important it is to keep living life, rather than relegating it to the past after a dementia diagnosis. A small thing, like helping your mother find her most comfortable sitting position, is an act of both love and hope; it shows not only that you care, but that you believe comfort is possible for her. On a grander scale, booking onto a holiday like this says the same thing — that you still see one another, and that you still see the potential for joy and fun in your relationship.
I think what I learned from that trip is how much of your life is made up of your attitude towards it. Not that attitude is everything; it would be reductive to say that as long as you keep your chin up, everything will be okay. Sometimes it’s not. But choosing to do something like book a holiday together is choosing to believe that you can make the best of what you’ve got. And you need that belief to make life worthwhile.
“I don’t think I’ve been this happy in years,” said one of our guests on the last night. It was a surprising statement from this particular person, because she generally seemed so content. After observing the beautiful bond between her and her husband all week, it was hard to believe that we could bring them any more happiness than they generated for each other. But we’d taken them for a paddle in the sea that day. “It just made my week,” she confided. It made me think about the fact that we never know what’s coming around the corner. The best could still be yet to come, and even if that’s not the case, from now on I’m going to try and approach life as if it is. It makes the future look brighter.
Would you like to volunteer on a supported Dementia Adventure holiday? Our volunteers are incredibly important to our work, and much of what we do is reliant on their dedication! If you’re interested in volunteering with us, contact us or find out more here.