*Names have been changed for privacy 


Beatrice was in my dream last night. We used to talk. She liked to listen to ABBA and Classic FM, and she liked to hold a toy baby and stare at it, as if she could mind-read it. I think she was trying to read her own mind, searching for anything left. She always rolled the bottom of her trousers up to her knees after I’d unrolled them; then she would look at me and say ‘Why!’


I was taught that she takes coffee with milk, that she enjoys a Bourbon and that she doesn’t mind a chocolate digestive. When she eats a biscuit, she often looks me in the eyes and says ‘nice’. She will mush her beef stew and potato into her top but she will scrape the bowl clean of ice cream after eating Arctic Roll. I know she likes puddings but she doesn’t really like toast. Sometimes she will scream in the face of toast. I wonder if she, Beatrice, knows that it is toast, and that she is expressing her dislike when she says ‘ohhhh, no, no, no, no’, reacting like she is hosting a game show of her own tea-time. Her thick Yorkshire accent comedically bursts through with stock phrases, as though a character has been turned on in the blankness. 


Often she cries. She has to be taken out of the dining room sometimes for crying, disturbing the others. I always try to sit with her, if I can. I like to be with her and I don’t like for her to be alone. She’s my favourite resident. Sometimes she kisses my hand as if she’s courting me. 

Sometimes she will whip out a beaming smile in the middle of crying, like she never left. I don’t know if that was characteristic of her, before she was the current Beatrice. I didn’t know her when she still lived in her head. When I do pas-de-chats and posé turns for her, Beatrice sits clapping her hands and saying ‘Ho ho!’ – I imagine that as I dance, Beatrice moves back into her head for a holiday. 


When I first started working at the care home, I only knew one of the residents’ families, despite living in their village. Beatrice had notably fewer family photos in her room than the other residents; I tried to imagine her in the world, but I found it difficult. I suspected from her dancing and her posture that she would be slightly like my Granny, but for Granny’s sake that wasn’t something I was willing to read onto Beatrice. 

One day, when I was bringing her a drink, I saw a single photo on Beatrice’s wall across from the bed. She wasn’t even in it. Two women of my mum’s age were stood with their hands on the back of a chair, where a girl my age was sitting – people I assumed were her descendants. Before this, the Beatrice I talked to was the only Beatrice I knew. I didn’t feel particularly sad about her personality and abilities changing because I hadn’t experienced that loss. But seeing the picture, of people she loved, had loved, I could imagine her in full brightness. The girl could have been me; I could be a person always loved, half remembered. I sat down on her bed and cried. In my mind, she had plodded about the house, standing at the helm of the kitchen island, chicken roasting, potatoes ripe for the mashing. She danced. 

To me she still loves her family, because her love is contained within them, found in the joy when they bring her new CDs and Wispas, which she will promptly melt down her top, which someone will lovingly change for her. 


I used to tell Beatrice that I love her, because I do. She would reply, “I love love love you’, shaking her head. I didn’t think much about the present-Beatrice being less Beatrice than past-Beatrice, because I loved her as she was, and it wasn’t my loss to feel. Beatrice didn’t feel it either. She just lived her life now. I think there must be a fine line in dementia care between exercising people’s mental faculties to retain their memories and distressing them about what they can’t remember. I only saw Beatrice when she couldn’t remember – you had to remember for her, what kind of juice she liked, whether she could eat peas. I still cannot imagine the mental strength it must take to interact kindly with someone you love with dementia – hiding your own grief at their slow decline, trying to stay present, trying to value their current self, rather than trying to fit them into the mould of their past loveliness. 

I worked in the care home for two months over the summer, a particularly good care home fulfilling both the ‘care’ and ‘home’ of its name. The staff truly care for each other and for the residents; they eat the same food, the residents ask and remember information about the staff’s lives – they have kind relationships. One resident, particularly impressed that I was going to university, would double this flattery with self-pity, saying “you’re too pretty to work here.” Beatrice never bothered to pity herself with what she’d lost, firstly because her dementia wouldn’t have allowed her to remember the information, but largely I think because she didn’t care. 


When I returned to visit at Christmas, I went to see Beatrice, sat on her usual beanbag, listening to the radio. I think she remembered me. She asked me to dance, and when I turned pirouettes for her she danced in response. I gave her a biscuit and told her I loved her. She cried when I left, which I think was a coincidence. 

What Beatrice that remains, twinkles. She is, not was, fabulous.