Blog: Emma Decent

The writer and performer on her love story to her mum, who died after three years of dementia

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Every time I am preparing to do I Don’t Know What I Am Supposed To Be Doing it’s like saying hello to Mum again. She died three years ago after years with dementia. At the time it was – predictably enough – bloody awful. But after she died memories of the “old her” came rushing back. The Mum I’d really lost. It was upsetting to kind of lose her again but also terribly comforting. A lot of people who have loved someone with dementia say that.

I have been making performance poetry and theatre out of personal experience for a long time. I like this kind of work – solo autobiographical storytelling and performance. I find it very exciting and powerful, the individual telling their story. This show came out of a creative process and a long personal experience – that of being my mother’s daughter, especially during the last years of her life. During that time I was living my life, writing and performing poetry (some about her), visiting and supporting her and trying to process our relationship. She had dementia for a long time. In that time she changed and my attitude to her changed. When she died I was much more at peace with her, I had reconciled a lot of the difficulties that existed between us when I was younger. I felt a new love and respect for her.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing,” was something Mum said when she first started to lose her memory. At the time it struck me as almost funny: anyone – including me – could walk into a room and say that. I chuckled and admired her frank confession of a fundamental cluelessness few of us are bold enough to admit to.

The show came out of poems, diaries, the testimonies of others who knew her, photos and film. It is made up of fragments of memories, which is also what it is about. I try to parallel my and my Mum’s lives as women – childhood, adolescence and adulthood – the different opportunities and frustrations we had, and the similarities between us too. For example, she gave me her love of books. She was very intelligent, a librarian professionally, and I work in libraries too.

I show some of the harsher challenges of mother-daughter love – and dementia. But I hope that ultimately it reads as a love story from me to my Mum, and to all our elders, who we don’t always cherish enough yet who we are becoming ourselves every day. There are some laughs and nostalgia trips too – Mum outraging our South East suburban neighbours with Vote Labour posters in 1979, watching Maya Angelou on Channel 4 in the 1980s.

Her dementia is part of it but only a part of it. That’s kind of the point. It doesn’t define her or the show.

I love connecting with people through live performance, I’m really looking forward to doing it again in Yorkshire. It allows me to to say hello again to my dear Mum and to raise a cheer for her. You did not go gentle into that good night Mum. Good for you.

See Emma Decent perform at Settle Stories, the Joinery, 12 October

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Interact: Responses to Blog: Emma Decent

  • I Don’t Know What I’m Supposed To Be Doing
    26 Oct 2018 12:49
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