Watching someone you love fade, lose their knowledge even of the world around them, and their recognition of you, can be traumatic. So much so that for some their visits to relatives in care homes become less and less frequent until, as we heard in one case, he did not come into the home at all. He just left flowers.

The staff understood and longed to help. With other relatives who continued to visit they watched the bewilderment as the visitor could never be sure how much their loved and ailing relation could understand. Did she know, they wondered, that her son (their father) had died? Could they talk about this together? Could they grieve together? Or had she gone from them herself? The staff could not help until one day, in a workshop, a drawing with just a few words came: ‘Mushrooms – how Tom loved them – and now he is gone!’ When the book of everyone’s pages was complete the staff showed it to her young relations and were finally able to help the family grieve together. This was healing, this was what their work was all about! At last they had been able to help.

Relatives themselves often want to help but are uncertain how much this will be welcomed. They do not know the routine or feel able to influence how their relation is treated. However once the staff in a residential home had undertaken a shared enquiry programme together they invited some relatives to join them in the programme and began to share issues, frustrations and ideas. A lasting connection was built and the sense of ‘us and them’ considerably diminished. There was increased understanding and cooperation on both sides.