A Dutch music video is playing and Bert is watching and singing along. It is set in a typical Dutch cafe and the music is upbeat and joyful. He tells me that all the people are Dutch from Brabant. He says people from Brabant are happy and full of fun. Maybe that is true. He is from Brabant. He is full of fun. He is happy.
The phone rings. I recognize the number. It is Jim. I am immediately apprehensive as Carol, his wife, has not been doing well lately.
“Hi Paula, it’s Jim. I have something for your blog.” No, I do not need to be worried as I can hear a smile in his voice.
“Oh, what have you got?”
He begins to laugh as he explains; “Well, it is about Carol’s mechanical cat.”
I start to smile as our group has been having some laughs about this cat since Carol got it. I should explain that this is a ‘comfort pet’. Comfort Pets are specifically manufactured to help people with various ailments deal with their illnesses. They have been a staple at children’s hospitals, cancer facilities, hospices for years but now they are also being made and used for helping persons with dementia. There is the talking parrot, the dog and the cat. They are both substitute companions and respite for caregivers. Being electronic they interact in a number of ways and exhibit behaviours congruent to their species. The parrot talks, the dog barks, the cat meows, purrs, cuddles and so on. They are huggable, amazingly lifelike and easy care as there is no litter, walking, feeding or any of the care and demands required by a real pet.
“Carol goes to bed early, and the cat goes to bed with her” Jim continues. “When I turn in later, I first take the cat away, turn it off and put it away for the night. If I do not turn it off it will meow at intervals and disturb our sleep. I was fast asleep when I felt a scratching, a kind of stroking and tickling at my neck. Groggily, I tried to brush it away. The scratching came back and I felt Carol’s hand at my neck. She was doing the scratching, and she seemed to be getting frustrated and digging harder into my neck. Then the penny dropped. Carol was stroking the cat and was puzzled that the cat was not responding. Now I had to think quickly: ‘Do I purr, meow, stretch out lazily or what?’ I could not remember what the cat did when that particular sensor was stroked. I purred!”
Of course, by now we are both laughing so hard.
“Oh, well, at least you are a well loved comfort toy.”
“Yes. That I am.”
“Thanks, Jim. I am sure I will have a post from this.”
Laughter helps. On a not so good day a laugh will make it a little better. Just a few days earlier, Jackie was having a bad day. Jim called to tell her about returning home and noticing a large wet spot on the bed. On investigation, Carol admitted to ‘giving the cat a bath’. That made Jackie’s day. It did not solve her particular problem but it made it look less hopeless as she laughed. Jim thinks Carol has finally got it that the cat’s food is a battery. She had wanted to feed it. Next lesson is one or maybe twenty on you do not bathe a cat.
When the time comes I think I will get Bert a dog. I will have to weigh the pros and cons carefully. After all you do bathe dogs but as for food, thanks to Jim, I will start the training early about the battery as the only food required.
The Meander: My Lifeline group – Lifers- share our stories, our risible moments willingly. We are incredible support for each other and even more important, we are friends. We laugh a lot but never, ever at our loved ones. When we laugh we thumb our noses at this terrible and terrifying disease. It is our defiance and defense. Otherwise, we would cry.