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OPINION: She’s still the same person

Barbara Munves.
Barbara Munves. - Submitted

We need to remind ourselves that people living with dementia do not become their disease

BY MARIE BURGE

GUEST OPINION

Jim and Barbara Munves should go down in Island history as the love story of the century. The love and care for each other is obvious tothose of us who have met them. Their love has always been wider than their care for each other. It included many of us in the community.

Their long-time commitment to social justice has always indicated that their love for each other is extended to other people who suffer injustice and for the ecosystem constantly under attack.

I got to know Barbara after she was diagnosed with dementia. I got to know her as an amazing, vibrant, artistic woman with wide international experience. I had the privilege of spending a few hours a week with this awesome woman over a short period of time. She is a woman with a deep sense of her own dignity, with a finely tuned awareness of others’ attitudes of condescension or pity.

I use the present tense deliberately. I think of who Barbara is, not “who she was.” I feel that Jim Munves knows, better than anyone, the wonders of this woman and he knows that he can and will honour that.

That is why Barbara should be returned to her own home, where she can be cared for according to her needs and where in a safe environment she can express her own love and admiration for Jim.

I am offering here a challenge to all of us to consider dementia as a disease like any other. We need to remind ourselves that people living with dementia do not become their disease. They do not become someone else. We need to remember that a person with dementia is, above all, a person. We often hear ourselves express our basic fear of dementia. We are used to the sad look and comments of people as we talk about the possibility of having that condition. We have placed supreme importance on our intelligence, on “having it all together” as if even in good health we can so easily assume that we have those capacities.

There are many caregivers, those in the home and those in care facilities, who know instinctively how to relate to people with dementia. They see the whole person as she is at the very depth of her being. At that level, she is the very same person as always. The condition may hide that, but loving discerning people know that deep person in the present moment.

I have to say that given the testimony of Jim Munves, I think that Barbara is safer in her person at home with Jim than she is in a care facility. With him, her sense of who she is will not be endangered.

Hopefully, she and Jim together will heal from the state’s assault ontheir dignity. Hopefully, Health P.E.I. will learn from this unfortunate intervention.

Long live Jim and Barbara!

- Marie Burge, Mermaid, is an educator and researcher at Cooper Institute in Charlottetown and a member of the Order of P.E.I.

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