What Does Trust Mean in Our Friendship?

Deb Bunt, Author, Living Well With Dementia 
22nd January 2024

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There is generally an equity in friendships where both parties have similar or equal memories of stories shared and emotions exchanged.  There is, I suppose, a trust between two people whose cognitive functions are similar.  Until I met Peter, I had never really given this much thought but now the concept of how one engenders trust in a friendship like ours intrigues me. 

My friendship with Peter is not static; it is evolving, amoeba like, it stretches and changes as our understanding of each other changes.  Whilst we retain our love of jokes and jests, we have moved on to more serious issues around his dementia.  As I continue to learn more about Peter, I also have started to think more deeply about the privilege bestowed upon me as a recipient of his fears surrounding his condition.  As well as being entrusted as his ‘external memory’, I have become the depository for his darker thoughts. Deb Bunt

There is no question that Peter remains a showman and he still puts on his showman’s smile but he is slowly coming to the realisation that it sometimes requires too much effort to fight.  He has admitted as much, he needs to let things drift, to focus on what he can manage, not to struggle with what he cannot.  That was a big admission.  The first sign, perhaps, that now acceptance of his condition is a necessity and sometimes must take precedence over his fist-waving defiance of the last few years.

As Peter has said, Teresa (his wife) is tied to him by emotional bonds which are hard to sever, whereas I am just connected to him through the flimsier ropes of friendship.  That’s not to say I don’t care: I do and those ropes are becoming sturdier each day, but inevitably, by virtue of this different relationship, whatever Peter chooses to tell me impacts me less on me than it would on Teresa.

And so, I am happy to be the recipient of his fears if it helps him and protects Teresa.  But the trust has had to be created on solid foundations, it has had to have been built, brick by solid brick and layer by careful layer.  How have we achieved this?

Like everything else with Peter, what he says to me is transitory, created in the moment.  He might know he has told me something.  He might feel lighter emotionally having shared a thought or a fear, but he will not know what he has shared.  Most of us dole out our inner fears carefully, giving great consideration to how much of our vulnerable under-belly we expose and remaining mindful that exposing too much might eventually come back and nip you.  And, as has been proven by robust scientific research over the years, no one wants a nipped under-belly. 

So, how has this trust has developed? What were its foundations?  Is this trust a different type of trust than those without memory impairment may experience?  I don’t know what has happened in our friendship for him to feel that he can trust me implicitly but I do know that the trust runs deep, and is embedded in a crevice in Peter’s heart, the place where he locks and preserves his emotional responses to life.

In typical Peter manner, when I asked him how he knew he could trust me, he said “Here’s a thing: my father would always hold the nail, whilst I hammered it.  He wouldn’t let anyone else hammer.  He didn’t know why but he knew that I wouldn’t hammer his fingers…”  And for further clarification, he observed: “People with dementia lose things but we don’t lose our feelings or emotions…” And so there is the answer to my question: trust is an emotionally based experience which defies – and perhaps doesn’t need – closer definition. Deb Bunt

As Peter says, it’s not important why a person with dementia forgets, what matters is how to find a solution to the problem.  So, maybe I am wasting my time in trying to work out why Peter trusts me; perhaps all that matters is that he does trust me.  And, the other side to that is, of course, that I trust Peter but I have different expectations.  I trust him in the moment, I value his thoughts and feedback, I trust him to take me seriously and to help me with a problem.  Our trust, whilst drawn upon in the moment, transcends that moment but remains a constant within our relationship.

The trust is everything, analysing it will not offer an explanation.  It’s something that we have created and has now taken root; it is something which has grown as the friendship has grown and, if I may use a tree analogy which will please Peter, the tiny bud of the acorn has grown into an oak tree and is immovable, unshakeable and constant.  And there we can sit, together, under its leafy shade and take refuge from the dementia storm which is gathering a-pace in the distance.

Deb Bunt, Author, Living Well With Dementia. 

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