I have tried repeatedly to write about my mum and our current situation.
Each time I get so far. Then delete the whole lot.
There is so much personal and private.
A desire to preserve dignity.
Yet a longing to honour this time, and her as she travels it.
How can I show you who she was before, and how she is now?
I have no answer to the question; “how is your Mum?” What do I say?
Confused, frail, funny, frightened.
Her skin is like parchment, soft and fragile.
She needs to rest on her walk from one room to another.
She is changeable; sad, happy, furious, reminiscing, organising.
She is usually in bed by 5 pm, exhausted.
Last night we sat with her in the front room after her supper meal. We were talking in an incidental sort of way. She was sharing memories. These come in snapshots. They are now blended, so I hear elements of two or three stories in a combined memory blend. We do not correct her. We listen. We make affirming noises and ask interested questions that we know the answers to. She will tell us the same story each minute for the next hour.
She does not want to go to bed today. Dad has gone out to water the garden.
Simon finishes work and comes downstairs, he pours me a gin and tonic, Mum has a small sherry. We sit with our drinks and a few crisps talking and it reminds me of so many times we have done this, when we used to come for Sunday lunch, when it was a holiday or family celebration. We would arrive, be offered a drink, snacks, we would share our news.
It must remind her too because she does not want to get ready for bed. She tells me to help myself to tea if I want to and I must feel free to go home when I am ready. I say thank you.
We have lived with her now for two years.
Later Simon reminds me that it is impolite to go to bed before your guests leave and I realise why she was so reluctant to go. She was always an excellent hostess.
I want to tell you about the funny moments too. Her wicked sense of humour, or bare faced cheek. Or those moments when she suddenly offers advice, exactly as she used to before this condition took hold. Sudden moments of clarity. Everything changes. Her voice, her facial expression, her bearing. Perhaps for five minutes. She is wise in ways she cannot know, and I am pulled back to younger days when she was my oracle.
She loves music, and has learned new songs with repeated playing of the CD, in particular some raucous, saucy sea shanties from the movie Fisherman’s Friends. She sings along, substituting unusual lyrics where she is unsure.
Saddest is when she wants to go home, to her parents. We cannot tell her they are gone. We cannot tell her the house was sold. She tells us she will ring her mum to come and get her. She thinks we are keeping her prisoner here, in the house where she has lived for the past thirty eight years.
We do the best we can, but we cannot even imagine how life seems to her now. Our aim is that she is comfortable and as content as possible.
She loves to have her hairbrushed, to have a new outfit, to put cream on her face. She was always meticulous about her appearance. Am I tidy? She says, before we come downstairs in the morning.
She loves the garden she created, the flowers, the sound of the birds.
She loves the cats. We brought our three when we moved in and so there are plenty of them! She is delighted when they climb on her lap for strokes.
She loves listening to Mantovani and sitting in the sun.
Last week Dad had some old slides put onto a disc. He played them on the TV and we saw, for the first time, pictures she had taken when she lived in Malaysia in the late sixties. There were images of Singapore which was all open fields, the largest structure not more than five stories tall. There were temples, capped with gold, taken on a trip to Thailand empty apart from a few monks. A different world. She was so excited she got up out of her chair and came to find me, telling me about the dollar brollies you could buy to keep you dry when the rains came.
Days stretch out, punctuated by meal times. I am usually good at seeing the “up side” of situations but there is not much lovely or hopeful here.
It is hard to watch this. To wait through each day with her. It is not a path I would have chosen to walk; though I know I need to.
Iit is the last thing I can give.
I am conscious of the pieces of her, flying away, tiny piece by tiny piece, sand on the windswept seashore, drifting.
I listen to the stories, over and over. There is so much which will remain untold.