Welcome home?

The deed is done. Last Sunday, Mum began a new life in a residential care home a few miles from her home of 32 years. My sister and I had spent the previous week convincing each other we were doing the right thing. Friends and family were unequivocal in their support. We couldn’t have asked for more.

Still those guilty feelings remain. If final confirmation was needed, it came from the rather unlikely combination of Sultana Bran and Crunchy Coronation Coleslaw. My wife and I had decided to stay with Mum last Saturday night and told her we’d bring food. With no memory of our conversation a few hours earlier, Mum had thrown a little something together herself – the aforementioned popular breakfast cereal mixed with some shredded raw cabbage in a tangy “Indian” sauce. Mum never shied away from trying something new in the kitchen but this took experimentation to a new level. Letitia Cropley, a character from one of the few television programmes Mum still enjoys, would have approved.  

I poured Mum (and myself) a glass of wine and sat down to explain to her that, as my sister was going away (“Duncan, you must always tell the truth.” “Yes, I promise I will, Mum.”), Mum would be going to stay with someone nearby.  She wasn’t exactly thrilled but she accepted it. We then spent a convivial if conversation-light evening. Bedtime was challenging. Mum becomes quite belligerent when the thorny issue of bedtime is mentioned. It was the closest we’d come to falling out in the two years since her diagnosis – further proof that the move was the right one. Her carers apparently suffered this flash of anger on a nightly basis. She can’t see the point of getting undressed because bedtime no longer has any meaning. Last night, having established that lying down wasn’t a bad idea, we fell out over whether she should wear her shoes in bed. At that moment, a line from John Suchet’s magnificent memoir of his wife’s dementia flashed into my mind. Don’t get angry, it’s not her fault.

Sleep was elusive on Saturday night but Sunday dawned bright and I reminded Mum that she was going away. She’d forgotten but seemed to recall something and another white lie – that my ten year old niece had packed a special suitcase – eased us past the next potential obstacle. And so, a little after half past ten, we set off on the short journey to the care home. I’m not sure if Mum knew what was happening and what sort of place we’d taken her to but she was very quiet when we arrived. Her room is bright, light and comfortable. We unpacked and had to do a full inventory of Mum’s belongings with a member of staff. Surely Mum must have cottoned on by now. She wouldn’t sit but kept holding on to me. What did she think when she saw name tags in her clothes? Why would we have packed a dozen pairs of pants for one week away?What was she really thinking of her only son?

After little more than half an hour, it came time for us to leave. We trooped downstairs, said our goodbyes and departed. I resisted the temptation to glance back as we walked down the drive and drove away.

I telephoned the home the following morning. Mum has settled in “OK” and sounded bright, if rather confused, when I spoke to her. Since then, my sister and I have spoken to her on alternate days and she’s always been very pleased to hear from us. She says life is a very repetitive but otherwise seems to have no complaints. She has apparently checked with a member of staff that she was only there for a week but hasn’t mentioned going home to me. Tomorrow, my sister and I will visit her there for the first time. Another white lie beckons.

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