I feel I should apologise for the title of these latest ramblings. How unutterably self-centred that sounds. After all, it’s Mum who has Alzheimer’s, Mum who’s had to leave her home of 30 years, Mum whose world has shrunk so dramatically over the past couple of years. And yet here am I, apparently asking for sympathy.
Let’s make it clear – I’m not suggesting that you, dear reader, should feel sorry for me. In truth, I’m relieved and grateful that Mum has settled into her new surroundings and that she seems “at home” there. The staff are warm, friendly and extremely caring and Mum seems to have made friends. Her old friends have been supportive, visiting regularly and the transition has been as smooth as we could have dared hope. We have had practical support and guidance – from care professionals to charity help-packs to dementia reference books.
So why aren’t I beaming from ear to ear when I think or write about it? If you had offered me this situation two months ago, I’d have seized with two very grateful hands. It’s just that I have this gnawing ache inside me. It might be to do with clearing out the family home and realising that a part of my life has gone for ever. It might be that making conversation with Mum is becoming more difficult. I think, though, that the real reason – and this might sound self-absorbed – is that I don’t feel Mum needs me as much now. We have always had a very close relationship. Alike in many things, Mum and I have always talked and listened to one another. Without identifying it, I have always had an inner voice which has checked my responses : what would Mum think of this? It was never a need for approval (no-one could ever say I was a rebel) but more an acknowledgement that Mum was a constant source of loving good sense.
This time last year, Mum and I had just returned from a week in the delightful village of Little Haven in Pembrokeshire. It was our second such holiday since Dad died. I remember being painfully aware that Mum was coping less well with every day life than she had previously. No sooner had we arrived that she wanted to put clean towels and tea-towels in the washing machine. This was repeated on an almost-daily basis. On one occasion, she was up and dressed at 2am and when I gently asked her why, she couldn’t tell me. It took all my persuasive powers to help her back into bed. And yet, accompanied by my sister’s affectionate golden retriever, Billy, we spent a very happy and relaxed week. We talked and although conversations took a few unexpected diversions – not to mention the odd no- through-road – I look back on that week with great warmth. I can’t imagine having those conversations now.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m very lucky. I have a very loving and supportive wife, my relationship with my sister is very strong and my friends have offered mountains of good sense and encouragement. We have found a care home which really cares for Mum. But instead of just feeling relief and contentment that Mum is settled and above all, safe, I’m also feeling very, very sad. My relationship with Mum has changed for good. In all the dementia reference books and support leaflets, I have yet to find advice for how to deal with that.