I left home, officially, in 1985. I’d lived away before but in ’85, I went to college in London and from there to my first full-time job in Kent. I returned “home” regularly, initially crawling around the M25 to the M40 which I’d take until it ran out in Oxford. Later, by then living and working in London and with the M40 mercifully completed, my journeys back to Worcestershire were shorter but no less regular. I loved going home, knowing that each visit would be filled with love and laughs. Maybe, as I’ve grown older, I’ve taken delivery of a pair of spectacles with a floral hue but that’s how the memories seem to me.
Leaving the motorway at Bromsgrove to complete the journey was always a pleasure. As, often it was late evening after a day at work, Mum would take a great deal of persuading that I didn’t need a three course dinner. Dad, meanwhile, knew a whiskey would suffice:
“You’ll have a wee dram Will?”
Barring a series of summer holidays there in the mid 1970s, Dad had no connection to Scotland but then again, my name isn’t Will either.
Today, living in Warwickshire, the final part of the journey takes me along exactly the same roads. But, I decided as I drove to see Mum last Thursday, I really don’t like those roads any more. It’s not their fault. The countryside is still eye-catching and the roads themselves are seldom overcrowded. But they mean something very different to me today. Where once there would be the prospect of laughter and familiar conversation, now I anticipate silences. For whiskey, read orange squash. For familiarity, read an unbridgeable chasm. But what I miss most of all, I decided as I mused on this last week, is security, the type of security which perhaps only parents can give. Going back to the family home, even in my 40s, made me feel secure – loved and supported in equal measure. I know I’m lucky to have experienced that at all – not everyone does – and I’m lucky too to have a loving and supportive wife today. But deep inside, I miss that old security.
It makes me wonder what Mum is feeling inside. It’s the condition’s great unknown – how much awareness does someone living with dementia have? I was chatting to a friend about it last week and his words rang so true: even when our loved ones show little or no sign of recognition or understanding, we hope that deep, deep down, there is something which perhaps they can’t express but which still resonates within them. I persuaded Mum to sit outside last Thursday, as the temperature was hovering dangerously close to 70 degrees. In days gone by, Mum wouldn’t have needed any persuasion. In fact, it would have been her doing the persuading. I recall countless occasions in late March or early April when the sun appeared and, regardless of the fact we could see our breath in front of us if we looked hard enough, Mum would be out in a deckchair. Sunshine meant being outside. The sun never failed to do its magic on her. Last week, she insisted on sitting in the shade wearing three layers, including a fleece.
But, as we moved back inside, it reminded me that security for Mum is now within the four walls of her care home, and I should be very grateful for that. I’ll make the same journey on the same roads tomorrow. I’ll almost certainly be greeted with a warm smile which will give way to the now familiar vacant look as I talk to her about what’s going on. I hope, deep down, that she take some comfort from my visits and that she does feel secure. It’s the least I can ask and the very least my lovely Mum deserves.