Mum had to be awoken when I arrived today and I can only assume that she’d been in the middle of a sweet dream because she showed little inclination to follow me when we began our usual progress to the sitting room. In fact, she sat down at the first available chair and had to be gently persuaded to continue our journey. She seemed none too pleased!
Once in the sitting room, conversation, or what passes for conversation these days, was more challenging than ever. Mum sat with her head down, no eye contact at all except to acknowledge my lame attempts to engage her, and though I managed to tease a little laughter out of her, it merely punctuated periods of silence which become longer with each visit. We played our regular game of fantasy housebuying but that barely distracted her.
Fortunately, I bumped into the home’s manager – or “She’s the Boss” as Mum used to refer to her with a smile she probably once reserved for the headmistress. Not that “the boss” is a remote or forbidding figure. Quite the reverse. From the day she visited Mum when she still lived at home, collecting memories from the life Mum was leaving with which to ease her onto her into the life she was about to start, she has been a source of strength to all of us.
Today, though, I was concerned. Mum was listless and less engaged than ever. Was this a sign of further decline? “She’s the boss” – or StB as I shall not refer to her – is always honest and straightforward. Yes, Mum has periods now when it is difficult to reach her, when she’s in her own world with no access for the rest of us. But, StB thinks, it’s a happy world, a safe world. Mum is never cross, agitated or, worst of all, frightened. She does need help with every aspect of her life these days – how I admire the team who look after her – but as StB put it, she’s adored by all around her. How those words lifted my heart. I adore her – she’s still my Mum even though I’m not sure she knows it any more – but to know that she’s still surrounded by love is such an enormous comfort. Thank you StB, or boss if I might be so bold.
But I find myself wanting to know more about Mum’s new world. I think I knew the old Mum very well – we were always close – and now reading her old diaries, I’ve learnt something about the years before I was born. But where does Mum go now? I hope it has something of our old family life about it, that she feels loved and secure. I know I can never know but it doesn’t stop me wondering and wishing.
“Tell me the thoughts that surround you,
I want to look inside your head.” i
So, I left today feeling grateful that she’s content and safe but also with a feeling of deep, gnawing sadness that I can never bridge the chasm between us.
Before visiting Mum, I’d been at a volunteers’ meeting at the local branch of the Alzheimer’s Society. We’re a small but enthusiastic group and I always come away feeling that the fight against dementia is far from a hopeless cause. We all have different experiences of the disease and we work well together. The strength of a charity can often be defined by the dedication of the volunteers and in this case, the Alzheimer’s Society is well served.
I tell Mum about the charity and the work we do locally. It doesn’t seem to register – why should it – but it helps me fight against the impotence I feel when visiting her. She’s probably the reason I enjoy volunteering. Mum was a serial volunteer, from Meals on Wheels to the local hospital League of Friends (or Plague of Fiends as they were known) to parent teachers associations at my various schools. I remember feeling vaguely embarrassed by the fact that Mum seemed to be involved in every school initiative. In my awkward early-teenage years, I felt a little self-conscious about Mum manning a stall at the school fete. Silly, I know, but in my ever-elusive bid to appear cool, it didn’t help.
Mum gave a lot but I know giving meant a lot to her. Perhaps she lives with memories of helping others – family, friends, people she doesn’t even know – now. Maybe that’s where she’s goes to, my lovely. I hope so, I really do.
i “Where do you go to my lovely?” by Peter Sarstedt (c) EMI Music Publishing