Seeing life through Mum’s eyes

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I like my music and I love discovering new artists and songs. One song I’ve “discovered” recently came to mind when I visited Mum last week. The narrative of the song isn’t especially appropriate but the title “Thro’ My Eyes” is. The song, by the way, is by Ian Matthews and is a simple, poignant delight: “And if you saw through my eyes, what would you do?”

My relationship with Mum these days is all about trying to see life through her eyes. Barbara Pointon, the carer I referred to in a recent post having heard her speak at a conference in Warwickshire, spoke about the importance of seeing “life through the eyes of the person with dementia.” It isn’t easy and goes against all natural inclinations. I’ve known Mum for 49 years and we’ve shared some wonderful memories in that time, memories which simply don’t exist for her now. When I popped in to see her last week, I took my laptop and a DVD of transferred family cine film from the 1950s onwards. I remember taking a pile of reels of film to be transferred as a present for my Dad. The result was this DVD which took in everything from my great, great uncle cutting the postage-stamp lawn of his house in West Bromwich in the 1940s to an extended family gathering at Christmas in the late 1960s. Curiously, the collection also boasts a film of the coronation of the King George V. Unless there’s something I’ve not been told, I don’t think there’s a drop of royal blood in my veins.

I recall the delight of Mum and Dad when they first re-lived the assorted memories but of course, Mum watched it last week as if for the first time. We first watched film of a holiday Mum and Dad took before they were married in the South of France. 

“Who’s that, Mum?” I asked as we watched shots of her wandering down the beach, clutching a lilo. Stupid question of course. Mum had no idea. She accepted it was her without question but when Gemma, of the care home team, peered at the screen and asked the same question minutes later, Mum again had no idea.

Later, we watched pictures of me at the age of about 18 months, with unfeasibly red cheeks and a pot belly, playing in my grandparents’ garden. Having not learned my lesson, I gently asked Mum again. Again she had no idea but when I said it was me, admittedly not at my most flattering, Mum challenged me:

“It isn’t,” she said, very sure of herself. I insisted, gently again, that it was indeed her first-born but she looked far from convinced. To Mum, I am as I appear today. I have no history, no past and, through her eyes, it’s probably inconceivable that the bald 49 year old in front of her could be the scarlet-cheeked 18 month old with a shock of blond hair. Through her eyes.

My visits to Mum rarely last longer than half-an-hour by which time she’s restless and ready to return to the main living room. This time I was with her for more than an hour though. She seemed engaged by the films for the most part. She commented on me as I learned to walk and run – “He’s quite excited isn’t he” – and giggled as my baby sister developed her own way of getting around. The ‘hotch” as my Dad called it consisted of her using her arms and backside to scoot across the floor at a surprisingly swift rate.

Through her eyes, it seemed Mum was watching something to which she had no connection at all but which was mildly diverting. I started to watch it in the same way, not trying to recall the long-forgotten names of family friends, nor trying to link the images to other family landmarks. Rather, we both watched it as if it was something we’d just come across on television.

The memories were absent but we shared the laughter. Through my eyes, that was a pretty good result. 

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