Mum keeps forgetting that my father is dead. In fact, she seems to think he’s living elsewhere in the Care Home.
Each time she’s reminded that he died several years ago, she becomes very upset. Initially, also found these conversations upsetting, but I’ve got used to them now. Whenever she sees me, the first thing she says is ‘Have you seen your father? I haven’t seen much of him lately.’
In a gentle voice, I remind her that he’s dead. ‘Dead!’ she cries in distress. ‘My Frank? When?’ I tell her it’s been over seven years. ‘That’s what they tell me here,’ she says. ‘But I didn’t realise.’ She asks if we’ve had the funeral? Yes, we have. I say ‘You went to the hospital. You said goodbye to him.’ But she can’t believe it. She starts to cry. ‘Have I been alone all this time? Have I been a widow for so long?’ Then she says ‘So, who’s that upstairs?’
I tell her she must see Dad in spirit; that perhaps, he does come to visit her, to make sure she’s all right. For all I know this could be true. On the other hand, it could be mum’s way of dealing with life in the Care Home, to stop herself feeling quite so alone there.
Usually, she calms down after a while. She’ll say ‘The mind is a strange thing. I’ve obviously blanked out the fact that Frank is dead. But he still feels close to me.’ And I say ‘Yes, you still hold him in your heart.’
She seems tranquil and lucid, accepting the situation. Trouble is, five minutes later, we can have the same conversation all over again. And she’ll get distressed, all over again. Recently, I had to tell her that my dad’s younger brother had died, and that I would be going to the funeral. Since then, Mum remembers that my uncle has gone. But she’ll ask ‘Does Frank know?’
I say that he probably does! I say, they’ll be together on the other side, with a third brother who died a long time ago. I say ‘Maybe they’re all having a chat and a laugh.’ And then she’ll say ‘Frank! Is my Frank dead?’ And so we re-enter the same sad loop. If possible, I try to change the subject, remind her of how much she enjoyed going to the Royal Wedding (!). That usually works, at least for a while.