Mum passes through the veil

Mum died a few days ago. Her death was peaceful, she was not on her own. And she was able to stay in the Care Home where she felt safe and comfortable, where they knew her and cared about her, until the very end. I arrived a couple of hours after she’d actually passed and they had dressed her and given her a flower and her favourite soft toy. She looked at peace. In fact, she looked like she was asleep. I kept staring at her thinking that if I called her, she might indeed wake up. But of course, she wasn’t breathing. Her heart, which had been fluttering fast, was still.

The fact that she has actually died is hard to take in. We expected her to die several times in the past and she bounced back. But this time it’s actually happened.

We had been warned that her life could be over in a matter of days – or possibly weeks. It was clear that she had reached the end of her days, that it really was just a question of time. But given her past track record of surprizing us all when she seemed to be on her death-bed, I did think she would live for another week or two. Brother sadly arrived a few hours too late. An old friend who was very close to Mum, had arranged to come two days later. It didn’t occur to me that they would miss saying goodbye to her. Indeed, when I left her, it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t see her again.

The last time I saw her, she was still conscious, still talking – although her mind was obviously wandering. Her last words to me were: Where are you going? Shopping, I told her, but I’ll be back tomorrow. Well, I was back tomorrow but it was not as I’d expected. But I do know that she was tired; she was worn out. It was her time. She officially died of Old Age – not many people manage that!

And now, there’s so much to do! That’s good because otherwise I might lie on the couch like a slug. Even though it was expected and she was very old, it’s still a shock on a deep emotional level. To have your mother die is archetypal in ways I haven’t yet thought through. I have to wait for the process to be completed. And although this is going to make a difference to my life, at the moment I can’t really think about that. I’m focused on giving her a good send-off. I want the funeral to be as good as possible because you don’t get a second chance at it. Brother has been back here and has been a great help. It’s a pity he wasn’t more help when she was still alive. He is very upset – as I knew he would be – and keen for the funeral to go well. I’ve been taken aback by just how involved he wants to be in the planning – and of course, I have appreciated being able to share the burden of decision-making with him.

During the last few years, to stop myself falling into despair over the limitations of my life down here, I had to keep a tight control of my emotions. I had to mentally prepare for the possibility that she might live to be 100. (In the end she missed that milestone by 18 months which, on some level, I do think is a shame.) But at the moment I can’t really unravel my thoughts. All I want to do is clean. Luckily there’s quite a bit of cleaning to do!

Mum was always convinced Dad would find her when she passed across. Perhaps he came to her and called her and she went with him happily. I also hope that she’s left behind the arthritis that crippled her and made her house-bound and unable to do much – and also blighted my Dad’s life as it brought to an end their socialising, their dancing and fancy-dress parties and holidays which they enjoyed so much. Everyone has their own beliefs but I believe mum has passed peacefully through the veil between the worlds, that’s she’s found my Dad and that they are dancing together once again.

RIP MUM 1920-2019

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Mum has been in Quarantine

Last week I came back from a great trip visiting various dear friends in Scotland and London. As usual after a holiday, I came home feeling tired and happy. But I knew that, instead of being able to take advantage of the customary post-holiday glow – and the renewed energy that resulted from it, I’d have to immediately factor in a visit to mum.

I came home on the Friday, after visiting the fab Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A in London. While I was there, I got a text from Liz the Carer who told me she was sitting with mum and reading my postcard from Scotland. So, on Saturday morning I decided to spend the day shopping for food, catching up with the washing and generally chilling out before I went in to visit her – even though, as it was a long weekend, there would be hardly any buses on the Sunday or Monday so I’d probably need to walk home. As it turned out this was lucky as on Saturday morning, they decided to close to the Care Home to outside visitors. They had an outbreak of a virus – vomiting, diarrhoea (apparently there’s a lot of it about) and the correct procedure as laid done by the health authorities is to put the Home in quarantine for at least 48 hours. They rang me to say that mum had had some sickness but was recovering.

Initially I thought: Great! I can use the time to get myself straight, do a bit of gardening and some of the other things I never get around to.

After a couple of days, I hadn’t heard from the Home so I rang back. They said they expected to be open by the end of the week. And that mum wasn’t too bad, just sitting in her room. All the residents were confined to their rooms. A year or so ago mum would have found this difficult but now she’s so away with the fairies I thought she’d be ok.

I used my time off well. I finished a short story I’ve been trying to write for months and I submitted it to a competition on the very last day for entries. I didn’t do this because I expect to win – although I do like my story – but because it meant I was doing something for myself, which felt good. However, as I’d still not heard from the Care Home, at the end of the week I rang them again.

They said they were still off limits, as they had to give the home a proper clean to ensure no trace of the virus remained. They also said the Doctor had been in to see mum that morning as she wasn’t too good. The Doc said she’d been drained by having the virus. They told me she was lying on her bed, not eating much (which is unusual for her!) and dopey. So, I wanted to go in and see her. I have been caring for her, watching over her and keeping her company through so many crises over the last few years. Indeed, over the last ten years my life has been completely disrupted by demands that I drop everything and rush to a bedside etc not only for mum but before that, for my father. So, it did seem strange being forbidden to visit.

However, we all agreed – mum was capable of perking up. She’s already amazed everybody by recovering from what seemed like a terminal state three times in the last six months! But how many more times will she be able to do that?

As I was writing this post, I had a call from the Care Home. They were reopening the next day. However, they said if I wanted to go in that afternoon, I could. It was clear that they expected me to go in. And I understood from their coded references that mum had taken a turn for the worst. It seems that yesterday, she’d another collapse and she’s not really expected to recover. The medic came while I was there. I know home from the local surgery. He warned me that mum has reached the end of her life: it could be weeks – but it could also be days. Of course, she could rally and surprise us all yet again. But somehow, I don’t think that’s going to happen this time.

 

I realise how much I’ve given up!

I don’t mean to be self-pitying, I do try to be positive. But recently on a brief trip to London I happened to take a bus ride through an area I hadn’t been to in ages. In fact, I haven’t been there since I moved down here. It was a lovely sunny spring day and everything looked fresh. We passed a nice old traditional pub that had recently been given a smart coat of paint. It looked particularly appealing next to the bright spring green leaves of the trees in an adjoining inner-city square. I read the name of the pub and did a double take. The Calthorpe Arms! It was a place I’d known well. Upstairs, once a month, it hosts a Cuban film night that I used to go to. I went not only because of my fond memories of a holiday in Cuba but also because at that point I was learning Spanish. I hadn’t recognised the pub because I used to approach it from the opposite direction, plus the meetings were in the evening so I usually came here in the dark.

If I had realised where I was, perhaps I would have unconsciously prepared myself. But with the unexpected shock of recognition, I was overwhelmed by a visceral sense of what I’d given up. I used to have A Life, I used to do Interesting Things, meet Interesting People – and I’d abandoned it all. Of course, I only did that because I was at my wits’ end. 5 years ago, it had become impossible to juggle mum’s needs and my own life. I often had to drop everything and just get on the next train down here – or, once here, I ended up staying for much longer than expected. When I did get back home, my life had been so disrupted, I’d be so tired and so behind with things, that it would take days to get myself straight again. And then… the same thing would happen again. My brother was still working full-time so it all fell onto my shoulders.

In the end, I couldn’t see any alternative: I had to move down here full-time. Of course, I never dreamt that, 5 years later, mum would still be alive. And, I have to admit, I didn’t realise just how full-on it was going to be. I had plans to write a novel, to do all kinds of things, but as soon as I arrived mum gave up doing anything. She expected me to do it all – just like my father had. She tired him out and I said, well she won’t tire me out because I’m still relatively young – but in fact, she did exhaust me. And I’ve developed my own health problems – not something I foresaw! Plus, I’m not getting any younger myself. I’m beginning to wonder whether I’ll ever be able to do any of the things I’d hoped to do ‘in the future’.

Even though I no longer have to look after mum 24/7, I still have to plan my week around visiting her. I had to go in over the long Easter holiday and I had to walk back – as buses are scarce on Sundays and public holidays. But I can’t not go and see her just because it’s inconvenient, especially not now she seems to be fading. By the time I got home, my hips had begun to ache. Even though my walking is improving, I must still be careful if I want to recover – ( and I need to recover: not being able to walk any distance is driving me crazy!) When I’m not visiting mum, I can’t relax. I’m faced with the task of cleaning and sorting and de-cluttering the house which is no small task. Then there’s the garden. I’ve asked my brother for more help but so far none has been forthcoming.

Brother did ask me what my plans were. I said, I can’t have any plans because I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. The only way I can cope is to not think about this sort of stuff, not think about the future. I try to just get up and get through each day. I try to be mindful, to be in the moment. On the whole, I’m successful but, passing that pub made my tightly controlled equilibrium slip and has triggered a sense of despair. It brought me face-to-face with the truth that I’m here living this straightened existence without any of the things I care about: museums, galleries, films, intellectual discourse with like-minded people. I go out one evening a month when a woman I met, who does seem nice, offers me a lift to the Local History Society. And I go because I am making an attempt to be positive about a place where I feel like a fish out of water but where I’ve been living unhappily for nearly 5 years. Well, it’s by the sea. I suppose that’s something.

Anyway, I am getting my equilibrium back – slowly. There’s no alternative after all.

 

Mum is worn out.

Recently I went to Cornwall to look after a cat that belongs to some friends.  I thought it would be a pleasant break but it turned out to be a proper holiday. The weather wasn’t wonderful but the cat sat on my lap and let herself be stroked – mind you, in payment she wanted to be treated like an empress. And indeed, I did obey her every command! But as well as offering pet-therapy, my friends’ house is in a beautiful setting, right on the cliffs just north of Land’s End. I could sit on the couch with the cat on my lap and watch the weather sweeping in over the sea straight from the wild Atlantic Ocean – and it’s true quite a lot of wind, mist and rain did sweep in. But the house was full of interesting books – and the bus stopped right outside so I was able to visit St Ives and Penzance, and even made a 6 hour round trip – which was very scenic, of course – to Truro, where I got a lot of help from the Cornish Family History Society for my research into mum’s family.

Half-way through my visit, I received a text from Liz the Carer, who went into see mum while I was away. She said all was well and they were sitting together, looking at the Postcard of Cornwall that I’d sent to mum. Unfortunately, only a couple of hours later, mum collapsed at the dining table while she was eating lunch. They were helping her walk into the lounge when she collapsed again and fell. The Doctor was called. In fact, by the time I got back the following week, the Doctor had been several times.

When I got back and went in to see her, for the first time ever, she wasn’t sitting in the communal lounge but was still in her room. And she didn’t seem to be interested in my visit. She seemed happy enough, and quite peaceful. Said she was enjoying just sitting and thinking. She talked about me when I was a little girl, but didn’t seem to quite understand that I was that same person, now somewhat older. Sometimes she seemed to think she was talking to her sister and it’s true, I do look like my aunt. But, for me, the main issue was that her energy was very low. And indeed, she told me that she felt ‘worn out’.

A couple of days later it was Mothers’ Day, and so my brother made the effort to come. I didn’t say anything to him but when he returned from visiting her, he was quite down in the mouth. She wasn’t like mum, he said. She seems to have lost her ‘bounce’. I agreed.

Next time I went into the Care Home, the boss took me to one side. The Doctor had said there was nothing specifically wrong with mum that could be treated. Basically, mum has reached the last few months of her life. She is, literally, worn out. But while she doesn’t seem to be completely aware of her surroundings, she does seem calm and happy enough to sit and day dream and drift off to sleep. And she doesn’t think she’s stuck in the Home. No! Some of those day-dreams involve going out to the shops or down to the sea. Which can only be a good thing.

She is very tough old bird, as they say. When I went in yesterday, I was amazed to find her dressed and sitting up in her chair. She thought she still lived in Brixton, in the house where she lived during the war, but otherwise she was bright and very chatty. She was still in her room, but they told me she’d been downstairs to the lounge the day before. So, although she does seem to have gone downhill, this new phase could go on for several moons yet!

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The edge of England! And the view from my friends’ cottage.

20190317_114205The cat naturally wanted to sit in the middle of the map when I was trying to find my great-great-great grandparents’ farm!

The mysterious St Michael’s Mount from Penzance and St Ives from the bus station!20190320_142042

If you ever visit St Ives, don’t miss the wonderful Barbara Hepworth Sculpture garden!

Mum lives two realities at once.

First of all, thanks for all the helpful advice re the dilemma I had a few weeks ago over dad’s love letters. In the end, I did tell mum I’d found them. She seemed to be having a good day and was quite like her old self so I told her I’d been sorting things out and had come across a box of letters from dad.

Immediately, her face lit up. ‘I kept them!’ she said, so she knew exactly what I meant. I asked if she’d like to have them with her and she said she would. But when I took them in, she wasn’t having a good day. When I showed them to her, she didn’t know what they were. She didn’t recognise the box and the letters didn’t seem to have any resonance for her at all, even when I pointed out her old address and the war-time postage stamps.  When I showed her my baby photo she asked, ‘Who’s that? It looks familiar.’

Luckily, I found her lack of recognition amusing. I have after all changed quite a bit over the years.

It seems the only babies mum cares about these days are my brother’s children. Ever since her first fall she’s been living in a time warp of nearly 35 years ago at a time when brother’s first wife tragically died and, for a while, his young, motherless children were cared for by their grandparents. And so Mum asks continually if the children are ok? They’re upstairs, she says, but they haven’t made any noise. I did ask if ‘the children’ were me and my brother, but no, it seems she does mean her grandchildren.

It’s obvious she’s returned to an event which must have been deeply concerning for her. So, I reassure her that the children are fine. They are in their own home. Then I add: they are grown-up now with children of their own. In fact, the babies who come to see you are not my brother’s children but his grandchildren!

Last week, my niece turned 40. I got mum to sign her birthday card. Mum shook her head in wonderment. ‘40! Granddaughter is 40!’ Then she said, ‘The mind is a strange thing. It’s like I am living two different times at the same time and they get muddled up and meld together.’

I found this an incredibly lucid comment. And a possible window into what it’s like to have dementia.

I told her: you’re like someone time-travelling with Dr Who in the Tardis. Sometimes being in the present while simultaneously, being in the past. As she’s a fan of Dr Who, this made her smile.

These days, as I live alone and am somewhat isolated, I often think about the past even if it’s simply on the level of: how on earth did I get myself into this situation? And I’ve found certain memories isolate themselves and continually reoccur – apparently, they’re still very much alive in my subconscious. However, I do know that they are memories. Similarly, when I see a photo taken 40 years ago, I know it’s a photo of me yet at the same time, it’s a photo of someone who’s not me anymore.

For mum, it’s not simply that she’s lost her short-term memory. Her memories, especially ones that are particularly meaningful, seem to have pushed themselves into the centre of her reality and are replaying themselves as if they are happening now. And she can’t separate the past from the present.

But it was interesting she could grasp the concept of a dual universe; of the fact that she’s living in concurrent realities. But of course, the next time the subject comes up she’ll have forgotten all about our conversation and will ask me once again whether I’ve seen my father or if the children are all right?

 

I have issues with the hospital

.IMG-20190131-WA0000When mum had her fall in December, the hospital sent her neck scan to a major orthopaedic unit at a hospital about 30 miles away. The results had been inconclusive – they couldn’t tell whether it was an old neck fracture or a new one, so they decided she’d better wear a neck brace for between 2 and 6 weeks with a review after 2 weeks. As that would fall within the Xmas holiday period, I didn’t think much about it when they didn’t contact us, but as it drew near to 6 weeks, I asked the Care Home staff if they’d heard anything.

Mum is incredibly uncomfortable with the brace: she can’t sleep properly, she can’t eat properly, she needs a straw to drink. It rubs on her chest and under her chin. With the result, said the Care Home, that she keeps trying to take it off.

They assured me they’d been phoning the hospital but had not yet got any answers. When we were into the 7th week, they said the Doctor’s secretary had rung to say he would be looking at the case. But it had nothing to do with any doctor! The physios had put it on, following the orders of the main hospital. This Doctor wouldn’t know anything about it. I decided I was going to take matters into my own hands and put it in writing to the hospital that, if they did not respond soon, we were going to take the brace off anyway.

At this point the paramedic from the local GP’s surgery got involved. I know him, he came to the house a few times when mum was still living at home. He said, leave it with him, he’d sort it out and indeed, he rang me back the next day. He had got in touch with the physio. She’d been on holiday, was shocked to hear nothing had been done and would quickly check and get back to him.

That was on the Wednesday morning. On Wednesday night, mum fell out of bed again and smashed her head again. Apparently, she was rolling over, trying to take off the neck brace and rolled off the bed. I had a call on Thursday morning, had to drop everything and go off to the hospital. Mum had an x-ray, then a scan. It’s an ill wind, everyone said, because then maybe we can get this problem with the brace sorted out. But really mum should not have had this second fall. She bashed her face again to the extent that one of her eyes was completely swollen up, hurt her back again and for the first few days had to have an oxygen mask. She’s 98 – she doesn’t need this and quite frankly neither do I!

The first day, I spent 7 hours at the hospital. At that point it had started to snow, so I phoned a cab and got home just before the snow became heavy. I know we don’t have a lot of snow compared to many places, but by the same token, we aren’t equipped for it. The next morning was below freezing and I got a cab into town as it was too slippery and dangerous to walk to the bus stop – by the evening, the snow had thankfully cleared although it was still bitterly cold.

I can’t afford to take a taxi every time I go, so my other journeys to and from the hospital have been on the bus and they have been horrendous. It can take between 1 ½ hours and 2 hours each way, depending on the connections. Most of the time it’s been raining, with a bitterly cold wind. I’ve managed to grab a bit of shopping in between waiting for the bus – but add the travelling to spending several hours in the hospital – and it’s a pretty long day. That’s what bureaucrats forget. Even though I’m no longer mum’s official carer I’m still expected to drop everything, cancel appointments, whatever and head off to the hospital. (And I have to say, there are always quite a few other adult daughters sitting with their aged parent in the geriatric ward and they all have something to say about the lack of support from their other siblings).

Anyway – back to mum. The first couple of days they classed her as having a spinal injury and made her lie flat – which is very uncomfortable for her. As they’ve agreed it’s an old injury and she’s therefore been walking around with it for a least a couple of years – I asked if she could sit up in a chair- while wearing the brace, naturally! And they did finally agree to that. Today the Care Home are going into to assess whether they’ll accept her back. I hope they will as she’s happy there and also, if they don’t – well, I’ll cross that bridge if I have to. And it will be me who has to sort things out. After one text on Friday afternoon I had no word from my brother until a brief text on Tuesday evening. As you can imagine, I could hardly be bothered to reply to him

But the fact remains, if the hospital had only got back to us when they said they would, mum might never have had this second fall.

 

I find Dad’s love letters

When I saw mum in the hospital and she looked like she was at death’s door, a lot of thoughts flashed through my mind. As, amazingly, she now seems to be on the road to recovery, I’ve been unpicking those thoughts. The first one was: She can’t die yet! I haven’t cleared out the house. It’s too untidy for me to invite people for a funeral!

When I moved down here, my stuff was stored in the garage. When mum moved into the Care Home, I moved my things out of the garage but I couldn’t put them away. To do that, I needed to make space, which meant clearing out mum’s drawers and cupboards. But I didn’t feel I could do that while there was any possibility she might return to live in the house. And of course, I had my surgery, developed the problems with walking etc etc so I didn’t have the energy, the physical strength – or the sense of psychological permission to get on with clearing out the place.

However, things have changed and one of my new year resolutions was to make a start on this task of de-clutterng. I began with mum’s bedside cabinet. The top drawer was full of documents: some from banks, some from hospitals, some possibly important, some probably not. Some went into a pending pile, some in the bin. The second drawer was full of scarves – most of which will go to the charity shop. The lower drawer had a load of old nail varnish (in the bin), old hair rollers (in the bin), some quite nice hair slides which I don’t remember mum ever using but which I might use (in the pile that will be kept) and then, right at the very back of the bottom drawer: a mysterious box, quite old but with a rather nice design on the lid.

I peeked inside: it was full of old letters. I needed my reading glasses before I could explore further so I put them to one side. When I did sit down with them, I saw the envelopes were addressed to my mum in her family name, that is to say – before she was married. My heart skipped a beat. Mum had a fiancé who was lost in the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940. Had she kept his letters secretly all these years? I opened the first one and saw it had been sent from an army camp in Yorkshire. My dad had been stationed in an army camp in Yorkshire. Indeed, he had proposed to mum while they were walking round the roman walls that encircle York. I relaxed. The letters were from Dad.

I skim read a couple, not really wanting to pry and yet curious. I was a little surprised because Dad always said he wasn’t much good at writing. I wondered whether he had asked someone else to write these letters but they seemed too personal, very passionate declarations of love so I thought it unlikely he’d dictated them to someone else. I also realised I’d never really heard his voice. Dad never talked a lot, was a self-professed ‘man of few words’. When I was younger, he and I never really communicated. We tended to have rows about politics – or other things he didn’t agree with concerning the way I was leading my life. It was only in later years we really had anything that could pass as a conversation. I’d certainly never heard him speak like this: fluently, ardently. I looked deeper in the pile. Here the letters were now addressed to my mother as a married woman: his darling wife.

They got married just before the Normandy Landings in 1944. Dad was part of the D-Day force; he had made his way through France, across the bridge at Arnhem and into Belgium. There were no letters from his billet in Brussels – when he stayed with a family with whom we kept in touch with for many years. In fact, I had dinner with them on a visit to Belgium in 1969. And they had told me, my Dad never went out, he only wanted to write letters to his beloved wife. The last letter in the box is from an army camp in England saying he was about to be de-mobbed. That he would be coming home and that this was the last time they would ever be separated.

I got an insight into their relationship. I’ve always known their marriage was a love match but I wasn’t quite prepared for my dad’s ardent outpourings (all very chaste and romantic I’m pleased to add, so I didn’t feel I’d uncovered anything too embarrassing).

But one thing does make me feel uncomfortable: apart from the letters, there was one other thing in the box – a photo of me as a baby. I was the outcome of this outpouring of love! That does feel weird, although I haven’t yet worked out why.

I obviously can’t throw these letters away but how would mum react if I took them to show her? Would she be pleased to see them or cross that I had found them? I haven’t yet made up my mind about that.

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The letters

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Mum and dad on their wedding day.

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Me in my pram!

Mum gives us cause for concern

Three weeks ago mum celebrated her 98th birthday. She was in fine form. The grandchildren came with their kids – her beloved babies. She was very happy to see everyone and, more to the point, remembered their visit.

Two weeks ago, I was up in London for a week full of get-togethers with my friends interspersed with visits to exhibitions. I was feeling quite like my old self. Then, the day before I was due to come back here, I got a call from A&E at the local hospital. ‘Do you know your mother is with us?’

No, I told him, I didn’t know. I learned that mum hadn’t been very well that weekend, muddled in the head and unsteady on her feet so the staff at the Care Home had moved her to a room closer to where the night staff sit. Unfortunately, in the middle of the night mum tried to get out of bed. She can’t stand without help and needs to hold onto something at all times, but it seems she had an infection which made her confused, perhaps she was dreaming she could walk or was dancing. At any event she came crashing down and smashed her head on the bedside table.

Initially, the hospital doctor said they were going to send her home that evening but, after an intervention by one of the physiotherapists and several more phone calls to me, they decided to keep her in for the night under observation. When I saw her the next day, I couldn’t believe they had even considered sending her home. She looked terrible, her face was purple and yellow with bruising and she was linked up to various monitors and intravenous drips. When I arrived, she was asleep and appeared to be in a sort of coma. They told me she’d had a bleed on the brain and a possible fracture in a neck vertebra. I really thought she was on her death bed. I texted my brother: You have to come ASAP!

Eventually mum woke up; they even got her to sit in a chair, but she was still very confused. She had no sense of her surroundings, had no idea she was in hospital and appeared to be in a time warp -worrying about events that happened 30 years ago.

The next day, when I went back, mum had been moved to an isolation ward because she’d had mild diarrhoea and been vomiting. Again, she was strapped up to machines and being dosed with intravenous antibiotics. It was a relief when my brother arrived, so I didn’t feel I had to bear all the responsibility. Mum was still very confused; she kept saying she wanted to lie down when she was already lying down. She kept trying to get up and out of bed when she was already in bed and indeed, had she managed to get up, she would have fallen again as she had no sense she might need some support to help her stand or walk.

The third day, mum was calmer and the infection seemed to be subsiding. She was, however, still convinced she had fallen in the street outside the house of her best friend – who she first met during the War. And perhaps mum was remembering something that really did happen at that time, but she had no recollection of the Care Home or of falling out of bed. When I said that was what had happened, she got quite upset and accused me of lying; nor would she accept that her best friend had been dead for many years. While I was sitting with her, two physiotherapists came and fitted her with a neck brace which she must wear for the next few weeks. They did say the bleeding on the brain had stopped and what had showed up on the scan might be the shadow of an old injury.

That evening they moved mum up to a general ward. When I got there on the 4th day, the nurse said they were sending her back to the Care Home that afternoon. This took me by surprise. I admit I was relieved. Not only because no one wants to stay in hospital any longer than they need to, but also because the round trip on the bus takes at least 3 hours. The weather is getting more seasonal, wet and windy while the sun sets at 4pm and with the dark comes increasing chill so the journey was exhausting me. However, I was genuinely amazed that mum was able to recover so quickly from what was a major incident and really impressed by her strength and resilience.

It’s now over a week since she was sent Home. She’s still very tired, still caught in a time warp of about 30 years ago. She’s very, very uncomfortable in the neck brace. Also, she still looks dreadful, her face is green, yellow and purple like a Frankenstein mask for Halloween. I’ve gone into the Care Home nearly every day to make sure she’s ok. This is much easier to do than get to the hospital, but I’ve also been trying to get everything ready for Xmas. Believe me, I’ll be very glad when everything’s been done. Of course, I’ll also be glad if mum does settle down. I trust the Care Home to look after her but she’s so miserable at the moment and I wonder if at her age she’ll have the stamina to properly recover. If she does, then I think there really is a chance she’ll make it to a 100 and get that telegram from the Queen – so I’d better prepare myself for having to live here for some time to come.

In the short term, I was concerned she’d be too frail to enjoy Xmas, not only because it’s Xmas but because the grandchildren were due to come on Boxing Day and she does love to see The Babies. I did not want to cancel their visit when, for all I knew, she’d be able to enjoy it. I held off posting this until I knew how it would go. In the event she was fine and able to enjoy seeing the children. She was due to see a pantomime last week which she would have thoroughly enjoyed but of course it was impossible for her to go. It’s such a shame she had this fall. I wish it hadn’t happened, but it did.

Best wishes to you all for 2019!

 

 

 

I understand a bit more about my mother.

Once, when we were chatting, mum spoke of how she used to have to go to the pub on a Friday night to get her father’s wages before he drank them all. I knew this story already, but this time I heard something new: our neighbours didn’t have that humiliation, mum told me, and their father was only a bus driver – while we came from Good Stock! All my life, I’ve heard her saying this sort of thing, and never picked up on it – but this time I stopped mum. I asked her what exactly she meant by this strange comment?

Her mother used to say it, apparently. But that was all mum really knew. She did, however, know that her mother had been partly brought up by her grandmother, that’s to say my mum’s great-grandmother, Mary. And that this Mary, who came from Cornwall, had been ‘a lady’. I myself knew that mum’s family, although poor, had considered themselves a cut above my father’s family who were rough and ready working-class cockneys. Nevertheless, they never had to go down the pub on a Friday night to stop their dad drinking away his wages!

I realised that, all through her childhood mum had been made to feel dissatisfied; as if, in some obscure fashion, she’d been robbed of her birth right. I remembered that mum and her sisters always felt cheated that they hadn’t had the benefit of a good education, or the social advantages they felt they should have had. So, as I haven’t been in the mood to do very much else, I started to do some research into mum’s family history.

What I’ve found out so far has been quite unexpected. I still don’t know how or why Mary travelled from Cornwall to London – which was quite a journey to undertake 200 years ago. But once in London, she does seem to have had a lot to do with a family whose surname is the same as her mother’s, so they could be her cousins. I hadn’t realised that this surname might possibly be aristocratic although apparently it can be, and I was surprised to see that, when this possible cousin, John Henry, signed the baptismal register for his eldest child, he revealed he had a string of middle names, all of them with aristocratic links.

My first reaction was that they must be a very junior branch of an ancient family and were trying to maintain their prestigious blood ties even though they weren’t particularly wealthy. Apart from the coincidence of the surname, I can’t as yet prove a direct link between the two families, but they do seem to be intertwined: as witnesses at weddings; as beneficiaries and also executors of wills; Mary’s husband is godfather to John Henry’s son; and, at different times, they all live at the same address in South London. First my great grandparents, then Mary and her second husband – then John Henry who dies there and his son takes over the address. Sadly, the house was bombed in the war and no longer exists, so I can’t take a look at it. The family connection continued to the next generation. Two of John Henry’s children were witnesses to the wedding of one of Mary’s daughters.

When she herself gets married, John Henry’s daughter lists her father’s full name and the string of names is even longer than I’d realised, perhaps because there was more space on the marriage certificate to list them all.  And all of them with the same aristocratic ring. However, by now it’s clear that the family have little or no money. And so, again, I feel this family are clutching at straws. They might not be well off – but they have Bloodlines!

Just like my grandmother. I know she inherited a couple of houses (worth a fortune at today’s prices!) a shop and a laundry, yet by the time my mother was growing up, they were poor. My grandmother had to go out to work as a cleaner and a cook. The businesses, the property all sold off – presumably because her husband was an alcoholic and a wastrel. But! She came from Good Stock! I started off mocking my mother for this claim; now I’m beginning to think there may be a grain of truth in it – a grain of truth that has blighted my mum’s life and stopped her appreciating all the good things she had, but which her mother brought her up to believe she was too good for.

I don’t mock people who held onto this lifeline. My generation had more opportunity to make their own way in the world. There are still class distinctions, of course, but there are more chances to get on – even if you don’t come from the ‘right’ family. But the fact is, I think my grandmother’s pretensions have blighted my mum’s life and I’ve begun to feel I understand her a bit better.

 

Mum thinks Dad is living upstairs in the Care Home

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.