Mum died a year ago.

It’s the anniversary of mum’s death and for the last few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened when she died. At the time, I wasn’t able to process the experience of her death on an emotional level. There was so much to do; so many decisions to make, so many people to inform. And that had certain advantages. If I hadn’t had to complete all the practical tasks, perhaps I would have just curled up into a ball, and sank into a slough of despond. I mean, that’s what I wanted to do. As I’ve written before, I was truly taken aback by how distressed I was when she passed.

Although I never wished her dead, I had wondered how long it would be before I’d be free to move on with my life. But when she did die, psychologically, I fell into a sort of abyss where I’ve been wandering for the last twelve months.

It was around 7.30 in the morning, when they rang to tell me she had passed in the night. I was already up and about because I was expecting a heating engineer who could come anytime between 8am and 1pm. Trying to cancel his visit via an automated response line which could not understand my increasingly distressed attempts to leave a message and cancel the visit was a horrible experience. Then I rang my brother. I had been trying to get him to come for the last three days and he’d finally said he would come that day. So, sadly, he was too late to say goodbye. And then, because I knew I’d never get a cab at that time in the morning, I quickly left the house and ran for the early bus. Within the hour, I was at the Care Home.

Several times in the past Mum had appeared to be at death’s door and then bounced back so, although we knew she was at the end of her life, we didn’t expect she would go quite so quickly. So, I was prepared, and yet I wasn’t completely prepared. Although I knew it would happen, I didn’t really believe it would actually happen so soon. They showed me into her room, and she looked like she was asleep. They had dressed her in a nice cardigan. They had given her flowers to hold, and tucked her toy rabbit in her arms. They closed the door and left me alone with mum.

And this is the moment that I return to, that to some extent holds me captive. Because it was a moment of great purity. A moment of essential being. An emotional touchstone. The hustle and bustle that follows a death hadn’t begun. My own attempts to process what had happened – and which inevitably distanced me from the raw experience of the event – hadn’t begun. It was just me sitting beside my dead mother. Like a pieta, but in reverse.

A pristine moment, suspended, archetypal. Beyond personality, or individuality, or language. A very beautiful moment, actually. I’d seen my dad in the funeral parlour. I was glad I’d gone to say goodbye but he had looked more like a waxwork version of my dad, than my real dad. But in that moment, mum was still mum: she was still warm; she looked at peace. As I say, she genuinely could have been asleep. And yet, she wasn’t asleep, she was dead.

I once saw a heart-rending film of a gorilla whose baby had died. For several days, the mother would not let her baby go. She kept hugging and hugging the corpse. She could not accept that the infant was dead. Society does not allow us that fiction. We can’t just pretend death has not occurred and yet, there is a desire to suspend belief. One minute they were here; next minute they are not. I suppose that’s the point of funereal rites, to help us come to terms with that ontological rift, that sundering of the link that bound us. Can we say that a gorilla loves their baby? I never really said I loved my mother. There was so much history. She had never given me what I would call unconditional love. And yet, there was some sort of a bond there. It’s what brought me down here to care for her.

As I sat with her, in her purple cardigan with her flowers and her rabbit and her peaceful energy – because her spirit or soul, what ever you want to call it, her restless energy – had departed and so she did appear to be at peace, I was able, finally, to feel that bond between us, without resentment or qualifications. Yet it was at that very moment  that the bond was broken – and could never be restored.

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It’s been a long time

It’s been along time since my last blog. Mainly because I’ve been unable to type. It’s a long story…

In the middle of December, I went on a short trip to Amsterdam. We had a great time but, on the last evening, I fell over and broke my arm very badly, right up close to my shoulder.

Thank goodness, I wasn’t alone. I was with friends. They got me to the hospital, sat with me till the small hours, got me back to the hotel. The next morning, they brought me coffee, helped me get packed and dressed, got me to the station and onto the train. The journey back to London wasn’t easy. Every now and then, I get a flashback and when the memory returns, I feel sick, because actually, it was pretty dreadful! Luckily, oh how luckily, I’d arranged to spend the night with friends in London. I got a cab to their house and the next day they helped me get on my train home.

Looking back, I don’t know how I got through the next few weeks. I was a one-armed bandit in acute pain. I could hardly do a thing. I survived Christmas: friends came and collected me off the train in London and took me to their place where I was made a fuss of – and very well fed (!) – for the holidays. Then there was New Year to get through. Brother came with his partner to help me over those days. After that, there were several weeks which were quite bad. I just had to focus on coping. In retrospect, I’m not quite sure how I did manage to cope! Especially when I get one of those flashbacks! But I did cope. And of course, I was beginning to heal.

I had a few glitches with the hospital but, eventually, I started physio and my recovery began to proceed slowly but steadily. They have told me it was a pretty bad injury and it will take several months – if not the rest of the year – before I finally recover and my recovery will be determined by how diligently I do my physio exercises. However, by early March, after about 12 weeks, the pain had eased and, although my range of movement was still limited, I began to feel better and could start to do more.

In fact, this week I was supposed to be with friends in Spain – but thank goodness we didn’t go! Instead, I am beginning another 12 weeks at home – this time because of the government’s attempt to halt the spread of coronavirus. But at least, I’m able to do a lot more than I could. In fact, the last few days, I’ve been able to type – which is great.

I fell over in the street, for no particular reason that I can see. It was just a silly accident. But it felt like I’d fallen into the underworld. I think I may have mentioned last year of how surprised I was at my reaction to mum’s death. The dreams I’d had of dashing off to new horizons as soon as I could, proved to be just that: dreams. A great abyss of grief and loss and confusion opened up between me and those golden horizons. And I knew then, that the only way to cross it would be to descend into it. However, I expected this descent would be a psychological metaphor.

The truth is, I felt that when I fell, I didn’t just hit the pavement. What I’d actually done is fallen into that abyss; that I’d landed at the bottom in a barren, lifeless, rock-strewn landscape just like the underworld might be. But, at the far end, there was daylight.

I know from my reading of fairy tales and ancient myths, that a hero or heroine may enter the underworld or a labyrinth – some dark place full of danger and mystery but, if they have the right attitude, they will return to the daylight world – this time bearing a gift or a prize that they have earned through their perseverance. Comforted by this, I have tried to find a way forward. I am trying to work out what lessons I must learn, what riddle it is I must answer, before I can re-emerge into the sunlight.

And now, this. Like everyone else, I was not prepared for the global crisis we now find ourselves having to deal with. I will admit, it’s a huge relief that I don’t have to worry about mum being in lock-down in her Care Home. I can concentrate on worrying about myself! And how I’m going to find enough food – and oh god, coffee – to last for the next 12 weeks! And if, during that time, I can find my treasure, solve my riddle or whatever – so much the better.

Since I wrote this I have had two and a half weeks without a landline or internet, courtesy of a balls-up by my provider. I could only communicate with the outside world by texts and a limited amount of minutes on my old mobile, which I needed to save in case of emergencies. This would have been annoying under normal circumstances – but these times are not normal! Anyway, fingers crossed this has been resolved for now.

Keep well, everyone! Stay safe and stay sane!

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My brother and I around 1970, looking pretty cool.

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Me and my dad on holiday circa 1950!

 

It would have been mum’s birthday.

If she’d still been alive, Mum would have been 99 last weekend and I couldn’t stop myself feeling sad. I told myself, if she had still been alive, I would’ve been even more sad, desperate even, wondering how much longer it would be before I’d be free to start living my own life once again. For the last few years, I couldn’t allow myself to feel frustrated and wish she would die because that would’ve been mean and unfair. I say to myself, at least the next phase of my life has now begun, even if, at the moment, it doesn’t quite feel like it. It feels like, when you’re near the end of a book – there aren’t that many pages to go, but you haven’t actually finished reading it yet; you haven’t quite got to the conclusion. That’s how my life seems at the moment.

I don’t post much on Facebook, but I did use to post a snap of mum on her birthday, holding a sign telling us she was still ‘98 not out’ (that of course was last year) and all weekend, Facebook kept showing me: ‘Your memories from last year!’ , ‘Your memories from 3 or 4 years ago’. Pictures of Mum smiling away. Thanks, Facebook, for reminding me that she won’t be celebrating her birthday this year. However, it’s also true that mum looks so happy in these snaps. Right up to the end, she loved performing, always perked up for the camera. When I showed her how many ‘likes’ her photos had got from my F/B friends, ‘Look mum you’re on the internet!’ she was always thrilled. And it’s true that, if it hadn’t been for me, her last few years wouldn’t have been so happy.

I’m sure Brother and his kids will have noticed the date. They always came to visit on her birthday. The first year she was in the Care Home, we did manage to get her back here for the day, but by last year that was no longer possible. The Grandchildren went into the Care Home in shifts together with their much-loved Babies, and in between we all had lunch together here. Brother and Grandchildren didn’t need to make the journey this year – nor will they have to come at Xmas.

I’ve noticed that, after someone has died, their friends or family always remember their birthday. People say they meet for lunch or go to the cemetery to lay flowers. This is the date we remember, not the anniversary of the death. I suppose that’s best. It’s a date we’ve always known, and it gives a sense of continuity. Yes, our loved ones have passed, but we still remember them, we still retain them in our thoughts, they are still part of our lives even though they are no longer with us physically. In fact, I had a very dear friend who died about 25 years ago and on his birthday, I always pause, just to give some thought to his memory and to the role he played in my life. It’s still his birthday – and it’s the same with mum. I say that she would’ve been 99 a few days ago – and next year, I shall no doubt say that she would’ve been 100 – had she lived that long.

On that note, I shall mention that Dad would’ve been 100 this week if he’d still been alive. But he isn’t. He’s been dead for nearly 9 years and, over time, the raw memory of his death has faded – and, in time, it will be the same for mum. But that date in November will always be Mum’s Birthday.

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I buy myself a magic carpet

I recently went down to the wonderful Chalice Well Gardens in Glastonbury for a ‘retreat’ – a few days of calm contemplation in the lovely surroundings. Once I’d arrived and ‘let go’, I realised how tired I was, not just physically but mentally too. I kept returning to the memory of how I had sat with mum just after she’d died. That had been a beautiful, peaceful moment but, since then, I have felt as if nothing was real; that everything was make-believe. I thought this might be because I hadn’t had a proper chance to mourn. Even that first pure experience of sitting with mum after she’d passed had been marred. I’d been conscious that I was in the Care Home and must let them get on with what they needed to do; I was aware that I needed to go straight from there to the funeral directors; that I needed to get food because my brother was coming etc etc – all of those thoughts overlaying the shock that mum had actually died! For years we’d thought she might die at any time but, she didn’t die. Now she had actually gone, I felt in a sort of suspended animation.

Over the next few days of my retreat, I slowly began to relax and unwind; to detox from the stress that had been blocking my emotion. I became able to experience my grief and then, to accept that it will be my companion for a while. I also began to understand that this is just another phase in my life. Because people kept asking ‘what are you going to do now?’ I’d inadvertently fallen into that mind-set – that mum’s death had been a cut-off point and I’d immediately know what I’d do next. But the truth is, I’ve been living here for 5 years. I never expected to be here this long, but it’s ceased to be a short-term occurrence, it’s become a phase of my life in which caring for mum was one aspect – perhaps the central aspect because I would never have come here otherwise – but I can’t just close the door and walk away as if the last few years haven’t happened.

I’m sure I will eventually ‘move on’ when the time is right, but before I can do that I need to sit with my feelings and emotions for a while. I arrived at the Chalice Well on the Equinox, after which – at least in the northern hemisphere – the days grow shorter and the nights longer until we reach the Winter Solstice. I think this is a good metaphor for what I need to do. I need to let myself drop into the darkness like a seed in the earth and – as the light returns, as spring comes again – see what shoots have appeared, see what I feel like doing then.

In the short-term though, here I am still living in my parents’ house, which is not a house I would have chosen, in an area I would never have chosen – and it’s not furnished or decorated in any way that I like. Sitting beside the Chalice Well, I thought: what I need is a lovely rug. I imagined a rug rolled out in front of the fireplace. Yes, that’s what I need! It would cheer up the living room no end; it would make me feel more like it’s my place. (I am rather partial to a nice rug). Later that day, I went into the town and there, outside a shop I’ve never been in before that sells furnishing and bric-a-brac, I saw a rolled-up rug. It was a bit expensive but there was another smaller one at a better price. I didn’t go in and ask about it but the next day I decided to return to the shop and have another look.

The rugs were still there but the smaller one was too small, it wasn’t right. The guy unrolled the larger one. It was lovely. In fact, it was the rug I had imagined. The owner said: it’s not that expensive. No, I agreed, it’s not that expensive for what it is. I told him I’d go away and have a think about it. I got about 50 yards down the road. I thought to myself: what’s your problem? This is synchronicity. You imagined a rug and here it is. You love this rug! It’s come to you from the cosmos! And even though it was a sum of money, at the end of the day, it was a sum I could afford. I went back. I bought the rug.

When I unrolled it at the retreat house (because I had to fold it up properly in order to carry it on the train) the other residents admired it. One of them said: this is your magic carpet! Yes! I loved this idea.

Now I have a beautiful hearth rug that completely lifts the room and stops it looking quite so dull and dingy. If I feel a bit miz, I just go and admire my rug – and cheer up immediately. Perhaps, when I emerge from the underworld, it will help me to fly off on the next stage of my life’s journey – whatever that may be!

 

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Above: Chalice Well dressed for Mabon – or the Autumn Equinox.

Below: My magic carpet! The colours are much more jewel like than in this photo!

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I resolve a tricky problem – with a little help from The Milkman.

For the last 5 years I have dreamed of sleeping in my own bed. It’s a nice bed, a small double with a good mattress and I bought it when I moved into the studio apartment I had in London. When I moved down here, there wasn’t room for it in the spare room where I had to sleep. That only had room for a single bed. So my bed had to be stored in the garage.

After my surgery last year, I couldn’t manage in a small bed, so I moved into what had been my parents’ bedroom and slept on my mum’s old bed. It wasn’t a bad bed in itself – the mattress was good quality but it had been badly stained. I covered it with layers of blankets and sheets before I put my own bedding on top of it. I dreamed of swapping the beds over but the logistics of how I’d ever be able to do that, defeated me.

First of all, I’d have to hire two men to carry mum’s double bed out of the house – and I’d have to co-ordinate that with the pick-up service from the council, who have to be booked in advance if you want them to collect large items. I’d also need time to clean where the bed had been, hoover and dust – before these men would be able to bring my bed in from the garage – which would mean they’d need to leave and return for a second time. I felt exhausted just thinking about how on earth I was going to manage the logistics.

I wrote last time about how I realised I had to make a start on clearing the house and how I did clear out mum’s wardrobe and also, the large storage drawers under her bed. After I’d packed everything up and piled it all in the garage ready for collection by the charity, in the same determined spirit I took all the stuff that had been stacked up on top of my bed base – just boxes and odd bags and things – so the bed could be moved easily if I ever did work out how to get it inside the house.

Two days later, The Milkman turned up. He also does gardening and grass cutting, and he reaches the back garden by bringing his lawn mower through the garage. I said: I’m sorry, I’ve been sorting out mum’s stuff. You’ll have to move all these bags. He knew mum well, so he was quite understanding. I put my hand on my bed base. I said: I don’t suppose you know a couple of guys who would help me swap my bed over. He said: I can do it. I can do it now, if you want. I laughed in disbelief: What by yourself? He said: I expect the double bed comes apart. Let’s have a look.

With that, he went into the house, took the bed apart and carried it outside. I said: I’d better ring the council to take it away. He said: I can take it in my truck. My eyes were round in wonder: Really???? Yes really, he said, but first I have to go and do another job for an hour. This was perfect. It gave me time to hoover and dust and move the furniture out of his way.

I couldn’t believe it was really happening. I cleaned up – under the bed had been pretty disgusting, as I’d suspected – then he came back and brought in the bed. I have to say, at one point it did seem as if The Milkman had underestimated the difficulties he would be faced with. As he was trying to manoeuvre the bed base through the doorway into the living room, it got jammed in the hallway. Then it got entangled on a low-hanging light fitting. I hate this light fitting but it’s wired in so I can’t remove it. Luckily, I am tall, so although I couldn’t help him by taking any weight, I was able to reach up and help extricate the bed base from the light. And then, somehow, miraculously it was done. Mum’s bed was gone and my bed was there instead. I left it to air for a couple of days, burned some cleansing essential oils and, at last, slept on my own bed again.

I said to The Milkman: you have no idea how horrible it’s been sleeping on my parents’ bed! And I do think it’s been unhealthy for me psychologically, but I just couldn’t work out how to organise the changeover. Since then, even on sleepless nights, I feel so relieved that I’ve finally resolved such a huge obstacle to my attempts at house clearance. Of course, I’m already thinking about the next task I’ll have to complete but, in the meantime, I’m giving myself a bit of breathing space.

And I have now finished emptying out all the things that belonged to my parents from drawers and cupboards and my mum’s desk. I’m not saying this stuff has all left the house! Much of it is in piles: stuff to be recycled; stuff to be shown to brother and/or grandchildren; stuff I may – or may not – wish to keep myself.  It’s a long sad task, emotionally taxing as well as physically demanding. I’m continually coming across items which take me down memory lane, or which contain an essence of mum or dad as human beings and bring me sorrow.

But, at least there’s no time pressure. And at the end of each stressful day, I am very happy to lie down on my own bed!

I can’t seem to focus on anything.

It’s been a strange time. I don’t feel particularly sad or grief stricken, but my brain doesn’t seem to be functioning normally. I’ve had several ideas for writing the blog and every one of them slid sideways, out of the frame. It’s like my brain is fogged and I can only think about what’s in front of my eyes. And even that seems to involve some issues.

In the middle of August, I went to stay with old friends who’ve moved to a city where I’ve never been and now live in a house where I’ve never stayed. So it was the best of both worlds: a dear pal I could share my thoughts and feelings with – and a new environment that had no links with the past. I returned here feeling refreshed but – there was a strange problem: I was developing a stye in my eye. I’ve never had one of those in my life! But I knew that the psychological ‘tag’ for such things is that there’s something you’re ‘not looking at’ or ‘not seeing’.

I wrote this thought down in my journal. Then I stopped writing, raised my eyes and looked around with conscious intent. I saw that I was surrounded by stuff. Stuff that I need to sort out. Stuff that belonged to my parents. Stuff that is overwhelming me. Yet it is also Stuff that must be dealt with before I can even think about moving on from here. So. There was my answer. I’ve been sitting here reading fantasy novels and thinking about holidays – holidays I know very well I shall never book. But, if I do want to move forward, then I have to clear away all the Stuff.

I bathed my eye in warm water – I even rubbed it with a warmed gold ring – and after a few days the swelling and soreness went away. But I also began to work. It was a long weekend and the cricket was on the radio. I began the task of emptying out my mother’s clothes from the wardrobe, and from the remaining drawers of her dressing table. (I had of course already begun this task over the last months, but only in a desultory fashion). Now I packed the clothes into bags and arranged for a Charity to pick them up.

The cricket was exciting; the neighbours were making some dreadful racket in the garden, grinding paving stones for a patio so, although the weather was fine, I forced myself to carry on and empty the storage drawers under the bed. In some ways, this was more upsetting than packing up the clothes, for here were freshly laundered sheets, carefully washed and ironed and put away – which mum must have done when she was still able to do that sort of thing and before she reverted to just using the same easy wash and wear bed linen that she was using when I arrived. I got a sense of a house-proud, happy woman. But I gritted my teeth. I stashed it all into bags. And piled all the bags up in the garage.

When the guy came to collect the bags, I almost cried out to him: no! It’s a mistake, don’t take them! But I resisted. And now, they are gone. There is a sequel to all of this which I’ll write about next. Suffice it to say that I’ve made a start. Chores like this are not easy psychologically but, as my brain isn’t functioning normally, it probably is quite a good idea to try and complete these practical tasks. Even though my emotionally hardwired brain tells me ‘don’t do it!’ my rational brain knows very well that there’s no point in delaying: especially as, until it’s done I will have no choice but to continue to live here in a place where I don’t feel at home and which I don’t actually like very much. No one else is going to help me do it. My brother won’t. He wouldn’t mind if I spent the next 10 years helplessly sitting here surrounded by chaos.

By the way, I did finally manage to collect mum’s ashes. I brought them home on the bus, mainly because the bus was there, stopped right outside the funeral directors – but also because it saved me having to talk to a cab driver. ‘What have you got there?’ ‘Oh, just my mother’s ashes!’ I apologised to her for not carrying her home along the sea front like I did with dad, but I did put her on the bus seat beside me so she could look out of the window (!?!). When I got back here, I said: well, you’re home, as you wished to be. And it’s not as upsetting to have them here as I feared it would be. So I no longer feel under pressure to find a suitable place to scatter them as soon as possible. I am happy to take time to find the right place.

Some photos I found:

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1953 Coronation Day Party. I’m the little girl at the side with her drink of juice!

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At Bracklesham Bay which isn’t that far along the coast from where I am now, but the charming farm and duck pond are long gone.

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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!