31 March, 2010

It’s Dad’s 84th birthday and we’re having a meal out to celebrate. The table is booked for 1pm but I’ve arranged to pick up Mum at 12.15pm - just before lunch is served at the care home - so that she doesn’t have to sit on her own while the other residents eat. As usual her eyes light up when she sees me from her seat in the corridor, and I’m fairly sure mine respond in kind. It is one of the best moments in any day, that mutual recognition of mother and son, carer and cared for. Shame it can’t last. In her excitement, Mum is already trying to stand up out of her wheelchair as I’m jabbing in the security code to the front door. But I’m at her side long before there is any possibility of her falling.

The staff have made a reasonable job of dressing her for the temperature outside. It’s one of the things they’re good at. As for me, I’m used to manhandling the wheelchair and its disorientated occupant out of the awkward entrance.

“Are you sure this is our car?” asks Mabel, frowning at the Renault that she sees every second day.

‘Yes, that’s the one. Up you get now.’ Mabel stands up out of her chair, and with my support raises her right leg and plants her foot on the floor of the vehicle. She does this so shakily that it almost comes as a surprise that she actually manages to slide her backside into the front seat. But I’m pretty sure her car-accessing movements are no feebler than they were eighteen months ago when she first moved into the care home. Vascular dementia proceeds by stages. If Mabel avoids the mini-strokes that plagued her for a year or two then her dementia may not get any worse. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.

 - 205

At the restaurant, we’ve been allocated a large round table in the middle of the room. It’s splendid but I ask if we can be moved to a smaller rectangular table where I can sit alongside Mum and help out with her eating and communicating. Being in public with Mabel does not embarrass me. But I do sometimes take precautions to try and ensure that this remains the case.

My partner, Kate, arrives separately. She gives Ian his birthday card, has a teasing exchange with Mabel - who gives as good as she gets - then asks me why Mabel is sitting there in her coat. Mabel is sitting there in her coat because it’s a tricky operation for one person to remove the sleeve from first one arm, then the second sleeve from the other arm, then to release the whole coat from between Mabel and the wheelchair. But of course that is me being lazy: mentally and physically lazy. With Kate’s help, I have Mum sitting there with her napkin over her best blue cardigan looking as comfortable as any of the other ladies that are lunching.

Soon Mum gets stuck into the seafood salad that I’ve ordered for her. She’s had this before and liked it. The prawns, smoked salmon, herring and mackerel fillet are pure protein and surely a healthy change from the fish fingers that are the nearest that the care home gets to serving up f
ruits de mer. If fish is brain food, perhaps it’s anti-dementia fodder as well. I watch as Mum repeatedly fails in her effort to fork a prawn. ‘It won’t stick,’ she says, staring intensely at the conjunction of prongy fork and saucy prawn. ‘It won’t stick!’ she keeps saying. Suddenly, Dad, Kate and I are all laughing. What are we laughing at? - The obvious relish with which Mabel is attacking her food. Once she masters the art of prawn spearing, I gaze on her with the same pleasure I imagine a parent does on seeing his or her child eating well. After more prawn guzzling, I turn Mum’s plate so that it’s bite-size pieces of salmon that grab her attention. And so our meal progresses, the River Tay keeping us company as it serenely rolls past the window…

With a trouble-free trip to the disabled toilet under our belts, as well as our lunches, Mum and I sit contentedly in the front seats of the car. With measured use of a stick, Dad walks towards us, having paid for the whole – his and our - birthday feast. Dad has had a tough six months due to ill health. For the first year of Mum being in the home, he managed to visit her every second day, so that Mabel got a visit from her husband or her son every single day. But for the last six months Dad hasn’t managed to visit separately and instead has tagged along with me.

In a state of some distress, Dad said the other day that he felt he was losing Mabel. To which I didn’t know what to reply. Dad calmed down and said that he felt Mum’s bond with me was stronger than her bond with him nowadays, and that that was for the best.

So we watch as Ian approaches the car.

‘He doesn’t move so badly. Considering his age,’ says Mabel.

‘No, he doesn’t, you’re right.’

Mum doesn’t move so badly either. All things considered.