February 19, 2011

There has been a satisfying shape to this afternoon’s visit. Mum and I sit companionably in a quiet lounge at the top of the care home looking out of a bay window over the town and towards a distant range of hills. But it’s taken us a while to get to this peaceful position.

To begin with, Mum was in the main lounge with ten other residents. She may have been disruptive before my arrival, because her chair had been turned around so that it faced the dining room area where a carer was doing some paper work and could keep half an eye on her. Mum’s first words to me alluded to some disagreement between the pair of them. Such stand-offs are getting more common these days, as Mabel finds herself able to understand less of what other people want – one usually has to repeat even the simplest of sentences – and finds it more difficult to verbalise her own requirements. I’m hoping this is a blip in her well-being, but it’s been going on for a few weeks now.

With help from the carer, Mum was transferred to her wheelchair, which I pushed along to her room. There, Dad was waiting and the three of us enjoyed a pot of tea together, courtesy of the carer. This afternoon tea set-up is something new we’re trying. Although the trips out in the car are enjoyed by all, Mabel is finding getting in and out of the car more difficult – certain of the movements are not coming as automatically as they did. Also, there is a tendency for Dad and me to do most of the talking, with Mabel floating along for the ride on what might as well be a magic carpet. Which is all right as a change of scene, but I’ve suggested we should get together at the care home twice a week and at least try and make conversation.

Ian asked about the yellowing bruise on her forehead just below her hairline.

“Have you had a fall, Mabel?”

No answer.

“Mum, your forehead is bruised,” I said, gently touching her widow’s peak. “Have you had a fall?”

“Oh, yes,” she said. Mabel went on to tell us that she’d climbed onto the shoulders of a man and then fell backwards onto the floor.

I was quite impressed with this answer. Mabel had used her imagination in a coherent way and had put over her thoughts in sentences that communicated meaning. So what if the end result could only bear a distant relation to reality?

After tea, Mabel wanted to go to the toilet. The beauty of our new system is that Ian can bail out at any time – I’d already given him the keys of the car and it’s no hardship for me to walk home from here. It’s this kind of flexibility that’s so important for all our states of mind. If Ian stays too long in the care home when he’s not feeling well, or when something gets to him, then it’s bad for his morale. Yes, this new system is working for all of us. Or at least I think it is.

With Ian gone and Mabel toileted, I took Mum for a walk. We talked to the chef who engaged in his usual banter with Mabel who always brightens up when she sees him. Having established what was on offer for evening meal, I pushed Mum into the lift and we rose to the top of the building where this quiet lounge greets all those who come in search of its ambience. Actually, it’s not always so serene. When the hairdresser is working this room is used as a waiting room, with all the sense of transience that such a function implies. And it’s also the venue for the quarterly residents’ relatives meeting. What a dismaying experience the last one was. A temporary manager effectively disempowered the group of about ten relatives who’d made it along. Perhaps what silenced them was being asked, ostensibly for privacy reasons, not to refer to residents by their names. Anyway, when I made a point about the absence of staff in the main lounge for a big chunk in the afternoon, I got no support from anybody else in the room. Well, actually, I did get a few nods from senior care staff, who realised I was complaining about staff levels and not the performance of individuals. But I don’t think many of the relatives who were at the meeting could have experienced the home during the afternoon. And so, in the absence of personal knowledge, their instinct was to go along with the sense of ‘all’s for the best, in the best of all possible worlds’ that the manager was intent on putting over.

Amazing! But let me forget that
débacle and get back into the moment. Sitting here with Mum. She’s been talking with me. Asking me a question about her own mother. And - thinking I’m Ian - asking if in my opinion ‘Duncan and John will take care of each other’. Instead of contradicting Mabel, I assured her that her mother was all right (she’d be about 120 if she was still alive). And I assured her that her two sons had a rapport that would stand them in good stead.

She’s sleeping now, I can sense her quiet breathing. It might be an appropriate time for Mum to slip away completely. But I don’t think that will happen. Dementia aside, her health still seems strong. Which is fine by me. At times like this, being with Mum is a positive boon to my own blood pressure. Very calm I’m feeling right now…Very, very calm… Apart from Mum and me, the earth might be uninhabited… No, tell a lie, we’re not alone. I infer from her rapid-eye-movement that Mabel, in her dream, is climbing onto the shoulders of a third party, let's call him Dementia, and is about to perform a backward flip from which she will emerge in her mid-thirties, sound of mind and limb, standing supportively between her two boys.

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