March 18, 2011

Mum’s a bit quiet when Dad and I arrive at the care home – we’re not treated to the fulsome smile and excited shouts of welcome that we usually get. I notice that a blood vessel has burst in Mum's right eye and that one of her hearing aids isn’t working. But once I’ve changed the battery she’s still not responding properly to my voice.

It’s Saturday, so Ian and I are eating with Mum as per the new regime. We enjoyed our meal together last week, but today the signs are not good. Mabel won’t sit close to the table. She is constantly pushing out with her legs, and, as one of the brakes on her wheelchair is not working properly, she goes backwards in a curve. I keep fetching her back to her place at the table. Crouching down by her side, I encourage her to eat the main course. Finally, I swop seats with Dad, so that I can physically prevent the wheelchair from going back. Mabel eats a little carrot, a few Brussels sprouts and some pastry, but not very much. I keep helping her as much as I can while making inroads into my own steak pie. “Not a bad bit of pie that,” says Ian, encouraging us both in his own way.

After the meal we go to the quiet room at the top of the house. Mum and Dad both drop off to sleep for a few minutes, leaving me to turn over a few questions in my mind. Are we going out for a run in the car today? Will Mabel need to go to the loo given that she didn’t take in much liquid with her lunch? Should we just spend time with Mum in her room this afternoon? When Mabel wakes up she seems more settled. I ask her if she wants to go out for a drive and she says she does. So that’s that. We get going.

Only we don’t get going. When I get Mabel out to the car, she won’t stand up out of the wheelchair. I slip her glove on her right hand so that she can hold the side of the car more easily, which usually helps Mum get to her feet at this juncture. But, no, today she doesn’t seem to understand what I’m asking her to do. “Just stand up, Mum,” I say again, ready to assist her to her feet. No movement from Mabel. I go back into the care home and fetch a carer. Shona is more used to moving Mabel than I am. But today she can’t get Mum to co-operate either. In fact, the tone of her voice rubs my mother up the wrong way. ‘No, no no!’ Mabel shouts when she’s asked again if she wants to go out.

Over to me. I crouch down by Mum and explain that if she can’t get into the car then we won’t be able to go out for a nice run in the country. Wouldn’t she like that? No response, just a frown. She’s getting cold so I wheel her back inside.

I settle her down in the comfy chair in her room. Only Mum is still restless and seems incapable of engaging with her loved ones. I suggest to Dad that he bails out and takes the car home. Fifteen minutes later he’s back saying that he’s locked himself out of the house. Dolefully he tells me that he must have dropped the key somewhere in the care home. I point out that even if that was the case, there is a spare key in the keysafe by the back door of our house. I sense my father droop on being told the obvious. But he needn’t worry. Being with Mabel today has upset him. That’s perfectly understandable. This time I walk with him to the car, alert a member of staff to the fact that Mabel will be alone in her room for a few minutes, drive Dad home, and return to find Mum sitting with a cup of tea in front of her.

Mum seems unable to deal with the handle of the teacup. What’s wrong with her? I crouch down to her level for what seems to be the tenth time today and try to communicate. First, I have to get her attention. But even in that I don’t succeed. Just as I’m about to give up, she comes out with a single whispered word: “sorry.” Which results in strong feeling welling up inside me. For a few moments I’m grieving. Grieving for the loss of my mother. But pretty soon I stop. Not for the first time I realise that this grieving process is such a long one, beginning well before death and progressing - 'progressing'? - in unpredictable ways.


The senior carer enters into the room. She’s aware that Mabel has not been her usual self today. However, she tells me that I shouldn’t worry too much. Mabel needs to have some peace and quiet. In all probability she’ll be better tomorrow.

The next morning, I’m told that Mabel is indeed better. And the day after that I see for myself that her eye is much improved – the redness has almost disappeared. She is able to stand up and get into the car as usual. As we drive along, I conclude that there was something wrong with Mabel on Saturday and that her inner resources were directed at repairing whatever was at fault.

Next time I get a chance, I whisper back. "There's nothing to be sorry for."