July 8, 2011

It’s the middle of the night and I’m lying awake in bed. No sound of cars or birds: utterly quiet.

I know it must be the absolute middle of the night because there is an image that’s seeped into my mind while I’ve been sleeping, and has settled there, so heavy and cold that its woken me up.

It’s a picture of Mum as I saw her when I walked into the home at ten past eight, just a few hours ago. She was sitting slumped in a dining room chair at the table she would have eaten her evening meal at, three hours before. She was stuck between her chair and a table leg. The only movement she seemed to be able to manage was to pull at her left trouser leg which was rolled hard up round her knee exposing her lower leg. On the table was a large piece of chocolate cake on a side plate and a cup of milky tea on a saucer that I could tell was stone cold. It took Mum several seconds to emerge from her general malaise to recognise me. When she spoke, the words that emerged from her mouth didn't make sense.

Imagine if I hadn’t seen my mother for five years and had suddenly come across her as she was this evening - anxious, immobile, alone and incommunicado. What a terrible experience that would have been. Even having been following the deterioration in her condition quite closely, it was bad enough.

The middle of Mum’s evening a few hours ago; the middle of my night right now. I think the best way to get out of this rut is to make myself go through what happened next. Nothing happened next. But let’s go through it anyway.

I found Mum’s Zimmer. I placed it in front of her, and after a little separating of furniture - and with some gentle encouragement from me - she stood up. I asked her to walk with the Zimmer, and this she did, with me following close behind with her wheelchair. After a bit of walking for the sake of some exercise, I sat her in the wheelchair and pushed her to her room. However, she couldn’t settle to either talking to me, looking out of the window, or watching telly. It’s tough when the option of taking an interest in the outside world seems no longer to be there. Especially when there isn't left much inner life, or memory, to draw succour from.

Still she knew it was me. Knew it was her own son visiting her. And she seemed a bit more settled as I pushed her back along the corridor to the lounge.

Three other women were still up.
The Mark of Zorro was playing on telly, the lunacy of its action lost on its permanently bemused care home audience. One of the night staff entered the room and asked if Mabel and I would like a cup of tea. When I left my mother at 9pm, she was sipping from her drink, seemingly soothed by the flashing swordplay.

6am. I hear a lone sparrow chirping. Tuneless harbinger of the dawn of another day tainted by dementia…

Actually, the day goes well. Dad and I take Mum out for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Although I don’t manage to speak to the care home manager at either end of the visit, when I get back home there is an email from her in reply to mine of this morning. She has spoken to one of the carers that was on duty yesterday. First, the manager reassures me that Mabel had not been sitting at the table since teatime, which begins at 5pm. Following Mum's meal she’d been taken to the toilet around 6pm. After that she was sitting on the sofa in the lounge but kept trying to get up, so the carer decided to put her back in the wheelchair which would allow her to move about a little. At seven the carer took Mabel to the dining room table to make it easier for her to have her supper in peace, as some of the other residents were getting a little upset. So the situation that I came across, though far from ideal, was not as bad as it seemed.

Do I believe this version of events? Yes, I do. The manager and carer in question take the welfare of their residents to heart. But all the same, I know that Mum missed out on her supper and was in a sorry state when I came to visit her.

I keep seeing Mum's face from yesterday evening at the moment she recognised me. I didn't know what she was trying to say then, but right now it's lyrics from a Pere Ubu song that seem to fit the bill:

‘Not so bad is, it?
It’s not so bad is it?
Not so bad is it?
To be with me.’

No, it's not so bad to be with Mum. Not as far as Dad and I are concerned, anyway. I suspect she would like us to spend longer with her, more time in the evening especially. But I think we've got the balance about right, bearing in mind all our sakes. Though if I keep waking up in the middle of the night and lie there worrying about her predicament, then I'll have to think again about that balance.

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