December 7, 2012

Mabel has been in bed all week, having hardly spent a day in bed in the last four years. But let me go into the last week in a bit more detail.

I was told Mum wasn’t getting up on Monday and so went to see her in late morning. She looked pale and, because she didn’t have her teeth in, much older than usual. Knowing that Ian and I were going to visit in the afternoon, I asked if it would be possible for Mabel’s teeth to be put in before then, as I knew Ian would feel more comfortable seeing his wife as she usually looked.

Mum’s teeth were in when Ian and I arrived in the afternoon, but that didn’t stop both of us from sobbing when we saw her. She was lying on her back, half propped up with pillows, her eyes half open but not reacting at all to our presence. She looked so much more dead than alive it was harrowing. Not necessarily close to death in terms of a number of days, weeks or months left to live, but in terms of all meaningful life, all brain activity, seeming to be behind her. It was a long, sad hour.

Over the week, Mabel gradually – slightly - rallied. The manager of the home herself fed her on Tuesday morning and reported that she was both eating and drinking, an improvement on the Monday. On Wednesday, she had some colour back in her face, and on Thursday I got a big smile of recognition. Not necessarily recognition that I was Duncan, her son. But recognition that a human being was smiling at her with affection.

It’s Friday. All week Mabel’s bed has been pushed out from the wall so that there was room for the canvas seat that I’m sitting on to be stationed here. From this side, being right-handed, I find it much easier to hold a cup to Mabel’s lips and to pour at precisely the right times so that she can swallow successfully rather than choke. Ian sits in the armchair at the other side of the bed. His role is the same as his role has long been when we go out in the car. That is, to sing songs which tell of life’s fleeting pleasures and its lifelong commitments. Emotionally, both of us have been fine since Monday. You get a glimpse of how low things can be then you work your way up from base camp, one step at a time.

Right now it’s quiet, we’re all on the point of going to sleep. Only when I do that, the lack of a headrest on this canvas chair means my lolling head jerks me awake. Having been brought back to consciousness three times, I stick with it. I realise I’m feeling nostalgic for the good old days of not long ago when the three of us could go out for drives in the car and Mabel would take part in the banter. She would remark on the size of the trees, the number of the sheep, the blueness of the sky. She would sing along with Dad and respond to our remarks. She doesn’t do any of that now.

I’d always thought that the main period of our closeness as a family unit was when my brother and I were children of between the ages of 5 and 12. Say from 1962 to 1970. That’s when the main interest of the four of us was each other rather than our peers. Family holidays were the highlight of the year and we did things together each weekend. That time is now more than forty years – nearly fifty years - distant, yet it’s still crystal-clear in my mind and always will be, helped by the family albums that Mum religiously kept up.

It’s now been four years since Mabel went into the home and the three of us began going out every second day. That’s added up to a lot of trips out. It’s become an important phase in our shared history. The phase that comes closest to capturing the sense of togetherness of that earlier time.

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The photographs from summer 2009 that I’m using with this blog show Mabel with her legs covered by a brown tartan rug that was bought in the 1950s, when Ian and Mabel were courting, from a local mill on the River Ericht. In fact, according to Ian’s memory, it was the last woollen article that the mill sold before closing down. The rug has worn well. It has no holes in it, but the fabric is getting a little thin.

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In the above photo, I like to think, Ian is asking Mabel if she thinks they can get their money back by knocking on the door of what is now a private residence and complaining about the threadbare nature of their old rug. Mabel understands the joke and the sentiment behind it, and she laughs. I remember her laughter. In part thanks to the photograph. In part thanks to Dad’s remorseless good humour. Happy days!

A great big rosy glow around 1963-70, then. Before adolescence took me away from the nest. A rosy glow around 2008-2012, also. And this time it won’t be me that brings the golden age to a close.

Ian and I still live in poignant times. Mabel still lives… just about. The plan is for Mum to be dressed and taken to the lounge for a spell on Sunday, and for us to go out in the car together on Monday. Let it be so.

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