January 18, 2013

It’s not been a good week for Dad. He fell a couple of times on Sunday and is now using a Zimmer to get around the house. Hopefully this will ask less of his sense of balance, which is not good these days due to diabetes having attacked the nerves in his lower legs for so many years. He may walk with more confidence, thanks to the Zimmer, and get some strength back into the muscles of his legs. However, Dad is not thinking as positively as that. He feels he’s taken another downward step.

I know he’s not keen on using the Zimmer when we’re visiting the care home (perhaps he fears that he won’t be let out at the end of the visit), but accepts that today it would be for the best. Yesterday, a carer suggested that lunch could be served to the three of us in the private room at the top of the house, and I gratefully accepted the offer. This is Mabel’s day, so she’s going to have the company of both her husband and her elder son in the comfort of her home environment.

When I see the table that’s being set, complete with helium balloon in the shape of a heart, my spirits lift. Soup arrives almost straight away and we get down to it. Dad gets stuck in at his usual speed; I spoon the soup into Mum, as and when she’ll let me, while at the same time drinking my own. In the middle of this soup fest, we are joined by Yna. Now she used to help Mabel in the mornings and evenings before Mum moved to the care home, and she now is a great help to Ian first thing in the morning, several days a week. She is always cheerful and it is particularly lovely to see her now. Ian shows Yna his new Zimmer, which I picked up yesterday and which she’s not yet seen. I tell her that the Zimmer he’d been using to begin with - Mabel’s old one, which has a stiff wheel - has been redeployed as a trouser press. Yes, all those pairs of trousers that Yna had been folding over the back of the couch have now found a slightly more fitting place to wait their turn to be worn by Ian. In the midst of our amusement, I turn to Mum:

“You don’t mind your old Zimmer being used to keep the crease in Dad’s trousers sharp, do you Mum?”

No reply. Mabel has had her head down throughout her birthday lunch so far. She doesn’t seem miserable, just blank, with her chin resting on her chest. Even Yna can’t raise a smile from her.


When the main course comes, Yna takes over the feeding of Mabel, allowing me to concentrate on my own cheese omelette. Ian, Yna and I keep talking. We’re a good team when it comes to banter; anyone would think we were trying to outdo each other for chirpiness. Ian wins though, when he reminds Mabel of her age in song:

“I turned 88 this morning; I’m 88 today.
I’m not as young as I used to be, I’m getting old and grey.
But my heart is young and I’m fond of fun and I’m very proud to say:
That I’m getting married on Thursday, though I’m 88 today.”

“Is that right, Mabel?” says Yna. “Are you giving Ian the elbow?”

Mabel doesn’t reply, but it gives us another chance to speak to her, to touch her, to try and get across that she still has a place in our lives. A birthday cake arrives and so do all the carers who are on duty. ‘Happy Birthday’, is sung by one and all. The chef holds the cake in front of Mabel so that she can blow out the candles. No deal. So I blow out the candles on Mum's behalf.


And I take the opportunity to thank the carers for all their kindness towards Mabel over the last year and for all their hard work. Ian seconds that. And Yna thirds it with a chuckle.

Mabel shows some interest in eating the cake and opens her eyes. It’s Yna’s beaming face she sees when this happens, so it’s Yna that gets the smile of recognition. By the time my face is in view the window of lucidity has passed.

On the way out, Hilary, the woman who has been temporary manager of the home for the last three months, superseding a far from satisfactory temporary manager, tells me she has been offered and has accepted the post permanently. That is good news.

In the afternoon we take Mabel out for a run. We go to the care home where the last permanent manager now works. Bernie and I have a quick chat in her office. I mention that her former residents Molly and Dorothy have passed away, but she knows that, indeed she was at their funerals. She tells me that when she took over the management of Mabel’s care home in 2006, Dorothea was thought to have a fortnight to live. In the event, she hung on for six years. Six years of utter decrepitude, I surmise, as I lead Bernie out to say hi to Mabel and Ian.

At night, I realise that Mabel shares her birthday, January the 8th, with David Bowie, who has just turned 66. This very day he has brought ten years of recording silence to an end with the release of a hauntingly poignant single called: Where are we now? I’m 55, Bowie’s 66, Mum’s 88: though I don’t suppose the superstar inspiration of my adolescence was thinking of that particular pattern when he wrote the lyric.

“Where are we now? Where are we now?
The moment you know, you know you know.”

Will Mabel still be surprising us with signs of life in six years? Ten years, even? It will make life very complicated for some if she is. Not David Bowie - it won’t impact on his life. I’m thinking of Ian, if he can last the pace. And I’m thinking of myself. As I always am.