MAY 24, 2013

I’m going away for a few days but want to see Mum before I go. Mabel, Ian and I went out for a run in the car as usual yesterday afternoon, so I’m doing something unusual today. Popping in to see her in the morning.

As I expected, she’s not in the main lounge but in her own room. She’s lying on her left side with her eyes open. I greet her, but then see that her hearing aids are lying on the bedside cabinet. She doesn’t pay me any attention while I’m putting the aid into the ear that’s free of the pillow. But after that? When I greet her again, my voice is as warm as I can make it in my wiped out state (my partner and I have had a row), but she still doesn’t respond in any way.

There is a half-full bottle of banana-flavoured Ensure by Mabel’s bed. So I take it up and move the straw to Mum’s lips. “Suck, Mum,” I say. And she does suck. I see the transparent straw suddenly go opaque as the liquid leaps from plastic container to mouth.

Once Mum has had her fill of that, I can sit down on the collapsible seat that is kept handy for such visits. But, no, first I must check that the bed is working. By this I mean that I ensure that the electronic box (that looks like a ghetto blaster) is saying ‘ACTIVE’ and set at ‘40kg-80kg’ which is Mabel’s weight bracket. Check. Although I can’t see or hear anything happening, I’ve been told that the bed is constantly moving as the pressure increases and decreases on specific air pockets. Mum doesn’t move about in bed, so the bed does the moving for her. The important thing being that Mabel moves relative to the bed, preventing any one part of her body taking too much pressure. I was told the other day that these beds cost £12,000 so I’m delighted that the district nurse has recommended that Mabel have the equipment and that the care home has been able to supply it. And the results to date have been good: I’m told that Mabel’s bedsore is much improved.

“Hi Mum. How are you doing?” I say when I catch her eye.

She doesn’t change her expression in any way. Yesterday, before putting Mabel in the passenger seat of the car I had a good go at trying to get her to answer me:

“Are we going out for a run?” I asked.

No answer.

“Are we going out for a run in the car, Mum?”

No answer.

“Mum. Listen. Are we going out for a run in the car this lovely afternoon?”

“Yes, we’re going out for a run in the car,” said Ian from the back seat.

“Dad says we’re going for a run, so we must be!” I said to Mum. And left it at that.

She didn’t say anything all afternoon. Nevertheless, her eyes were wide open, she ate cake and drank tea, so the trip was pronounced a success. I pronounced it a success, anyway. And Dad concurred.

Today, I visit the home for a second time, still feeling wiped out (having an argument with a loved one really takes it out of you), and this time I bring the roses that I forgot in the morning. I remind Mabel that these used to be her favourite flower.

I sit down on the bed and become aware of the bed moving. Even when I retreat to the canvas chair I hear the bed creaking as the air pockets subtly fill and empty. We could almost be on a boat at sea. I watch Mabel breathing smoothly. Mabel and the sea-bed breathing together. In out; in out… Waves lapping on a beach, come to mind. Perhaps that’s what I’ve come here for - this room provides a refuge from the emotional turmoil occasionally present in the midst of life.

One of the very good carers knocks and enters. She’s come to check up on Mabel, but I can tell her that Mum’s fine. I also tell her why I won’t be around for the next few days - principally because I’m going to my partner’s mother’s 90th birthday party. Gina is in the very lucky position of still having fairly good health at that grand old age, and the occasion, of course, must be honoured. The carer and I have a discussion about the relative importance of the 50th, 60th, 70th, 80th and 90th birthdays, but truly all these days need to be acknowledged in some way, in case we - or our loved ones - don’t make it to the next milestone.

As the carer leaves, my phone announces the arrival of a text. It’s from my partner and says simply: ‘Shall we forgive each other?’

“Shall Kate and I forgive each other, Mum?” I ask.

Mabel looks at me but won’t speak, or rather can’t speak. But I know what she would have said to me in her prime, or anywhere close to it, so I text back:

‘Mabel says we should forgive each other. What does Gina say?’

Kate’s mother knows no more than mine does about our argument. But I’m sure Gina would echo the move towards reconciliation. Life is too short – precious and short - for fighting.