AUGUST 16, 2013

It’s ages since I visited Mum in the evening. What is my excuse? I have none. I must just concentrate on the fact that I’m here now.

First, I step into the lounge where I used to find her in the evening. She’s not here though, not at this time of day. Only two residents are still up at quarter to nine. Paul tells me he’s been sitting in his seat since 6 o’clock and that he’s tired of it. I chat to him for a while but as soon as I decently can I excuse myself and make my way to Mabel’s room.

The curtains are drawn so there is low light in her room. But I can see she’s lying on her back on the bed with her eyes open. She’s holding the paw of Sylvester, the cat from the Tweety-Pie cartoon series, a soft-toy she took a fancy to before her strokes and long before dementia set in.

“Hi Mum, it’s me, Dunc,” I say going up to her. I make sure she can see me as I know she won’t be able to hear what I’m saying. Her hearing aids have been taken out and are lying on a piece of furniture close to the bed. Mum’s teeth have been taken out also, so that her mouth appears sunken. She’s not quite looking in my direction. I take her hand without dislodging Sylvester’s paw and get some response to my squeezes and strokes. She knows I’m here then. She knows someone is here.

After a few minutes silence, I put a hearing aid into the ear that is clear of the pillow. As I speak to her, telling her that Ian and I still love her and that we know she still loves us, I feel there is some subtle response from her face. A little bit of eye movement? A change of expression as if she might be concentrating? It’s hard to pin down. And it’s hard to keep up any kind of flow of words when there are no words, no overt responses of any kind, coming back. I make sure she knows that we’re going out for our usual car ride tomorrow, though. Oh yes, the word tomorrow crops up a few times. Though I suspect tomorrow, which means so much to me, means little or nothing to today’s Mabel.

A carer comes in. She wants to know if I’d like some tea but I’d rather chat to her about Mum. I learn that Mabel still gets turned every three hours throughout the night. And I learn that - now that her bedsore has completely healed - Mabel is to spend her mornings back in the lounge, so she can interact with the other residents. Well, Mum does precious little interacting with anyone now, but I agree that it’s better for her to be sitting in the lounge for a few hours each day, surrounded by a little activity, the sound of human voices, than it is to be lying alone on her bed for vast tracts of time.

The carer has been part of the night shift for all the time that I’ve been coming to the home. She’s from the Philippines and in November of last year was able to fly out there. She saw her mother for the first time in five years and introduced her mum to her grandchild. The plan is for her to go back in another three years, again for a full month. Three-to-five years in between visits to one’s parents seems a long time to me. But if I’m feeling sorry for her, seeing so little of her mother. She might well be feeling sorry for me, with Mum being in the sorry state she is.

The carer put the light on when she came into the room to check on Mabel. And when she goes away I confirm that I’d like it to be left on. From the bedside table I pick up and read Mum’s Nutritional Record. Yes, food and liquid is still getting into Mabel; she will live for a while yet. Until when? I almost speak aloud my concern to Mum. I almost say to her that it might be OK for her to die now. Perhaps it’s what she needs to hear from me: a true, heartfelt goodbye from her first-born son. But I can’t be sure that that’s so. So I repeat what I said earlier about Mum still being loved by Ian and by me and by my brother, which is true enough, and that Ian and I will be taking her out with us in the car tomorrow. I kiss her. Squeeze her hands. Talk to her before taking out the hearing aid again. Put the light off. Weep. Go back to her again to make sure Sylvester is still held securely. And then go.

In the corridor I meet the manager, who I’m surprised to see at this time of night. She swops notes with me about Mabel’s welfare and then points out a couple of visits that are happening that I might be interested in. I can come and hear a talk by a woman who is some kind of expert on dementia. I can come and experience for myself how elderly people’s vision is affected by various conditions. If I feel I have the time to spare, I will come to the home and see Mum herself on these occasions. I’m afraid we’re passed the stage of eye tests and dementia diagnosis.

I learn that the manager’s own father died suddenly and unexpectedly a fortnight before. Which reminds me that my partner’s father has just been admitted into a care home in North Wales, far away from us.

Lots of people to feel sorry for then. And indeed I find it helps to spread the feeling of grief around a bit. It wouldn’t do for me to be thinking about Mabel’s condition all the time. Perhaps that’s why I don’t visit as often as I might.

Forgive me, Mum.