I hear those words at least once a day from one of my brood. Usually when they can’t find something they need immediately, or if they can’t get the TV to work properly, or Mabel has got herself stuck in one of her dressing-up princess dresses. Honestly, the examples are endless.
When it was just Archie as a cute, curly-haired angel I had a lot of patience: “Of course I’ll help you my vision of loveliness, my darling boy, what is it I can do to help? Is that all? What else can I do to assist you in your learning and development into a well-rounded adult? Anything at all…..your wish is my command.”
Martha enjoyed a bit of this, but to be honest by the time she was able to ask for help repeatedly throughout the day the reality of motherhood was kind of sinking in and I was a little less patient with the constant, endless, white noise of “Mummy? Where are you? I need you, Mummy! Help me, Mummy!”
And, Mabel? Well, the irony is she is the neediest of all my monsters and I have less time, patience and will to develop her into a well-rounded adult by the time she starts school; like I did with the other two. I had high expectations for them and they started school already being able to write their names and certain words, count and write numbers……I had visions of them being award-winning scientists or doctors, philosophers or historians. Martha could write the phonic sounds for Pterodactyl when she was 3 for goodness sake!
And Mabel? Well, we’re just going with the flow. Winging it, I suppose.
I have noticed she counts up to twenty exactly like the other two did at her age in that she skips the number 15 completely, and it’s not just sporadically, it’s every time; like she doesn’t even realise that the number 15 exists at all. I remember Archie and Martha doing the exact same thing, but the difference is I stamped out the error very quickly by spending significant time righting the error. “No, darling cherubic angel of mine, there is a 15 you have missed out. Let’s try again. 1,2,3….” But here it is again; the number 15 has done a runner! I listen to her counting up to twenty as she pretends to close her eyes as her big sister runs away to hide, (little cheat!) and every time she does it’s: 13,14,16, 17,18….
As I listened to Mabel counting yesterday I heard her miss out the 15 and it simply made me smile. But, then I had a bit of a moment as I realised that this is actually when she does need my help, not like when she asks for help to put her shoes on (which she is perfectly capable of) or put her teddies back on her bed (again, she is perfectly capable of getting them off the bed and throwing them around the room, but apparently cannot get them back on the bed again). This time, without knowing it the little mite needs my help and I am doing nothing about it! Well, time to step up to the plate and focus my mothering skills on rectifying the problem and putting 15 back where it rightfully belongs. Poor number 15.
Mabel and I had a good trip up to see my mother and father last weekend. My mum looked exhausted as we prepared to leave and was just sitting in a chair near the window with her eyes shut. I held her hands and told her we were leaving, not sure what reaction I was going to get as she had not said much to me all morning and hadn’t engaged much with Mabel Monster either. I didn’t expect her to start crying, but this is exactly what she did. She began to weep quietly, her eyes still closed. I tried to reassure her that we would be seeing her again very soon, that in fact Stephen (I dare not call him Dad in front of her anymore) might be bringing her down to Yorkshire to stay for a day or two. She opened her eyes and looked at me, tears streaming down her face and just whispered two words very quietly through her tears: “Help me.”
It is easier to deal with the dementia when Mum is distant, angry, agitated or aggressive. It is easier because you can distance yourself from her, get cross about it and sometimes even get cross with her. You want someone or something to blame – it makes you feel better – so when she is behaving badly it is much easier to cope with. Your emotions are focused on tackling the immediate problem; whether that is getting this angry, cross stranger dressed or showered, or whether it’s simply trying to encourage her to eat something. When she behaves like a stranger it is easier to treat her like a stranger.
However, when she looks me in the eye and I can see that the thick, evil fog of dementia has temporarily lifted and I see her; when I hear my mother’s voice pleading with me to help her, when she sobs quietly, her once strong dancer’s body now frail and weak shaking with the emotion – that is not easy. In fact it is agony; a pain so debilitating you know you have to block it out or it could floor you completely. It reignites the sadness you have managed to suppress whilst you cope with the practicalities of dementia, then out of nowhere those two simple words are able to knock the breath right out of your chest and leave you plummeting into the depths of sorrow again as the reality of this cruel disease sadistically taps you on the shoulder, reminding you it is still there.
My mother asked for help. I don’t know whether it was a glimpse of pre-dementia Mum, asking me to help her or if it was the dementia talking and my mum is confused about where she is and yet again feels unsafe and insecure. She wouldn’t be able to tell me even if I asked her, the question would be too much for her. So, I can’t help, not really. I can hug her though and I did. I held her frail, tiny frame and reassured her that we are all doing everything we can to help her.
My fear is that despite all efforts; despite all our combined will, patience and time and all of our ambitions to help her, it will simply not be enough.
It will never be enough.