I haven’t written a blog post for a while. The reason? Well, there’s not been too much to report, I suppose.My mother is fairly settled. Some days are good, others are, well…..not so good. She is sometimes alert and responds to people with a smile and gibberish chatter about, God only knows what. She is sometimes sleepy or alternatively, incredibly and incomprehensibly angry at the world and everyone in it.
She has lashed out a couple of times at other residents’ visitors – striking a couple of unsuspecting ladies with a hand slap – at full force, I might add – to their faces. They were, apparently, very understanding. Thank goodness. I can only imagine how my mother – the real mother, the one I dream about and still catch out the corner of my eye sometimes, the one who was desperately proper and had perfect manners in every situation – I wonder how she would feel about physically assaulting two, unsuspecting and undeserving women.
I can remember a few situations in the past where she would probably have loved to have taken an effective right hook to someone. Perhaps, it is those people and those memories that are driving her to lash out now.
She doesn’t and neither do we.
So, my mother is fine. Or as fine as she possibly can be, living in a care home for the elderly and dementia-stricken, surrounded by a new family of fellow sufferers, all of whom are older then her by at least 10 or 15 years.
My father is good too. Or better, at least. He sounds more like his old self on the telephone each day and, worried that it was just a good performance he was putting on, I found it reassuring to see him at half term and witness glimpses of the man he once was. The silly, fun-loving Papa who could think of nothing better than reading to his grandchildren, or playing card games with them, or setting them a cryptic treasure hunt around the house and garden. Chaos, in all its fabulous glory.
It was nice to see him returning to us, again, chaos ‘n’ all.
So, I suppose life is more settled, more so than six months ago, anyway. My mother is warm, clean, safe and has a team of people looking after her each day. It is not just my father, struggling to cope on his own, so for that reason, things are good.
What I have found, is that because now there is some semblance of calm, I am able to function as though everything were normal. I no longer start weeping as I walk through M&S and see healthy, happy ladies in their 60’s enjoying a day out together. I no longer fret, day and night for my father, worrying about how he is coping, or if he is making himself ill. I no longer suffer explosions of emotion at the most awkward moments, making those unfortunate enough to be with me, incredibly uncomfortable in the face of my ugly, noisy grief.
The thing is though, that because it is not a pressing issue; because you are not grief-stricken every day and crying into your pillow at night, it can appear that your pain is invisible. Like it has been mended. Like the grief has melted away and you are back to your old self again.
It never will.
You simply learn to hide it better. You are aware that it is less of an immediate concern and more of a a normal situation.
I don’t talk about my mother much. I don’t dwell on it, and if I’m asked, I brush over the topic, keen to move on to nicer, happier things.
But she’s there, all the time.
She was there two weeks ago when I was really poorly. Flu-like symptoms struck and I spent the best part of three days in bed. The kids still needed me, Hubby was hugely inconvenienced by my illness and when no one was looking, I cried my eyes out and sobbed for my mother, like only a little girl can.
I cried for my mother today. It is Archie’s birthday and I remember her utter joy at becoming a granny again; the help she gave me in the days and weeks after his birth; her pride when she held him and fed him for the first time; the blind she made for his nursery; the way she would push him in his pram, pride and love oozing out of her every pore.
There are no winners with dementia. She is missing out on her eight grandchildren and they are missing out on her. They were her entire universe and she craved spending time with them. And the children? Well, I don’t think they will ever really understand what they have lost. Perhaps this blog will one day help. I don’t know.
I have thought about my mother a lot today, as I can remember this day, 11 years ago almost down to every minute from around 4.30am this morning. I have enjoyed regaling Archie with my very vivid memories of his birthday.
“It was around this time, Arch, when we were on our way to the hospital,” I told him as we set off to school at around 8:40. “We’d already called Granny and Papa and they were on their way down, from Scotland and came straight to the hospital. They arrived at around lunchtime.”
“What was it like having people watching as lots of people stuck their arms inside you?” Martha asked, her nose scrunched up in disgust as she waited for what she imagined would be a grotesque reply.
Horrified at her understanding of childbirth, I tried to inform my eldest daughter (while Mabel sang the latest Sam Smith song at the top of her voice) that giving birth is not a spectator sport and that the room is not filled with family and friends cheering you on. “They stayed out in the visitors room,” I told her. “They came in to see baby Archie once I’d had a shower.”
“Ugh,” she responded. “What was it like when they could they all see you in the shower?”
I turned the music up and sang along with Mabel. This was not a conversation for the car journey to school on a Tuesday morning.
Archie seems to have had a lovely day with lots of cards to open and presents to play with. The card from Papa is typical of my father – it features a Care Bare on the front, a pink one wishing him a Birthday Cheer and a “fun-tastic day” full of rainbows. It made Archie laugh, though he has already insisted that he will not be showing any of his friends it as it is too embarrassing. On the inside, my dad has stuck in lots of pictures of Archie and also one of him and one of my mother from around ten years ago.
It is a lovely picture. She is holding one of her grandsons, though my father has chopped off most of the baby, so I can only guess it is perhaps my brother’s eldest, or perhaps it is indeed, Archie himself. It doesn’t matter. The fact that she is part of his birthday, as she of course should be, is the important thing.
But, as lovely as it is to see her smiling at me from inside a Care Bear card, it is no substitute for the real thing. On days like today or days when I am poorly or struggling with life, or when I just need her to tell me I’m doing okay and she’s proud of me, I feel truly robbed and the grief is as fresh as it has ever been.
I was speaking to a lovely lady whose mother passed away from Alzheimer’s a few weeks ago. We were sharing stories and I expressed my deepest sympathies for her pain. I recounted what I had previously been told, that with dementia or Alzheimer’s you grieve while your loved one is still alive.
“Yes,” she replied. “You do. But, I’m sorry to say that you grieve again when they pass away.” She then held my hands in hers and spoke very gently. “You will grieve twice.”
Twice the grief of most people. Twice the pain and the feeling of loss. A prolonged grief that doesn’t lessen with time, but morphs into another grief instead. Like this thing called dementia wasn’t hard enough anyway.
Twice! Well, Mother dearest, I suppose it’s a bloody good job you’re worth it!
Love you, Mum x