The post below is from November 2008.Reading it, I realise some things have changed a lot, and some have changed very little.
Perhaps what has changed the most is my ability to cope with my mother’s condition, and to find positive aspects of it. I gather this is quite a familiar path for relatives of people with dementia. Part of it is, I believe, the gradual acceptance of the person one’s relative has become; so that instead of hankering after how they were, one starts to look more at who they have become and to develop a new relationship with them. I seem to be looking at the things Mother can do, rather than being so aware of the things that she can’t. And of course, Cat and I are now afloat when we visit and Das Boot is our home from home. But I still have done very little helming.
I am feeling a bit Bambiesque. Not huge eyes and other appealing features, but more that sense that if I’m not very careful I may lose my balance. A lot has been happening and not happening. My boat is still in Oxford, I have just returned from several days in The East, someone wants to rent my mother’s house, I’ve turned down a job but am not sure I want the one I have, my mother is not entirely sure who I am.
The cat accompanied me and resumed his feud with the neighbour’s cat. They glared at each other through the window, and I only allowed mine out at night when Neighbour’s Cat was snoozing by the fire. During the day I visited Mother. She’s shockingly thin, so I’ve been feeding her up and telling all the staff that she needs more than a slice of bread for an evening meal. The trouble is that once she’s tired she says she doesn’t want to eat. They take her at her word, while I prepare her something like a boiled egg with buttered toast and once she’s started on that she generally revives enough to tackle some brie – her favourite – and a rib sticking pudding. I’ve been recovering from laryngitis and coughing a great deal. Each time she heard me Mother pursed her lips and said it sounded painful, and I agreed that it was.
I was also supposed to be taking delivery of Das Boot. Unfortunately, I was let down by the boatyard, which was let down by the trailer people and it all turned into something akin to the old woman who swallowed a fly, so dates are now fluid once more. Meaning that I have no idea when I shall have the chance to practise and perfect my helmsman’s skills and the cat has a reprieve from his lifejacket wearing.
In anticipation of Das Boot’s arrival, I had taken various items with me – bedding, pots and pans, towels, a spare fleece and so on – as well as a load of cleaning materials as I guessed the boatyard boys weren’t planning to scrub it from bow to stern for me. When the boat didn’t come, I thought I these goods would sit my mother’s yet-to-be-sold house until time, tide and transport all conjoined. But no. With amazingly infelicitous timing, the estate agents have found someone who wants to rent the house from next week. I’ve become so used to thinking that nothing will happen that I have begun to nest, and this supposedly empty house was, I suddenly realised, quite full. So today, after squaring a few things with the estate agents, and understanding a fraction more about the arcane intricacies of renting out a property, my little car was packed to bursting for the journey home.
My mother’s memory is increasingly erratic. When she is tired she becomes confused and unsure who I am. She’s pretty certain we are related, but how is the problem. She says, ‘Do you mind me asking you something? Are we family? Are you my niece, or my aunt?’ She is, flatteringly, extraordinarily pleased to discover I am her daughter. It’s as good as winning the lottery. ‘You come here and do so much for me and you’re my daughter! That’s wonderful!’ Later she introduces me to someone as her mother, but with such pride in her voice all I can do is smile and give her a kiss. It’s desperately poignant, and yet, what greater compliment could she pay me?
While I’m there, I’m practical. I cook, I wash, I clean. We watch Flog it! together, sitting side by side on the sofa. I hold her hand and try to allay her fears. I hug her tight and tell her I’ll see her soon. But now I’m home, I think how my capable, competent mother has turned into a frail little old lady who struggles to make sense of her life minute by minute, is often frightened and confused, and I could howl.