A Day in the East With Birds and Mother

I have managed a few fairly unsatisfactory shots of ducks and geese, but my top bird moments today have been sans camera. There are house martins swooping and diving through the air in front of me, but I am not even going to try to photograph them.
Today has involved a certain amount of driving around, and it was this morning, on my way to see Mother, that I had my most exciting sighting; an owl in the trees by the roadside. I have had a quick look in the bird book I keep on board, and I am pretty confident that it was a Little Owl. I think it was the roundness of its head that made me slow on an already slow back road and take a second look. Athene, I thought, as I drove on to through the pretty village of Reach where one day I am going to stop and visit the pub, goddess of wisdom. Then I had a thought that owls are sometimes said to be harbingers of death. That probably is true if you are a mouse, but it also says something about where my mind is now regarding Mother.
It was good to see her. Glasses askew, she was dozing, warm and comfy in her pyjamas with a bed jacket over the top. For months we have been saying she needs a bed jacket on (she has two, both very pretty and comfortable, bought for use not decoration) if she is sitting up in bed. Investigation also revealed she was wearing a vest under her pyjama jacket. The Welsh CD was on, loudly. I turned it down a bit and when it finished tried a cassette. The cassette part isn’t working. She has far more cassettes than she does CDs, so I suspect she has been listening the Welsh CD a lot. Ho-hum.
The day passed. Most of the time Mother dozed, she drank a little hot chocolate, ate virtually no lunch, drank a few hundred mls of some snazzy fruit juice I had brought; pineapple, peach and passion fruit. She is less present than she was. A bit like a waning moon, each time I see her a bit more has gone. She still loves being kissed, being told I love her, listening to the Daffodils. She is not in discomfort, can still make decisions: “No more,” she said very firmly, following up her words with a surprisingly strong arm movement, when the nurse tried to give her her Calcichew. Something of her remains, just not very much. I feel this time it is weeks, maybe a few months. Mother seems to be shutting down in front of us. If it is her choice, what her body is decreeing for her, that’s fine. I don’t mean I’ll be happy to see her die. I don’t think it matters how old you are, losing a parent is hard. The idea of a world without Mother feels an empty one. Somewhere, I believe I still hope the parent I knew, the competent capable mother who was always on the go, gardening, caring for people, listening to Radio 4, writing letters, baking, putting the potatoes on before she took her coat off when she got in from work, will reappear. It is not a realistic hope.
But given the alternatives, when I face the realism, a death sooner rather than later is preferable. With dementia, the only way is down. Better that she dies still able to speak, still able on some level to know me, to talk about me to staff as she did yesterday, to take pleasure in the warm water with which her hands were washed before lunch, to take a sip of fruit juice and pronounce it lovely.
The fire is going out. How long the embers will glow is anyone’s guess. Except, her embers will glow long after she dies. She will always be my darling mum.
As you will imagine I was thoughtful when I left. I drove carefully, aware that sometimes when I leave Mother my concentration on the road is not what it should be. On a whim, I decided to go by the farm shop and get some eggs. It’s a bit of a detour, but I am glad I took it. On the way back a flash of blue caught my eye. Sitting comfortably on a hedge on the outskirts of Freckenham was a peacock. He looked as though he might spend a while there. What do peacocks symbolise?
The fens around the marina are full of pheasants, brightly glossy in fields and on the verges. I saw a beautiful black Labrador on my journey this morning. Her attention was fully on her owner who had stepped off the road when a small convoy of cars approached. She is probably a gun dog, and a well trained one. Gunshot is common in these parts and often in early misty mornings you see groups of men in tweeds standing by land rovers. My own black Labrador was a gun dog who wouldn’t retrieve. Personally, I think it was because she was too intelligent.
MasterB has been bravely looking out of the back of the boat as the day, which has been cold and damp has morphed into a beautiful evening just before the sun goes down. The sudden emergence and noisy flight of a cormorant brought him hurriedly under my chair. But poor chap, he has been most intimidated by a loud tabby feral. Both MasterB and I went to the window to investigate the sound. The feral, seeing us, turned away, but MasterB also sank down below the window edge and opted for sleep. I hope the weather is fine when we get home and he can really stretch his legs. He’ll have a lot to tell Scally. I am not sure she’ll believe him.


51 thoughts on “A Day in the East With Birds and Mother

  1. You take me back 3 years ago, Isobel! On May 6th of 2010, our mother left us. She was in a rest house (not sure this is the right translation).

    Every experience is so personal. What a good thing if you can go through this in a serene way…

    Fingers and toes crossed, Isobel!

    • Care home or nursing home, or care home with nursing is what we call them here, though the terminology changes periodically. I am sorry to hear about your mother. It is something we all have to face, but that doesn’t make it easier. My father died very suddenly in 1991. It will be his anniversary next week. That was hard too, like a conversation cut short, but I feel this is equally hard, if not harder.

  2. So nicely written – it reminds me of my experiences of losing Dad & Mom. Dad also died suddenly and that was hard – although not really surprising as he had diabetes he couldn’t get under control and we noticed how much he was slipping when they visited in the summer before his death. My mother died of pancreatic cancer and it was horrible – I couldn’t be with her as she slipped away. You are so right, it does leave a big void. We are the ones left – the older generation all of a sudden. Your writing sounds very peaceful – although the sadness is also there.

    • It struck me today that I would really like the time and opportunity to be with her now, but instead I shall get a little time off when she dies. Doesn’t seem right. Slipping away sounds peaceful. Was it really like that?
      Writing about today was helpful. It makes me look at the things I don’t want to look at, and to have the opportunity to comfort myself before the inevitable happens. then I shall need all the strength I can muster.Tomorrow I shall see my aunt, and I hope to have time to call in with Mum again.
      Coming back to this, I think seeing the birds, enjoying being here in the quiet are helpful reminders that life goes on, that there is still joy in the world, but I am feeling very sad quite a lot of the time.

  3. Isobel I never have the words. I am always so taken with your lovely words when you talk about your Mom. I found out my Mom had lung cancer and she was gone 5 months later. I had the Mom I had always wanted for three years before she died so losing her was of course too soon but she suffered like no person should suffer.
    “The fire is going out. How long the embers will glow is anyone’s guess. Except, her embers will glow long after she dies. She will always be my darling mum.” ~ sigh.
    Glad you have your Ginger Boy there with you Isobel.
    How nice to have Martins playing in the air!

    • Thanks Pix. I am so sorry to hear about your mother. Someone else was telling me yesterday how his father had died aged just 37 from lung cancer. Horrid. I am glad you had those three years.

  4. Isobel, this is beautiful. Time with your mother is so valuable to you both. Of course, she’ll still be with you even after there’s nothing left you can do for her x

    • Thanks Fiona. This morning I am still very struck by the peacock – I have never seen one in that place before – and how it is the symbol of immortality. I think I shall ahng onto that one. Off soon to see Aunt.

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  6. Oh Isobel….what a lovely story of your time with your Mum and the trip there and back to das Boot with many thoughts floating through your mind. I’ve never seen a peacock outside of a zoo…..owls frequent the woods behind our house and I can hear them at night. Thanks for sharing your tender moments with your Mum…it is so familiar.


  7. It is wonderful to share and support. Your writing is powerful and beautiful and brings fuzzy memories back into focus for me. The image of the peacock is unshakable.

    • Thanks Sue. There was a programme this morning on radio 4 about a psychologist at the University of Texas who has done a load of research into expressive writing and its healing properties. I think his name is James Pennybrook. Do you know his work? It was fascinating stuff. I caught it by chance.

    • Thanks Sue! So I didn’t quite get the name right. Well done for finding him. I wonder if the interview might be broadcast on the World Service. Do you get that? I am having a lazy start, but shall soon pack my bags, clean up and head home. It is beautiful sunny day, but lots more people are turning up, and I am happy to be off.

  8. It is such a hard time Isobel. I know when my Dad was failing before he died…and he had had enough the moment of loss was still so painful. I was no longer someone’s child. I am thinking of you, and very glad you have Master B.

    • Thanks Jo. No news since I got back to London, so I am hoping she is stable. Tomorrow is the twenty-second anniversary of my father’s death. I don’t think my mother ever imagined she would live so long without him.

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