7.15 am. Sitting in my mum’s living room, while she sleeps upstairs. I’m staring out of the window at a thin cloud of mist hanging between the branches and loft conversion rooftops. It is exceptionally quiet, which is strange because it always seems to be noisy here at the rear of the house, from the many deliveries to the huge kosher supermarket that backs onto my mum’s garden. It is silent and warm, and I am comfortable in my mother’s house and in my father’s old, red velvet dressing gown.
Going to unlock the front door, I notice there is no Daily Telegraph shooting through the letterbox. This surprises me, although I am the one who stopped the subscription, because mum’s eyes have deteriorated so much she cannot read the small print and the headlines don’t give her enough information. She loves the news, likes to keep up with the daily chaos in the world, so I bought her a gigantic radio from the RNIB shop – the Royal National Institute for the Blind. The radio is very large and black with gigantic yellow dials that she can feel and work her way through. I have programmed LBC (she has taken to James O’Brien), Radio 4, Radio 5 because she likes sport and BBC London. She told me that she listened to a programme about Nina Simone on Radio 4, and how my father used to love her music. I am very proud of my 88 1/2-year-old mother, who has had to learn new technology when she really does not like it. My father was the one who used to do everything. He was a kind and generous control freak, his inability to let others have a go or do it their way, has left my mum struggling to make decisions and choices, and lacking the confidence to believe in herself. I believe in her. She has mastered the television and sky TV controls, with help from one of her grandsons, a new microwave – I had to cut little strips of plaster and stick them on to the flush controls, so she could feel them and memorise where everything was. She has also learned how to use two new radios, and now a loop system for her hearing aids, which the council fitted yesterday, allowing her better hearing for the TV. I never understood how a loop system worked, now I know and it’s bloody marvellous! She’s mastered it all. Not bad for a woman who still used an electric typewriter until she retired several years ago. Mum has had to adapt and learn very fast, because I am not here 24/7, because I cannot be here 24/7. She has learned to trust her skills, learned to trust that she can feel her way around the house, learned to hold a finger to the rim of a glass when she is pouring water so that it doesn’t overflow. She is completely blind in one eye, the other has partial sight. At 88 1/2 my brilliant mother has learned new skills.
The sun is shining and warm on my skin as I leave mum, still sleeping in the morning sun soaked room, and walk ten minutes up the road to our friend’s flat, where his new carer, MV, started work yesterday. Our friend’s wife died a month ago, he requires a lot more help than mum but they and we have come to an agreement. MV will stay with him overnight and come to mum several mornings a week. Mum’s not ready for a full-time carer, it’s hard enough getting used to having a stranger in the house for a few hours a week let alone someone new moving in. It’s a massive adjustment for all sorts of reasons. But a gradual adjustment is the way to go.
Our friend’s son and I grew up together in North London, then went our separate ways. Now our parents, two very old friends, have found themselves sharing a carer, something none of us imagined or prepared for. Today is MV’s first morning with mum. I met her yesterday afternoon to ensure I liked her, mum liked her and that she liked us! She is delightful, has a delicious smile, is quiet, very caring and kind, and worked for our friend’s cousin for over a year until he recently died. She is everything we could want in a carer. I find it hard to hold in my emotions, and my responsibility towards my mother grows each day. I often think this is how it must be for parents handing over a small child to a complete stranger.
As I leave the house, smells of fresh bread and cakes from an abundance of bakeries, arouse my senses, and I am tempted to go and buy bags of just baked carbohydrates, sweet and sticky. I have walked up this road many times, because this is where I grew up. I have walked to and from the stations, to the ABC cinema now a care home, across the road to the Sobell Centre, once a Convent. I remember the nuns in the late 60s and 70s rushing up and down in their habits. And I walked to the library with my mum and dad and sister, and spent many happy hours choosing books. I walked to my grandparents, and up to the shops in Golders Green as a teenager, have seen so much change take place; the rent rises, shops opening and closing. Now I am walking up the road to collect my mum’s carer.
I arrive much sooner than I anticipated, my memory has not served me well in terms of time travel. It’s geographically so close, that the cup of tea I have left in the living room is still warm when I return.
MV and I walk down to mum’s, chatting as if we have known each other for years. I take to her immediately, and suddenly feel a lot easier than I did 15 minutes earlier. She knows the area, is familiar with this way of life. I have given MV a set of keys, walked her around the house, told her how mum likes a cup of tea in the morning with two saccharine, and then I walk her upstairs to mum and leave them alone to get to know each other. This is the moment we have been pondering since my dad died. And now it is here, it feels okay and right. I feel okay and right and calm.
The journey to this point has been hard, with mum’s friends pestering her to get help and my wanting to do what’s right for mum, what mum wants. It is, after all, her life, her home, and mentally she is sharp as anything. She remembers phone numbers like an eager new actor memorising lines. She repeats them to me with a smile on her face and I say, see mum, you definitely do not have dementia. Interviewing other carers, my main concern was around trust, about mum liking the carer and the carer liking mum. I constantly worried about all the what ifs. But MV came into our lives quickly and it feels as if she has always been here, and that, I suppose, is how it’s meant to be. There are no bells ringing out, it just feels right.
MV is shocked that mum goes all the way upstairs to bed. And I tell her, it’s very important to let the older people do as much as they can, to feel a sense of pride, of physical and mental achievement. It is vital we support them but do not take over, until the point where we have no choice. Personally I hope mum always has a choice. Yesterday she whispered to me, I hope I slip away quietly and don’t give you any trouble.
Sitting in the living room, drinking my warm tea, after the pump of the shower has stopped, I hear them chatting and laughing upstairs, and my heart sings. There is no hesitancy, no fear that I have done the wrong thing. An enormous sense of relief overwhelms me. I hope mum is happy with this new routine. I know I am. She already seems lighter, happier, perhaps she too is relieved? I turn to the window to the familiar chirping of magpies, and see two of them sitting on the fence looking at me. And I look back and smile.
4 thoughts on “Mum Care. Part 2”
I read this two days ago and still can’t find the words to articulate quite how wonderful it was.
you’re very lovely Emily! My inspiration in all things sport!!
Hello Shelley – just to say that I very much enjoyed reading this. I’m also an RLF Fellow, running one of their Reading Round groups and tomorrow I’m reading them your story Via Calcutta. Thought you might like to know! I have your story because we were both part of an Arts Council ‘Save Our Short Story’ online campaign several years ago now. It’s been great reading your blog and finding out more about you since then! Best wishes
Ah, that is so lovely and generous of you. Thank you Kathleen. Hope we get to meet some day. All good wishes.