Once again, I left mum and wept. She has dementia and has been living in a care home for eighteen months. One of those months was with dad.
Dad lived with prostate cancer for ten years, but the last year involved many hospital trips. After five weeks on an oncology ward it was clear he wasn't returning home. Around that time, mum was diagnosed with dementia, then broke her hip. So they went from hospital to care home together, where dad lost his war on cancer but mum remained. It was all rather grim.
I fill the time during my visits with non-stop chat about what I've been up to. I busy myself with putting new flowers in the vase. I check the clock – has it been half an hour yet? Today, I had a good three hours to spare, but I made my excuses after forty minutes. I really wanted a hug, so I bent down and squeezed her bony frame and she squeezed me right back. I held her hands and looked into her eyes and told her how I wished I could see her more, that I really loved her and thought about her all the time. She smiled a big, wide smile and I think she welled up. But I couldn't stay.
I don't know how to make her happy again, so I just talk. But while the words are spilling out of my mouth, I wonder, does she want me to shut up so she has chance to say something herself? Does she know I'm over-compensating? Is it because she can't think what to say or because she's forgotten how to begin a conversation? Maybe she really wants to tell me something, but it's too jumbled to articulate? She struggles to remember names, so perhaps feels embarrassed to ask how people are. Is she sad or content? I don't know.
I tell myself that if she was compos mentis, she'd be shoving me out, insisting I go and enjoy myself instead of sitting in a stuffy room with an old lady. But I do it because I want to see a glimpse of my old mum. The mum who was a force to be reckoned with, the mum who helped others, played golf, raised four children and numerous pets. I want to ask her advice, confide in her and have a giggle. I'd like to go shopping with her and have lunch out. But that's never going to happen again.
Most of the time, it's fine. My siblings also visit and the care home staff are fabulous. But today, I just couldn't hack it. I said goodbye, got in my car and sobbed. Some people like to cry on their own, but that's not really me. I mean, I do, but then I always want to reach out and talk about it, so I rang my oldest friend Jill.
Jill lost both her parents so knows how it feels. She knew mine from the age of five and has witnessed most of our family highs and lows – birthdays, weddings and funerals. She let me catch my breath between tears. We compared notes on how we felt about our mums and dads and by the time we'd finished, she had me in stitches over a story involving a home-made curry, six bottles of Peroni and her new slippers.
And life goes on. Tomorrow, I'll get up, do a job I enjoy, have tea with my husband and children and probably watch a bit of television. And next weekend, we've got a family wedding, which will be wonderful.
So anyway, that's just how it is. No veneer, no pictures of fluffy guinea pigs or stories of hilarious japes. Just a bit of what occasionally goes on in my head about my mum, her dementia and what it's like when I go to the nursing home.