When I saw my mother on Thursday they told me she was a bit agitated. She was delighted to see me, of course, when I explained that I was me, but she didn’t really retain it. She kept saying she should go and check on the people in the other room, see if anyone needed anything, offer them some tea. She felt that she must be the hostess, but she wasn’t really sure who all these people were. She asked me where Dad was, and if he was looking after them. She told me the lovely nurse we’d been talking to was the new maid, that she was excellent and they were lucky to have found her. She was tailoring her narrative to her reality as well as she could, but it kept breaking down because she knew she was missing something. I’d sit her back down every time, telling her that the people were being looked after, that she could relax and just take her ease, but she didn’t really believe me. As I left I looked back into the room and saw her standing up again, a nurse heading over to settle her.
When I saw my mother on Saturday I brought my dad with me. I brought him in a wheelchair, because his knee is very dodgy and he can only progress very slowly with a walking frame. She was so happy to see him. She held his two hands in hers, all their knuckles knobbly, their skin blotched and stained by age. The staff watched in delight, teary, because they say she asks for him all the time, wants to know where he is and how he is and when he’s coming to see her. We stayed for some tea and biscuits and halfway through the conversation she rediscovered who I was and was delighted all over again. When we left she told him he’d been a lovely husband and the nurses all blinked back their tears again.
She’s a real lady, they all said to me.
He’s such a gent, they all say about my dad at the hospital.
When I saw my mother yesterday she was having breakfast in a pink dressing gown I’ve never seen before. She was calm and sensible and very much herself. She got all the news from me, anew – that Dad’s in hospital and will have to go into a nursing home and she will join him wherever he chooses, that I’m back off to America today because I can’t stay, that we’ll sell the house. That she lives in that nursing home, and has a lovely view of the sea from her window, just the same view as from our kitchen window but without the neighbours’ hedge in the way. I brought some pictures for her walls and some new toothpaste and socks because they’d told me she needed toothpaste and socks. We shared a whispered joke, because her hearing’s still fine and she’s as amusing as ever. ‘Well,’ she said philosophically as she looked around the breakfast table at her companions, mumbling their toast and picking at the tablecloth, ‘it’s all a new stage, isn’t it. I must remember that. Maybe I should take up a new hobby.’
She was so much herself that time, her real normal my-mum sensible self, that was the one that nearly broke me when I left and got into my little red rental car and drove down the hill for the last time. That’s what’s bringing the tears here in the chilly boarding area of the airport as I wait for a plane to take me far away, back to the other people who love me too, whom I love too.
Getting old sucks. Not getting old sucks as well. There’s no way around it; we can only forge on with whatever hand we’re dealt, and hope we have as much good humour and grace as my lovely mum.