I’m sat in my mum’s flat this evening as I’m staying over for the first time, listening to her cough as she tries to sleep. She’s not well again and although she rebuffed me last night, insisting she would be fine; she had a bad night and was frightened. Today she was quick to agree it would help.
Mum rallied from her last illness, and I consciously decided I wasn’t going to stay in death’s waiting room and put all thoughts about it away. I noticed Mum didn’t though. When I told her about theatre tickets in Stratford in May she said seriously ‘Do you think I’ll still be here?’
Christmas was lovely. Mum seemed super well on the day, so we could all relax. Given last years ‘Covid Christmas’ set a low bar, there was much to appreciate and enjoy this year.
Just two weeks into the New Year though and mum’s health is foremost in my mind. Is it just a virus or worsening heart failure? Should she see a doctor? Can we get home oxygen? We agreed that A&E is not an option after last time so I said next time she was bad I’d stay over and here I am. Anyone in the UK will know that hospitals can’t respond to the sickest patients anymore so the chances of any benefit for someone like mum are very small. I will hold her hand, make her as comfortable as I can and what will be will be. I don’t think this is the time, but the first of who knows how many times standing on the precipice before the inevitable.
A really lovely thing we have started is recording conversations where I ask Mum about her life and childhood. Mum is keen to get on with it, which makes me think she thinks she’s not long left. Mum was a little anxious and reticent the first time, holding some stuff back until the recorder was off. The next time she performed for the potential audience; flamboyant flourishes meaning you can never be sure what she’s saying is true!
For me I think the desire to do this is complicated. My first idea was to help my mum reflect and accept her life, and hopefully lose her shame that I know runs deep. I watched a film, Snr, (Netflix) after we started, whereby Robert Downey Jnr films himself with his father to make a documentary about him. It’s fascinating and clear Jnr wants his father to talk about when he was small (where he was clearly neglected whilst the intoxicated adults made films). His father’s only comment was ‘I don’t want to be around for that conversation’ and he wasn’t. It didn’t happen. I realise I’m maybe hoping for something similar but need to be ok with not getting it. My mum rarely references our childhood, though frequently does her own, except to say ‘I had a nervous breakdown’ or similar, always the adult perspective. However yesterday when I came to see her she got to talking about my younger brother being a really sick baby, as he had Rhesus disease. (We seem to be having deeper conversations a lot of the time since we did the first tapes). ‘I think it was hard for you as he took all the attention’ she said. As I drove home I felt emotional. Not only from the sense of loss creeping up on me again, but also from that acknowledgement. Being seen, even 55 years later, was a profound moment.
So these are bitter sweet times full of love, loss, emotional and spiritual growth – I hope for the both of us.