YES, NICE WEATHER AGAIN. Yes, ‘this’; yes, ‘that’ and bloody yes, ‘the other’. Bus. Joke with driver. Tired tales of bus journeys. Stories of how that bloody TV show in the sixties predicted so many mothers without rings on their fingers – PLEASE! MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT ALL STOP! Routine? This isn’t routine, it’s bloody Identikit: mix-n-match; Groundhog Day. I CAN’T TELL WHICH VISIT THIS IS – IS IT THIS ONE, THE LAST ONE OR THE ONE NEXT WEEK?
Change bus. More repeated anecdotes interspersed with questions about whether she’d told me this before (yes, mother, twice on the last bus, half a dozen times the last time we did this and can I please take the next exit to Oblivion?). Off the bus, into hospital and a rest with coffee and fake cake. Up to the ward and the same words about the same things with the same nurses and the only difference is that he might be in a different place or the other rotting husks of humanity in the ward room might be different.
Swap out the dirty clothes for clean ones. Listen to the rambled slushy mutterings and endure the vacant stares. If we could just get at a mind that was firing on all cylinders, if only he wasn’t three sheets to the wind, away with the fairies and most of the contents – let alone a sandwich or two – short of a picnic. A belfry full of bats, empty in the attic and just generally mixing up wishes, dreams and memories into a hodge-podge of semi-garbled near-nonsense.
Then the leaving and the waiting for the bus and ‘how do think he was today?’ conversation. The buses back and the remarks about going through the tunnels of trees overhanging the roads in various places and back to where my brother is readying a meal for she and himself. On the bus, mother seemed to be – finally –aware not just of my father’s potential torment and frustrations, but also of the undeniable fact that he is sinking; oh, he keeps bobbing up again, but… his mind is about as good as it’s going to get and his body is failing pretty rapidly. He needs more care than can be given actually at home. She finally admits that she could not manage at all. Even during the visit today, I saw her sort of phase in and out of this situation.
Then comes the slightly shouty ‘debrief’ – not as painful as it sounds. By this time, we’re all fairly tired and everyone gives each other lots of leeway so long as no insults are hurled. We don’t bother particularly with tone of voice; if we sound emotional in some way, then we do. We accept this. it’s strangely forgiving. On top of my mother’s almost tacit near-admission, my brother finally says the words I have been longing to hear. He tells me that he’s investigated the whole thing as best he can and that father now needs more intensive and specialised care than he can give.
As I walk through the empty streets home, I realise I have basically done it. I have done what I set out to do; to engineer the best possible outcome as I could before the entire situation descended to the ninth circle of hell. From reactive to active (no, not ‘pro-active’, that simply isn’t a word so deal with it) have I come. Now I can nudge opinion, now I can take their realisation that they have been in denial and gently ensure the right thing happens with as little suffering to everyone as can happen.
Close to home, however, it happens. A friend of my parents seems to have been lying in wait like a spider and pounces on me with kindly enquiries about them… I skirt the grisly details and upon hearing the friend’s hope that he’ll be home soon, I nearly lose it. I manage to hold everything in and merely say one word: ‘Dementia.’ A sage nod, then her hand snakes out and rests unbidden on my arm with some sentimental and horribly naive words about how we must want him and how we cherish him because she lost her father when he was so young and –
I excuse myself. It’s been a tiring journey and I hope she’ll forgive me for wanting to just get home and have something to eat (a large liquid late lunch) and rest… treacly platitudes ooze like aural pus from her mouth and her head bobs as she adopts a sympathetic grin which to me looks like the rictus of demonic witch.
These are only my reactions. She means well. There is no need for me to hit her with the insanely increasingly inane horror of it all. He’s dying, I wanted to scream in her face. His mind – in essence, all that he is – is buried beneath his delusions and nightmares. His body looks like a cross between one of those peat bog people and an Egyptian mummy. If he was a dog, the law would compel us to end his suffering, but no, he’s human and we all have to cling to human life so grimly… WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!
I go home, my victory at beginning to chip away the hard shell of denial regarding my father’s return has been sullied. Doors shut, coat off, a quick rummage in the freezer; the vodka, shot glass and I go to the living room. Right now, they are all the company I want. The phone rings, and I resist the urge to throw it out of the window.