Mum, suffering with end-stage Alzheimer’s, had taken a nasty fall whilst in respite care. This was followed by an appalling lack of care in hospital resulting in total loss of mobility. One month later she was stretchered out into a residential home never to return to her own home again. None of us thought she would last the summer. Completely bed-ridden now and dependant on others for her every need, unable to speak other than gargled sounds, I knew I was not the only one in my family who hoped and prayed for her quick release.
Despite all of this, over 12 months later, she is still here.
I went to see her the other day. When I walked into her room she was lying on her back, unable to turn her head to see who was approaching. I noticed again how much smaller she had become beneath the cover, so much so you wonder that she’s hardly there at all. For a moment I marvelled at her resilience before moving closer and greeting her with a kiss. There was brief eye contact followed by a fleeting smile of recognition perhaps? I like to think so. Holding her stiff, twisted hand, I told her all the news, laughing at the funny bits, censuring others just in case a miracle occurred and she sat up in shock to respond. Anybody passing by her room would only have heard my voice but our conversation was definitely two-way.
This time last year it was all very different and we treated every visit as though it were the last, whispering words of love, offering thanks for all she had done and even began to plan her funeral. In many respects, grieving for her loss began years earlier as the person we knew and loved disappeared in stages before our very eyes. Alzheimer’s is not called The Long Goodbye for nothing and every time the phone rang, we were on high alert especially if it rang outside of social hours.
As time went by we began to relax a little. Dad still visits every day but the rest of us began to get on with life and seeing Mum became part of a new routine. Looking back I think we needed time for the dust to settle. We had all suffered with stress in one form or another and the tears flowed freely at her bedside despite attempts to remain composed.
I have often wondered why she is still here. I know that only the spirit can decide when the time is right to leave a broken body, but the truth is we had written her off. In the midst of our grief for the loss of what little quality of life she had left, it seemed inevitable that the end was near. It’s only in the last few months as the pain of her demise softens that I see things differently.
Grieving is exhausting. As a family we have spent many years grieving each level of loss as Mum’s condition deteriorated. And yes, there needed to be some sense of closure too for all our sakes. It would be lovely to have just one more conversation with her, or ask her advice about something to do with the kids but we all knew this was never going to happen.
It occurred to me a few visits ago however, that these things were still possible. There is something therapeutic and highly beneficial in being able to air concerns without interruption. Mum was still here. If anything, she had become the purest form of herself allowing us to discover, even now, her final gifts. There is still a great comfort to be had from seeing her and talking to her, holding her hand and leaning in to feel the warmth of her cheek. Even the days when she is barely conscious she still has an important role to play in our lives. Sitting quietly by her bedside scanning her face for signs of life, I feel a sense of gratitude that she is still with us, still here. I sometimes wonder if she knew we needed time to adjust to her absence and in fact delayed her departure for our sake.
Going back to Ken’s original post for a moment I was struck by his acknowledgement that his father had lived a full life, there were no regrets on that score. I suppose I could argue this has not been the case for Mum that she has been robbed by her illness and we by default have been short changed. I’m not so sure about this. Every life has a purpose and I’m beginning to think that hers has been just as successful as the next person who lived to be 90 without a day’s ill health. Perhaps the triumph lies in how we handle life’s challenges and if that’s the case, she’s certainly met hers with fortitude and courage.
I know it won’t be easy when the time comes. We’ve had so many dress rehearsals I sometimes think we’re living in a state of suspended disbelief. The greatest irony of course would be if she were to outlive us all! (That really would be worth blogging about.) For now, we are as we were, still a family but without so many arguments, especially the mother-daughter kind. I find that my Mum has become a very good listener, not at all judgemental and totally unconditional in her love.
In her silence I have found peace.