Saturday, 7 March 2015

Caring for my Mother

I’ve been watching a film that had a blogger as a central character, and I realize I am supposed to be writing a daily running commentary on my life à la Bridget Jones Diary.  Apparently this is what bloggers do.  But then my life would need to be one that showed struggle, and growth and discovery and conflict and redemption, like all fictional stories. I would have thousands of readers, nay, millions, who would identify with my daily round of …….erm……what?
Maybe it should be my mother who writes this blog.  What is she going through?  She is making a journey that we will all make in one way or another.  We’re all going there – senseless and incredible though it seems.  I too will grow old and frail and struggle on long after my body has passed its use-by date, until finally, I die. 
I don’t know if my mother’s death will be gentle and swift (oh please let it be) or if it will be frightening and painful, alone, in the small hours, in an intensive care unit, after I have gone home for a few snatched hours of sleep.  I keep trying to imagine it, to prepare myself for it.  I want to stay with her till the end, so she does not go alone.  To hold her hand and offer her my arm, as I always do when she walks up stairs, holding carefully onto the handrail on the other side.  Only this time the stairs will lead to a place where I can’t go with her, but she’ll straighten her so-bent back and let go of the rail, not reach for her stick, but walk forward and fade from my sight.  But who knows if that’s how it will be.
I do think of it but it’s not the time yet.
It’s become routine, this round of care.  But it’s strange at the same time.  She lies on the bed quite naked while I dress her.  She waits for me to pull up her pants, insert the pad.  She has no sense of privacy or modesty, all that has gone now.  I suppose it would be awkward if she was still embarrassed by it.  She doesn’t have dementia or anything, she’s still all there, but still I sometimes see –when she lies there, stiff-limbed, legs almost rigid and heels digging into the bed as I try to pull up the pants – I see a tiny baby, waiting for her mother or whoever was tending on her, to dress her or change her nappy.  I see that baby who was almost abandoned in her own home, waiting for whatever attention she was going to get.  I remember her mother, her slaps like a wasp’s, stinging and unexpected.  I know my mother definitely thought it was normal to slap a baby. Is my mother’s stiffening a memory, gone from consciousness now, of those slaps?  I see that story in her little, old body, held there even though it was never there in her conscious mind.  I hope I am tending on her better than she ever got for that first year of her life.  I hope I am tending on her better than I got in the first year of my life. 
I carefully piece together all the information I have been given, that no-one else seems to think about, least of all my mother. 
She was so weak, this 2nd-born twin that no-one knew was there till she began to be born.  So weak that she couldn’t lift her head unaided until she was about a year old.  I’ve never had children of my own so I don’t know much about the rates of development but I have met little ones of a year old and they are walking independently and climbing stairs at that age.  At that age my mother couldn’t even sit up. 
We know her mother – my grandmother - opted out of anything to do with motherhood after the twins were born. She took to her bed with post-natal depression and never got over it for the next 60 years.  We know this but has anyone ever really thought through the implications of it all?  While her twin and older sister were already up and running about, finding their way to company, my mother was helpless. This little weak thing, needing help to move around …. just like now.  How often was she left, forgotten, while the more lively children took all the attention?  Even now her feet have a little twist to them, the arches are humped up oddly, in a way that my brother the orthopaedic surgeon says is neurological, from her birth. 
I think about these things and wonder how much of this has been passed on.  I know Mum is a very different person from her own mother, and I know she wanted to be a good mother, which seems not to have been true of her own mother.  At least she tried.  But there was always a sense of bewilderment about her, as a mother. She describes herself as not having a clue, at least for the first one of us kids.  I read a book a few months back, called ‘The Emotionally Absent Mother’, and was amazed at how many boxes it ticked with me.  I begin to sense the deep impact this has had on me – not least in my sense that I would never be a mother myself. 

This all feels like blaming my mother, but I can’t. It’s true, she was a pretty inadequate mother to me, to all of us, but she did try.  She did her best.  She floundered through it without any idea because the foundations were never laid from the mothering she got from my grandmother. 

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