Kiss it better

Canadian sister and I were talking, transatlantic fashion, about how much we missed Mum. Mum’s in a home, and she does not know us. I visited her today and she asked, in a rare half sentence, where The Daughters were. I am guessing that in her mind The Daughters are not the lumpy, grey old badgers that come to visit her but spotty, insolent teenagers or pigtailed infants.

The television was on loud. People being pompous about food, drizzling this jus or that jus on this or that. We agreed that we both particularly hated cooking programmes.

Finding her propped up in the armchair, my Adopted Godmother (or Godmother Elect) and I lowered ourselves onto Mum’s squishy orthopaedic bed with our feet on the squashy blue plastic ‘in case of falls’ mattress. Every time one or other of us moved, or stood up to make Mum a cup of tea or find her a jacket, both bed and fall mattress gave a fart and a chorus of desperate sighs. It was how we felt.

Last night Canadian sister told me how she felt when she learned her husband of forty years had cancer. She said she wanted to tell Mum, straight away. She knew Mum couldn’t do anything about it but she had to tell her all the same. But she couldn’t tell her. Mum was past understanding anything anyone said. She had tiptoed off without bothering to say goodbye, it felt like.

I told her something I had not realised until I said it, that although Mum had spent most of her life annoying me in one way or another I often longed to talk to Old Mum about New Mum. If only she would come back just for one day so that I could ask her what to do, even though there is nothing at all to be done.

When you lose your parents it’s weird. It’s not like you become a grown-up, suddenly. Here you are, still a five year old inside the elderly carapace you hardly recognise in the mirror, but now you’re abandoned, cast back upon your own inadequate five year old resources. All the bad and sad stuff that has always been inside you, all that stuff that will probably get better someday all the while Mum and Dad are in the world – suddenly they aren’t in the world, in any meaningful way. And then all the bad and sad stuff starts to creep and snuffle its way out. Unchecked. Unbalanced. No one to kiss it better.

When we were children, if we fell over and cut our knees she would wash and bandage them for us. “Mummy kiss it better,” she would say, and the magic always seemed work. It occurred to us that it’s not important whether or not a parent – or anyone else – has any actual power to help you. It only matters that you can tell them. It’s just somebody being there to listen.

I suddenly remembered a time when my parents were both alive but old and, as the unmarried daughter, I seemed to have to go around everywhere with them. We went to a museum once. Admittedly it was raining and all three of us arrived at the reception desk in dripping rain-hoods, looking like drowned rats. ‘Three Seniors?’ the woman enquired with not even a trace of face-saving irony. Dad even bought me a walking stick exactly like his though I didn’t (and still don’t) need one.  How depressing I found that museum visit. How I wish I could turn back the clock and relive it now, torrential rain, walking stick, stupid receptionist and all.

8 thoughts on “Kiss it better

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I have both parents and I’ve been blessed with a relationship of mutual respect and trust. They are both in their sixties and I hope with many years ahead. My maternal grandmother had dementia at the end and, while I was shielded from much of it, I was aware of the sudden difference in her.

    My mum has been having memory problems this last year and she took an (unsuccessful) overdose last year that I suspect has only done more harm, despite what the hospital said at the time. Those first few days once she was discharged were terrifying as she was there but just not present. Her whole body was on autopilot until slowly but surely her brain rebooted. She’s almost back to ‘normal’ now but she’s currently awaiting scans to get to the bottom of her memory troubles. She has trouble with her short term memory sometimes, forgetting conversations and where she put things. She’s still very much like she always has been in most respects, but at times her poor memory and lack of focus remind me that she is changing. My dad has been plagued with illness this past year and I’m aware of how fragile they are really.

    I don’t think anyone contemplates losing their parents and I’m very aware I need to make the most of what time we have.

    I wish you and your mum well. I hope she is happy and feels safe x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing too, Dan, and sorry to hear about your Mum’s recent troubles. It’s good that she’s agreed to the scans as they can tell a lot from those. My Mum refused to have one until eventually they hospitalised her and did it anyway. If it is dementia rather than depression or some physical cause, it helps to get a diagnosis. It makes it easier to claim benefits and apply for other assistance.

      I visit as a ‘befriender’ an elderly lady who has the beginnings of dementia and similar ‘forgetfulness’ issues, but it’s not always that. I think you are right about making the most of mum and dad’s company, and hope my off the cuff reaction to a hospital visit didn’t upset you too much. Good luck x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “She had tiptoed off without bothering to say goodbye, it felt like.” is the best description I’ve read anywhere of how it feels to ‘lose’ a person to dementia. I remember having a dream once, while I was full-time carer for my mother, in which she appeared on the stairs twice – at the same time. At the bottom of the staircase, she was the normal, coherent Mum I’d known all my life. The version at the top of the stairs, though, was a greyed-out, insubstantial being – still alive, still conversing with me, but looking more ghostly than human.

    If it’s any consolation, I believe I did – in a sense – get Mum back for the final few days of her life. She’d stopped eating and drinking, stopped fussing, stopped twittering. She just lay on the bed watching me and listening to everything I said. I talked to her then for almost three days solidly and I’m certain that she was once again ‘with’ me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Jan. What a fascinating dream. I’ve always understood dreams as you subconscious showing you what it can’t tell you, often very succinctly. I’m glad your Mum in a way came back, towards the end. That must have been a great comfort to you afterwards. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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