Tuesday, 28 August 2007

inverse vanity

Despite my constant corrections, Mum keeps telling everyone that she's 80 when she's still only 78. Is she possibly the one woman in the world who ADDS to her age?

the visit

My first visit this year. Friday evening, Mum opens her front door and sees me there with my bag hanging from my shoulder.
"Are you going somewhere?" she asks.

I spent a week with Mum and what I saw could fill several entries here, but I'll just do the 'highlights' for now.

Worst moments:
1) Mum not being able to guess the day correctly even once - then forgetting 5 minutes after being told
2) Finding perishables in Mum's fridge with 'best before' labels for April and May
3) Mum repeatedly using her oven grill to heat up ready meals
4) Finding a telephone bill for £160 where all but 2 calls were to Directory Enquiries, often several a day at 5 minute intervals. When I asked Mum if there was a number she kept forgetting, she explained that sometimes she wanted to know the time and sometimes she just wanted to talk to someone.

1) I persuaded Mum to part with her car (to the relief of my relatives and other residents at Mum's block). The official story is that she's sold her car to me as I'm 'having car trouble'
2) Mum has accepted the idea of more sheltered care, and we are going to look at brochures together
3) I simplified her banking further, completed her tax return, got her name removed from several mailing lists and subscriptions and accepted a share offer which should net her £5k
4) I cleared a year of flyers and magazines and wrappers and junk (3 large bin bags almost too heavy to carry)
5) I cleaned Mum's kitchen and discovered that her crockery was originally cream and not scummy brown. She cried with happiness when she saw the cleared kitchen (really!)

One week later, it was actually quite poignant to leave her (normally by this point I'm chaffing at the bit to get away). But I'm heading down soon by train so that I can pick up my own car and bring it home.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

jaw meets floor

I'm driving home from the supermarket when my mobile phone rings. I let it go to voicemail. At home I check my message and it's from Mum. She has started talking well before the beep, so I miss some detail but can pick up that she urgently needs me to call her.

"Hi Mum. You left a message?"
"I got this note today and it says, 'Don't do anything with Car Tax. Wait for G to come visit' "
"MUM, you didn't just get that note. You WROTE that note yesterday. I got you to write it!"
"Oh.... er... yes, I know that.. er... but next to it was this envelope which says, 'Renew your Car Tax online....etc'"

And Mum proceeds to read out the same letter she read to me 16 times yesterday.

Monday, 13 August 2007

calling and calling

As it was raining, I went to the cinema this afternoon. I sat there watching a musical, thinking, "Maybe I'll take Mum to see this when I'm down visiting her."

When I came out of the cinema and turned on my mobile phone, I had a text message to tell me that there were voice messages waiting for me. I called my voicemail to find that in the course of the last hour, Mum had called my mobile 11 times. I started listening to the messages. Each was about the same letter she had discovered in her pile of correspondence referring to her car tax [she called it "an envelope that is telling me..."]. The first few messages were her reading out the letter, beginning each time with an explanation as if she was mentioning it for the first time. In later messages she added "are you there?.... can you hear me?". Then came the angrier, "I want you to call me back right away!" and "Look, why aren't you talking to me?"

I rang my home phone and there were a further 5 messages waiting for me there. That's 16 calls in 60 minutes, or roughly one every 3 or 4 minutes. She must have called almost immediately again each time after putting the phone down. Some of the messages, also, involved periods where she had put the phone down on the table and walked away and I could hear her shuffling through papers. Then she would press the buttons to phone me again, not realising that she was still connected. She's losing her accuracy with the simplest model of phone on the market.

I called Mum and remonstrated with her about the messages. I explained to her that there's no need to leave more than one, which I told her that she used to know. I'm afraid I said that this was upsetting me as it seemed a sign of her failing abilities. She ran with the word "upset" and tried to explain her extraordinary behaviour as coming from her own "upset", but I was really too angry to let her get away with this. I forced her to write down an instruction not to do anything about her car tax and that I would deal with it when I came down later in the week. I had done the same this morning, but that note seems to have become lost in her morass of papers. This one, I insisted, should remain by the phone.

I'm very worried about how upset and angry I became with her. I keep telling myself that this comes from fear, that I am scared whenever her behaviour shows evidence of a new dip in her abilities, but I still can't forgive myself for shouting at a helpless old lady. I'm worried how I'll be with her when I visit.

Saturday, 11 August 2007


"I've just checked and my car tax has expired."
Typically, Mum sounds thrilled at the drama. Meanwhile, my heart plummets.
"Really, Mum? I usually remind you in advance, so I'm not sure it's due for renewal."
I check my organiser and there's nothing for Mum's tax disc anywhere. Oh no! This is my fault! I panic.
"Yes, the date on it is the 7th August," she says.

I groan, because I know that it will take DAYS for me to organise Mum to find her M.O.T. and Insurance information, with her reading every random scrap of paper in her flat out to me over the phone because she cannot discriminate between any random letter and the relevant documents. This is going to be agony.
"I'll go out and check again," she volunteers.
"Okay," I answer, playing for time.

While I wait, I remember that the renewal date is held on my "MUM" spreadsheet. I open this to find that she has the same renewal date as me (the last day of August). She shouldn't be out of date at all.

Mum rings again.
"Yes, it's the 7th of August alright. It says 31.08.07"

It seems that Mum's dates have gone the way of money and all the other things she has lost the ability to judge.

Thursday, 9 August 2007


D&G, my Aunt and Uncle, have returned from their visit. D is on the phone in the taxi before they've even reached their house.
"Your Mum needs to go into a home."

My heart sinks. Mum would be very upset if I even broached the possibility. "I suppose you want to put me in a home, now!" is her favourite stick to beat me with when we have a confrontation.

I don't know how to go about this. How to persuade Mum.
I don't know if her finances can stretch far enough.

I feel overwhelmed.