Thursday, 26 June 2008


Phone conversations with Mum are increasingly bringing to mind the Turing test.

Her conversation is plausible on the surface, but after a few exchanges I'm aware that Mum's responses are generic fragments of her former speech, crusts of old sentences tossed into the mix, comments that would imply credibility were it not so easy to spot the prompts in my news that have triggered each facsimile phrase. There are so few of them that it's easy to anticipate what's coming up next.

There is no familial nourishment in these conversations, no sense that I am communicating with another soul. Her larder is quickly emptied of stock expressions and Mum ends the call or suggests that I talk to a member of staff. It's almost as if Mum is conscious that she's taking a test and wants to keep it short to avoid exposure. I'm left feeling that I've missed a connection.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

family wedding

My favourite member of staff at the Home had made sure Mum visited the hairdresser, had bathed her and had picked out and accessorised an outfit for her. She told me that Mum had been asking every day of the week whether Greg was coming. It’s gone into Mum’s 'Life Plan' * now that they don’t tell her about anything more than 24 hours in advance.

In the car, Mum turned to me and asked, casually, how things were “back home” and then asked after the health of a couple of relatives who have been dead for 12 and 30 years, respectively. My heart sank a little: Mum was trying to prove competence again, which is seldom a wise tactic on her part because she inevitably proves just the opposite.

Or maybe she was just time travelling again and was visiting a time when these relatives were alive - in that case, who was I?

At the Church, I helped Mum down the steps and we shuffled up the aisle, past our remaining family. I saw a couple of them visibly shocked at the transformation in Mum as I helped her gingerly into a pew. For her part, it didn’t seem like Mum recognised anyone at all.

After the Service and the confetti and photographs, we made our way to the Reception venue (a 20 minute car journey). En route, Mum asked me 6 times where we were planning to go for lunch. Each time she had no recollection of a wedding or where we might therefore be going. Irritated, she took to pointing out things in the villages we passed through, saying how she’d seen whatever it was last week and was amazed that it hadn’t moved. This is something I’ve noticed Mum doing for about 6 years now – she experiences unshakable déjà-vu and treats my logical proofs that she’s never been there before with unconcealed disdain.

At the Reception, Mum ate unenthusiastically, glancing at me in her inscrutable way and replying in the vaguest terms to questions from other guests. She lasted longer than I had anticipated, but a couple of hours after the meal she’d had enough and suddenly asked to go.

As we said our goodbyes, I stood beside her and quietly announced each person as they came up to her, but she didn’t seem to register either names or faces. She didn’t even appear to understand the significance of the girl standing in front of her wearing a big white meringue…

Safely installed back at the Home, Mum gained confidence and gave me the first true smile of the day. I sat with her for an hour or so and she regaled me with the usual stories about the other residents. Here she was happy and engaged and interested in what was going on around her, in a way that had been lacking all day.

[*a continuously-updated document stating Mum's memories, relationships, life events and her wishes and needs]

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

dialling down

I get an itemised phone bill for Mum from the Home every month. Over the last 6 months I've noticed that I'm the only person she's telephoned in the whole period. I've urged her to ring the friends and relatives in her phone book, but obviously to no avail.

On the plus side, at least there is enough stimulation in the Home that she doesn't feel the need to ring Directory Enquiries every few minutes for the human company. That proved very expensive last year.

On the negative side, I'm saddened that she has lost the knack of staying in touch with her friends.

The latest bill arrived this morning. There are only 10 entries in all. Looking down the list, I see the 4:45am call that disturbed me in April. After that there are a couple of calls and then signs of a further decline. I see variations on my number, where she's made single-digit mistakes, or repeated a digit.

After that she is dialling too short, with a 5 digit number, a four digit number...

The final attempt is '01'. That was a couple of weeks ago.