Friday 25 December 2009

christmas 2009

I arrived around 4:30 in the afternoon to find Mum's household quiet, with half the residents out on family visits. The lounge was dripping with decorations and the dining area set up as one long table, where a buffet was being set up. The Lead Care Worker was dressed in Santa garb. She told me that Mum had suffered a little accident today.

My heart skipped a beat, but she quickly explained that she'd visited Mum's room earlier to find that she had vomited copiously everywhere, having entirely scoffed a large box of biscuits. (Hmm... I think that must have been my Brother-in-Law's gift). Apparently, Mum had been very distressed that I might find her in this state and they'd spent time restoring the room (and Mum) prior to my visit. It's still strange for me to imagine Mum being anxious to impress me - it seems so backwards, but I guess I'm the Parent now.

We found Mum asleep in bed, with a bad case of bed-hair (there will be no portrait of Mum this week). I gave her my present, which was a mostly a selection of size 16 clothes from Marks & Spencer, and I set to work ironing in some identity labels. Mum sat on the bed, looking adoringly at me and chatting away.

We moved through the standard checklist of conversation that comes up every visit nowadays:

1) have I heard from my Sister?
2) how is my job going?
3) who is that man in all the photographs on the walls?

answers: (1) "nope", (2) "umm" and (3) "your Husband of almost 50 years"

Mum's reply to answer (3) was, "Really? I never thought I'd hang onto a man THAT long!" (It's becoming apparent that Mum was something of a Man-Eater in her early years).

When I'd finished doing the labels, we walked down the corridor to the Lounge and joined the rest of the residents, who were sitting watching "Happy Feet" on TV. Mum introduced me to everyone.

In light of the documentaries I've watched recently, it was interesting to note that the staff members on duty were busy up the other end of the room getting on with their tasks whilst the residents were left in the care of some animated penguins. When I sat down amongst them they all became a bit more animated themselves and each of them was keen to have some interaction with me (I've noticed that they mostly ignore each other). They'd ask me how the penguins had been trained, or where penguins lived, or whether the penguins were really talking, because it seemed like they were talking... Each of them looked very happy that I was there to respond to them and I saw the truth of what Gerry Robinson had noticed - the importance of someone simply being there responding to the residents rather than merely servicing them.

However, it's obvious that there IS interaction at other times and I think the Care Home had done a good job of Christmas this year. The decorations were pretty amazing and spoke of a lot of effort expended, and I heard that there had been Carol Singers and parties in other households leading up to the big day.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Tuesday 22 December 2009

behind closed doors

London: The Saatchi Gallery

I'm at the top of the stairs, looking down into the basement gallery at the exhibit "Old Persons Home" by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. A dozen or so very lifelike old folks are patrolling the floor in motorized wheelchairs. "Lifelike" isn't really the word because every one of these figures is either slumped forward in sleep or keeled over in death. The chairs are fitted with remote sensors to prevent collisions. They edge across the room in an endless dance of seemingly random charges and parries.

I'm the only visitor in the room, and I don't think the young gallery attendant has noticed me. She looks bored and is repeatedly stepping in front of one of the old guys, frustrating his attempts to move forward out of a corner. The hyperreality of the figures and the pathetic futile motions of this old fellow to get out of his trap begin to work on my emotions and I suddenly feel I'm witnessing a cruel case of casual bullying.

What previously was a gratuitous one-joke artwork suddenly means something more disturbing to me. I want to know that nothing like this is happening to my Mum.

Monday 14 December 2009

a lovely little stranger

I watched a couple of excellent Dementia documentaries on the BBC this week.

The first, "Can Gerry Robinson Fix Dementia Care Homes?" was a terrific exposé of how even what I'd consider the better care homes can fail to stimulate their charges. Gerry Robinson, an industry 'fixer' toured examples of both high-scoring and 'failing' homes (although I've seen a lot worse than those shown in the programme). In one very interesting case, 2 homes were owned and operated by the same man: one excellently at £750 per week and the other 'failing' at £400 per week. The difference in the staff and their willingness to sit with their residents was marked. Gerry Robinson caught hold of this crucial quality-of-life issue and ran with it, grasping that a happier atmosphere would encourage both full occupancy and better staff retention, improving life for the residents AND ensuring a profit for the owners. This particular owner, however, failed to support his staff, penny-pinched over their meals and fretted that his care homes hadn't been quite the cash-cows he'd hoped for. The camera lingered over his £4m stately home and high-end cars as he whined.

The second documentary I saw also focussed on stimulation as a key to the care of those with Alzheimers. "Alzheimer's: The Musical", part of the 'Wonderland' series, centred around the retention of song memory long after other functions are long gone and the "Singing for the Brain" initiatives that exist in parts of the country. There were scenes where some quite far-gone and unreachable sufferers became animated by the sing-along and participated so vigorously that they became indistinguishable from their partners and the volunteers beside them. The documentary included many poignant stories of couples involved and gave, I believe, an accurate picture of people today coping with partners with Alzheimer's.

One participant, Ted, talking about his wife, Hilda, crystallised how I think about Mum sometimes:

"I can't reach her. She's gone. She's disappeared... She's a lovely little stranger, but that's all she is, really"

Tuesday 1 December 2009


"I've got a Teddy Bear in my room. I walked into the shop and there it was, looking right at me. And it was only £10, so I said 'I'm going to buy that'."

Mum's talking about the Bear I bought her for her Birthday 6 weeks ago.

We are the stories we tell ourselves. Mum is recycling herself.

It's slow work. There are pauses of over a minute in the middle of sentences where she scans the remote horizon. Sometimes she frowns, sometimes she chuckles, sometimes her expression is quite blank. On a couple of occasions I am just about to break the silence myself when she resumes.

"Do you know, I was on this train travelling to......London. And these older girls......... they pushed me off it....?"

This happened just recently, she tells me.

"And I was in hospital.......and I came around and I said to the Doctor 'they licked me' and he was very surprised...."

Mum's family moved to the UK from Cambridge, Massachusetts, when she was around 10. The "licked/hit" confusion story has been a family anecdote all my life, but I've never heard the origin of the injury before. There may be some truth in this.

However, as the morning progresses into the afternoon, it turns out that each of several different stories Mum is telling ends with the same incident, the hospital confusion over the word "lick". Gradually, Mum begins to get the punchline wrong, until it's only the words "lick" and "Doctor" that indicate she's telling the same tale.

Mum's pauses in speaking seem beyond rumination, they are like a re-buffering, a re-spooling of some tape within her head before she can go on. They remind me most strongly of the way she's been walking for months now: several steps followed by a pause where it seems she cannot recall how to make a step at all. I'm beginning to recognise it as a signature in Mum's dementia.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

birthday girl

This year I really struggled to think what I could get Mum for her Birthday. She doesn't read books anymore, can't follow movies, doesn't seem to care for music, new clothes wander immediately, and it seems I already turn up each month carrying twice her weight in chocolate. As the day approached I could feel myself panicking and I reacted in my normal way: I ignored the problem, left it until the last minute, and hoped for inspiration.

And so there I was wandering around a Department Store en-route to the Care Home, looking in just about every section. Eventually, I settled on.... a Lava lamp. A pretty lame choice, I suppose, but it was something I'd had in the back of my mind since seeing "The Savages" last year - I remembered Laura Linney turning up with one for her Father and thinking that it would be a soothing item for Mum's room. I also bought her some Chocolate Gingers and Turkish Delight (her two favourites), a pretty Birthday Cake, a flashy Birthday Card and (on impulse) a Teddy Bear.

I arrived at the Home in the evening of the day before Mum's Birthday and checked into the guest suite. Before bedtime, I decided to test the lamp (just in case) and it was then that I realised I'd made an error: the leaflet in the box declared that the Lava lamp should not be operated beyond 6 hours a day. I knew this was a stricture that Mum wouldn't be able to follow reliably and my heart sank. I went to bed thinking, "I'll have to return it to the store and take Mum with me to chose something more appropriate." I berated myself for buying something for Mum that was really for me - exactly the sort of glamorous treat that I'd always wanted as a child but was never allowed.

By the time I awoke, my sub-conscious brain had provided the answer: all I needed was to buy a timer-plug to turn the lamp on and off. So, I headed into Mum's household with all my gifts. Mum was sitting with a box of chocolates and a large bunch of flowers, both from my Brother-in-Law. She's always thrilled to see me these days but, with gifts to open as well, she was quite overcome. She reacted somewhat bemusedly to my Lava lamp but LOVED the card and the Teddy Bear most of all. I wondered how parents feel when their infant children play more with the packaging than the expensive toy.

Note to self: keep it simple and sentimental in future.

For the first time in a year, I took Mum out for a drive. I had been so freaked out last year at her 80th celebration, where she had an "accident" whilst out, that I'd not dared risk it since. So we made it to the Department Store and I took her around in a wheelchair, pointing out things I thought she'd enjoy while Mum scanned the floor for young children - Mum is enthralled by toddlers.

I must confess, it's cute to see the reaction of a small child in a buggy as they look at a grown-up person being pushed around in a larger version of their own chair...

At Lunch, in the store restaurant, Mum was already asking about dessert before her main course arrived. She ate a few chunks of seared tuna and a couple of boiled potatoes before putting down her fork and looking at me quizzically. I turned parent and told her that she must eat her greens.

I had to laugh 20 minutes later, when she was scoffing the last bit of green decorative icing from a carrot cake and said (without irony): "I must finish this green, here."

I'm really glad I arrived the night before and got to spend time with her in the morning. Mum was on relatively good form before lunchtime, but by mid-afternoon her personality was unravelling and she was erratic and I was fractious. Our second toilet stop of the day saw me having to get a bit more hands-on than I'd hoped (surely a rite-of-passage for any Son), but I coped far better than I thought I might and wasn't half as scared as I was a year ago.

Our day together was effectively over by 4pm. Although I was there until evening, Mum was only with me in body.

Friday 18 September 2009

will he be there when we get home?

Our relatives, D&G, visited Mum yesterday.

D was a bit glum on the phone this morning. She said that it had been saddening to see Mum so confused and lost for words, that there had been less of the "woman she was" there.

As usual, they had eaten lunch together in the restaurant downstairs from Mum's flat. At the end of the meal, when they were getting up to leave and take her up again, Mum asked, "Will Greg be there when we get home?"

For me, that one little sentence is so rich with pathos that I can hardly bear it.

If I was counselling someone else in my position about this I would probably try to reassure them that they were at least remembered and wanted. But it doesn't help. I just feel so desperately sad.

Friday 4 September 2009

love and alzheimer's

"Is there anything I can bring you next time I visit?"

"No, I don't think so, Dear,...unless...."


"I'd like a Boyfriend."

I smile, keeping my response "That's two of us!" to myself. Mum's just told me that she is 35, so I'm guessing that I'm not an "out" man this week.

At the next table, two of the residents have been a couple for the past year. In previous visits I've been a bit concerned that the man of the two was a bit overbearing - I worried that the woman had been coerced into this relationship. Tonight, it suddenly strikes me that they're the two least deteriorated residents in the room, and I wonder if their mutual focus and companionship is somehow slowing their descent. I wonder if Mum grasps this on some level. Mum is a tenacious survivor and has an almost infallible instinct on health matters.

I know that there will be many many cases of loving partners who have watched their spouses slide away into dementia, so I'm not naïvely suggesting that love can slow this disease. However, there is an intensity and focus required when one is courting someone (as I dimly recall). Wooing requires a special effort to present oneself at one's best and take pains to learn and retain as much about the other as possible. These are both strong tides to resist in dementia. If there's something in this, I envisage a task-force of gigolos and 'ladies of easy virtue' to be activated and sent into Care Homes up and down the land.

I think it's time for me to rent the movie "Away from Her"

Friday 17 July 2009

fan club

Mum clasped her hands and beamed at me, besotted, gasping "Oh... aren't you handsome!"

That's a nice start to a visit.

I'd brought my laptop and a movie chronicling the city of Liverpool over the past 60 years or so. I'm not sure whether Mum genuinely recognised anything. I had thought she might respond to the sequences onboard the "Overhead Railway" (nicknamed "the Dockers' Umbrella"), which is where she and my Father first met, but the only point where she made a comment was when there was a shot of the New Brighton Lido. I'm confident that this was only because I've given her photos of herself as a 20-something, posing at the same Lido.

Afterwards, when I set a slideshow of photos going, Mum was quick to recognise herself in most shots but didn't know either her Husband or Daughter. I find it requires a little tact to reintroduce one's Mother to one's Father. I do it in a matter-of-fact way, not registering the shock I still feel when Mum has forgotten him. It's clear that, until corrected, Mum is minded to consider ME her Husband.

I stayed overnight for the first time - there's a free guest suite which I found an oasis of calm. I'm going to start doing this in future, as it will allow me to spend longer with Mum instead of worrying about my return journey within a couple of hours of my arrival.

As I signed out at Reception the next morning, a lady with a Zimmer frame passed, screwed her hand forcefully into my behind and gave me a sailorly wink.

I've found my key fan base - 80 and female. I've been looking for love in ALL the wrong places, it seems...

Friday 10 July 2009

fatter transferrence

As some of my readers have been kind enough to comment, I've managed to lose some weight since February (5-and-a-half stone, which is 34 Kg or just over 75 US pounds). I haven't talked about it in my posts because this blog is about Mum.

However, it's just occurred to me that something very strange is happening here. You see, as I've lost weight.... Mum has suddenly ballooned.

Now, while my weight loss took 4 months (see here for a picture of what I looked like before), Mum has piled a LOT on in just one month. I'm concerned. Of course, she's had a very big appetite since she arrived at the Care Home in December 2007 and I was grateful to see her fill out a little from the tiny skeletal bird I rescued that year, but she's been healthy-looking since, up to now. Suddenly, in the space of a month, it's almost like her face is drowning in a sea of flesh and I struggle to recognise her. Thankfully she is carefree.

Is this a sign that another prop has given way in her mind, that some autonomic system that regulated her weight is now lost to her? I know it's easy to join the dots to see how this has happened: Mum eats a lot of pudding and isn't getting any exercise. But why gain so suddenly? Why now?

Fantasy time again: did Mum take my fat away from me? Did she selflessly take it and store it on herself?

Did I have a "Mummy-tuck"?

Thursday 25 June 2009

wishful thinking

Sometimes, as I drive over to see Mum, an idea comes into my head: a poignant fantasy that stops my heart for a moment and I have to shake my head and try and ignore it.

In this fantasy there is nothing actually wrong with Mum and she's actually just pretending.

As the movie violins kick in, I dream of a Mother who saw that her Son was holding back on his dreams because he was worried about leaving her behind when he went off on his travels. She cleverly faked her slide into Dementia in order to fool him into placing her in Care.

I know it's solipsistic and stupid, worthy of a daytime soap-opera plot, but the emotion behind it is strong for me, and I invariably get quite teary-eyed and short of breath thinking about it.

And I know why. It's the idea that Mum could be selflessly maternal. I realise that I've spent my life testing her maternal instincts and she's never passed that test. It seems there's still a child within me who still needs his Mummy.

I spend a few minutes with Mum and the fantasy evaporates. She really isn't pretending. I feel sadness for her, of course, but some also for myself.

Sunday 21 June 2009

the power of now

I made another trip to visit Mum today, taking along six more picture frames.

I had spent a lot of time during the week choosing the photographs to include, getting them professionally printed and then arranging and re-arranging them in the frames [I have serious issues to deal with at home just now and I find that spending all my time doing something for Mum is a great way of ignoring my other responsibilities. You can't feel guilty when you've been side-tracked doing something nice for someone who is helpless.]

Apart from one set of 3 recent portraits, all the pictures were taken from our time spent living in Japan and India. Here I was, nailing our past to the walls, trying to cling on to a family's memories. Mum, meanwhile, was attempting to swallow an entire Toblerone in one go with the minimum of chewing.
Once we'd both finished our tasks, I reclined on the edge of the bed whilst Mum sat in her chair by the window.

Mum asked me how my job was going. I told her that I hadn't worked since December.
What was I doing for money? I was living off savings for now.
Did I still want to go travelling? I couldn't do that until I'd seen her apartment sold and the funds invested for her.
Had I heard from my Sister recently? No, not for a few years now.

These questions always come, and we chant through the same call and response every time, as though at a Church service. I'm no longer frustrated or alarmed by this; there's something comforting in the familiarity of the routine nowadays.

We sat and listened to the birdsong coming in through the open window. Mum sighed and said how much she liked sitting in the window alcove and looking out through the trees and across the field.

I had been listening to an Eckhart Tolle audio-book on the drive over, and I was struck by how Mum's condition means that she follows his precept of living only in the present moment. For Mum the past is equally as unknowable as the future, so she is neither troubled by bad memories nor concerned over what's to come. She doesn't go crazy from boredom or terror because she exists only on the cusp of now, seeing only her present circumstances. Meanwhile, I stew and fret and spend most of my time daydreaming about a future I could most likely never afford. I could learn a lot from this woman.

On my way out, Mum introduced me to everyone as her Husband.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

one day you'll write about me

The other night, someone very close to me reminded me of a story I'd told her about Mum a while back.

Mum and I went through a rough patch in my 20s, as I first disappointed her by coming out as Gay and then by dropping out of University. Almost overnight, I turned from being the star pupil she could hold up as her achievement to a mortifying embarrassment and a source of family shame. Apart from one letter where she scolds me for bringing the threat of AIDS into her home and tells me that I'm "wrestling with devils on the edge of an abyss" I didn't hear from her for over a year and things were strained between us for many years afterward.

Mum was aware that I had ambitions to write. Indeed, as I struggled to define myself I found that writing aided me greatly as a meditative exercise, helping me distinguish feelings that I'd hitherto been unable to articulate, including feelings about my Parents. They were not curious people, however, and showed little interest in what I produced. I kept my poetry to myself, in the main.

However, in later years, whenever Mum found herself in the wrong on some issue, she would invariably try to distract me from her inability to apologise by saying:

"Some day you'll write about all this, won't you? You'll write about your terrible Mother."

And I would insist that I had no intention of doing so, that the events themselves were traumatic or tedious enough as they were, and why the hell would I want to experience them all over again by writing about them? To me, it seemed like Mum was accusing me of a betrayal, and that it was simultaneously somewhat arrogant of her to assume that she merited my efforts as a biographer. Most of all, I didn't like that she was implying that I could be vindictive in that way. I sincerely meant it when I said I'd never write about her.

Only now, it seems that I've made her my subject after all.

Life is one long joke at our expense.

Sunday 17 May 2009

recycling remembering

Recently, within an hour of joining my local "freecycle" network I saw someone advertising a Dymo label machine which I gratefully picked up. I was at Mum's place yesterday, putting pictures on the walls and adding labels to each picture.

I didn't want to turn it into a quiz for her, so I resisted the urge to put her on the spot and ask, "Who is this?" about each picture, but I did note anything that she volunteered. True to the stereotype about memory and age, she had no clue about the pictures of her grandchildren, but identified her own Father right away. She pointed to a large portrait of her Husband and said that she liked that one of Dad, but then a few minutes later she asked me who he was and guessed it might be a picture of me. I understand her confusion in a way - I fill the function these days of being the provider, the closest family, the most important male figure in her life.

I'd also brought over all our family photo albums which I discovered last year locked away in a trunk and obviously forgotten about for a decade. I encouraged Mum to leaf through them. She was far more intent on demolishing some Turkish Delight I'd bought, but at my prompting she picked up the same album again and again, making the same comments about the same pictures. She didn't recognise herself in the photos from Japan, adamant that she had NEVER tinted her hair in her life so it couldn't POSSIBLY be her. I told her that photographs were great for showing us that all of us can forget the darnedest things.

I was pleased to see that when she DID find a picture that excited her she very much wanted to take the album down to the Lounge and show it to them all. Mum has found a new peer group, a new set of friends, a new family.

I waited around until dinnertime and, whilst Mum was eating a hearty meal, I took out the laser spirit-level, electric drill and plasterboard fixings from my bag and fixed a large Japanese screen above her bed. It's something that I've debated doing for a long while - the screen is ancient and painted on very fragile paper and there's a danger that it will be damaged here. But it's mostly out of reach of poking fingers above Mum's headboard and I feel I need to acknowledge her life with this little touch of exotic luxury. I want to proclaim that this is a person who has lived an unusual life and seen wonderful things.

And if it doesn't outlast her I won't be too upset: it's not something I've felt comfortable having on my own walls these past few years - it didn't feel "mine". If I am going to go off travelling later this year it makes more sense for Mum to enjoy the screen rather than it going into a storage facility.

And perhaps there was another motive behind my decision. By choice Mum has lived within bare walls for the last 10 years. After Dad died, she moved to a newly constructed apartment and got rid of so many family possessions, favouring bland modern furniture over items I'd grown up with, things that we had bought or had made for us whilst we were living overseas. I suspect that she chose this Care Home because it was brand new, too. I often wonder if Mum's memory might not have stuck around longer if she hadn't so willfully scrubbed these physical reminders from her vision. I hope I've done the right thing in trying to put some of the memories back on the walls around her.

Tuesday 28 April 2009

spare me your charity

A couple of weeks back, our relative D rang. She and her Husband are briefly back in the country from one of their long trips (I think this one was South Africa again). Anyway, they'd been over to see Mum and D had noticed that Mum's wardrobe was pretty depleted. I told her that I was well aware of the situation and that I'd bought clothes for Mum at Christmas which had also quickly wandered.

"Well that's not good enough, Greg! Just not good enough!" she said.

I told her that I knew the Home would always dress Mum and that, at the moment, it didn't seem a good idea for me to go and spend any more money on clothes when I was really struggling to make Mum's monthly payments just to keep her there. Mum's pension income falls short of her Care payment by about £600 per month. I've successfully applied for a Government allowance that covers a little more of the ground but there's still a shortfall and, until I've sold Mum's old apartment we're down to our last couple of thousand pounds.

D absorbed this and said, "Well, what if I were to buy your Mum some clothes?"

I told her that I'd be very grateful because we could use the help and, particularly since she would have a better idea of what to look for in skirts etc. I thanked her over and over for her generosity.

D rang me today to say that she was heading back to see Mum on Sunday and that she'd been shopping. She listed a few items that all sounded good. She kept mentioning how much she'd spent (£107) and how well she'd done to get this or that discount. It's no coincidence, I thought to myself, that the wealthy have a zest for a bargain. Finally, she told me that she'd bought some perfume for Mum, too, and said "I mean I bought it - that's from me."

I got a sinking feeling.

She asked me how I planned to "settle up" with her for the clothes.

[pause for breath]

I'm lucky it was a relatively small amount, I suppose. I counted to 5 in my head and told her that I'd send her a cheque right away and I asked her please NOT to buy any more stuff for Mum as neither Mum nor I can really afford it.

I'm thinking of writing a parable where someone's "help" ends up putting the benefactee out onto the street.

Friday 17 April 2009

woman's hour

Back in December 2007, when I was settling Mum into the Care Home, I read that the place would be officially opened in mid-January by Jenni Murray, a well-known presenter of BBC Radio 4's "Woman's Hour". Mum used to listen to this show every day during my adolescence, and I thought it would be a treat for her to meet this star - and it might bolster her appreciation of just how special this new place was.

The day came and I remember ringing Mum in the evening and asking what had happened that day.

"Oh, nothing much. No, I can't think of anything we did."

I felt sad that Mum had missed out on the big event.

So imagine my surprise a week or two ago when I was signing out at Reception and I happened to look up at the TV screen they have there showcasing the place. I saw that Mum featured in picture after picture. And there, indeed, was Mum with Jenni Murray, sitting at the dining table, standing in the doorway to her bathroom. It seems that Mum was pretty central to their promotional activities.

Anyway, I asked them to forward me some shots and here are a couple. Bear in mind that Mum looks a lot better these days, now that she's eating better and has access to a hair-dresser (the in-house salon had no staff at this point).

Sunday 12 April 2009

closing the closet door again

"Oh, don't you look handsome with a beard!" says Mum, as I enter her room.

I've been bearded for 2 and a half years now, and Mum wasn't so complimentary back in 2006. This is just one of those plausible comments that Mum makes which disguise her lack of any true memory.

I hand her a large Easter Egg and notice fresh flowers in the room. She tells me that she has no idea where they came from. After a few exchanges, we fall into a conversation about the telephone and how she's just not using it (I haven't seen any billed calls for a good 10 months now). I ask her if there's anyone she'd like me to ring and I'm unsurprised to hear her nominate her Cousin. I dial the number and get through and am astonished to hear that the Cousin visited Mum only last week (so that's where the flowers came from). It's really great to hear that another family member has visited Mum. Before I hand over the phone I get to hear all about how well Mum looked and how lovely the building and facilities are.

After the call, Mum announces that she'd really like a boyfriend, though she's unsure that a suitable candidate is going to turn up any time soon. I tell her that I feel exactly the same way, and she stuns me by asking me 4 times in the next 10 minutes if I've met a nice girl recently. I'm trying not to correct her these days but just work with her reality, so I find myself making the sort of throw-away excuses I had to make to relatives all through my teens and twenties.

Sunday 22 March 2009

who's who

We're sitting downstairs in the café, for a change. I'm wolfing down a huge salad I bought en-route and Mum is eating her way through my gift of a box of Krispy-Kremes. As usual, I have asked what she's been up to these past few weeks and she has no idea.

Then suddenly she says: "We saw a movie yesterday. It was called [Mum's name]"

I put 2 + 2 together and realise that the DVD slideshow I made for Mum's 80th Birthday has re-surfaced. It seems that she watched it this time.

Upstairs, the Chief Care Worker tells me that Mum watched it with a few others and they were asking who everyone was and she was narrating each photo. They're mostly the same pictures I put in her digital photo frame which, as usual, I have to turn on when we get to her room. The first picture that comes up is my Father in his 20s, about the time that they met.

"Now, you'll be able to tell me," she says, "Who is HE?"

Monday 9 March 2009

moving along

Mum has been using a walking frame for the past few weeks. Unlike the one here, hers has wheels on the two rear legs. I remember her adamance, in years gone by, that she would NEVER accept one. But, as with everything around her these days, Mum thinks the frame is marvellous. She is blessed that her particular brand of Dementia is the Pollyanna variety. Looking around at the faces at dinner time I can see compulsion, fear, torpor, disorientation, even malice. Mum floats above it all, serene.

But we have less and less in the way of conversation these days. She cautiously asks me how "work" is going, and I can tell she's feeling her way through a dark cave. In pity for her I decide not to be a jagged rock wall and tell her that work is going fine. In turn, she has no news to report, even though I know they had a comedy troupe visit them only today in the run-up to a national day of charity fund-raising.

In the couple of hours I'm there, she only needs the toilet once, which I take as a sign that she is less nervous around me tonight. I watch her glide off slowly down the corridor to her room, standing ramrod straight with the frame before her - as if she's holding onto the rail of a launch which is ferrying her across the Grand Canal.

I count her steps - at every 6th or 7th step she will hesitate, as if suddenly she can't recall how to move her legs.

Friday 6 March 2009

money, money, money

I drove down to Sussex again last weekend, determined to tackle the last of the jobs that stood in the way of disposing of Mum's old apartment. The place has been empty now since I cleared it of furniture last Summer, and I've been slack in tackling these last few issues. Of course, I wish I'd been able to get things moving with a sale last year, before the credit crisis and subsequent slide in the housing market. It galls me to think that, for the sake of a few cosmetic touches prior to sale, I've watched the value of the place slide by probably £40,000 (possibly more).

Anyway, it's all done now. My biggest concern was the bathroom, which looked tired and unhealthy, with a badly-stained carpet and flaky and swollen MDF cabinetry. Over the course of Sunday and Monday, I sanded and painted the woodwork and cut and fitted a new carpet, whilst clearing the cupboards of the million things that I'd actually left behind the last time I thought I'd "emptied" the place. I worked into the early hours, cleaning every surface as I went (not bad going for someone on 700 calories per day at the moment!) I think the bathroom is acceptable now, and hopefully won't put off any prospective purchasers. Still, those are expensive repairs, when I think about it.

It was one of those "my life is guided" weekends. If I hadn't been at the apartment, I might never have known, but I chose to go on the spur of the moment and ended up witnessing a dramatic event. The Warden/House Manager there, who has been wonderfully supportive over the past 4 years, was arrested for stealing blank cheques to write out for himself. The aggrieved parties had copies of cheques retrieved from their Banks, and I saw them written out in his unmistakeable handwriting for figures in thousands. One Lady, since deceased, had lost £92,000 to him. The place was in uproar. The Police held a meeting in the Lounge to inform us of the progress of their investigation and to exhort us to check our Bank records.

I feared that Mum would have been a victim, given her extreme disfunction with money, which I'd often discussed with the House Manager, but I've since had a look at her records and can't see any suspicious large cheques, thankfully. It still feels quite unreal. I don't think I should upset Mum by telling her about all this and spoiling her fond memories of the man, but at the same time she is the only person I know that I could discuss this with and I'm still reeling with the shock of it all.

The flat is now listed and it's a question of waiting to see if there's any interest out there.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Saturday 7 February 2009

one from the vaults

I was tidying up my study again last night (the clutter only makes me worry I've already started with the 'brain diabetes'), and I found a piece of Mum's correspondence from July '07 in a box I was emptying. It was a letter giving Mum permission to go ahead and remodel her bathroom at her old apartment, with the Leaseholders waiving the fee of £41.12 [story here]. Her returned cheque was attached.

As I prepared to shred the cheque, I noticed something odd about the numbers. Why had Mum put two decimal points? She had written "41.12.0". Looking over to the written side of the cheque, I realised with a shock that here was evidence that Mum was already 'time travelling'. 

Mum had written the cheque out in pounds, shillings and pence. UK currency went decimal in 1971.

If I'd seen this at the time I think I'd have felt a mixture of panic and victory: panic that things were indeed heading downhill and victory that I had some proof to take to Mum's Doctor. Nowadays, with Mum blissfully detached from worldly affairs, I can look at this as a curiosity and smile: Mum's in a good place.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

alzheimer's "is brain diabetes"

Click here for an article on the BBC News website which reports on research into links between Type II Diabetes and Alzheimer's.

A spokesman for the Alzheimer's Research Trust says:
"People with Diabetes are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer's. It is well known that insulin affects how the brain works, and this research adds more evidence to the possibility that Alzheimer's could be a type of brain Diabetes."


Guess which blogger was diagnosed with Diabetes in November...

All this time I've been thinking that I was lucky to be an adopted child, with no genetic legacy to worry about from Mum. It seems like Mum was on to something when she suggested that I move into her Care Home with her.

Sunday 1 February 2009


This is the first time I've followed a "meme" (if that's the right word), but I was curious to see what would come out in the wash if I put the entire text of "Wits' End" through the Wordle "Word Cloud" generator.

The result is fairly predictable and not that revelatory. However, it's good to know that I haven't strayed far from my topic, by the looks of things. I'd say this was a fairly good representation of my jumbled brain at the moment, too.

Monday 26 January 2009


I've not had much to report for the last month, which is good news in one way.

This morning my impish iPod gave me a nudge in the form of Elvis Costello's "Veronica".

"Do you suppose that waiting, hands on eyes,
Veronica has gone to hide
And all the time she laughs at those
Who shout her name and steal her clothes..."

I never imagined, back when this single came out, that this would ever become my reality.