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.


citygirl said...

Very interesting. I love the description of the pauses as "re-buffering, a re-spooling of some tape". It's a very concise way of describing that behaviour.

My mom also used to tell the same stories over and over again with different pieces added or subtracted and she also would go on "pause" sometimes.

One story that she told many times was about when she was a young girl in Ireland and she had received a doll as a gift. Some other girls tried to take the doll from my mom so she ran away down the street. She tripped and landed teeth-first on the ground, breaking off many of her front teeth. She said since then, her teeth were rotten (her family was very poor so I'm guessing she never saw a dentist). As long as I've been alive, my mom always had full dentures and said any teeth she had were pulled out because they were in such bad shape.

I think that story will stick with me for the rest of my life!

Greg said...

I like your "go on pause", too. I'd have loved to have had a remote control to "pause" Mum when I was younger :D

I suppose it's typical that, in both your Mom's and mine's cases, the childhood stories are the ones that she repeats. The outer skins of the onion are being peeled away and the earlier life is uppermost. It's always a little jolting for me to hear Mum talking about her last house as her childhood home.

I can't read your Mom's tooth story without wincing. A lot of my Mum's generation had complete dentures, the thinking of the time being that one's own teeth were inevitably going to cause pain and expense so why not rip 'em out and have the easy-care option. It also gave Dentists here a good income from work they could charge to the State. Mum's always been proud of the fact that she has her own teeth.

karen said...

I am glad she loves her teddy bear and it gives her something to talk about. My mom never really told stories but she would repeat herself over and over. And right before she stopped walking completely she would stop and walk than she would not move her feet. I had to get on my knees and push her feet to get them to move. I hope that your mom never stops walking. And I hope she always tells you her stories.

Greg said...

Thanks, Karen. Yes, I've found myself getting on my knees and pushing Mum's feet to tell her which one needs to move.

As for the stories, I've come to realise that I need to get there early in the morning to get the most clear version. It's like the printing press in Mum's brain runs dry by afternoon and the details become progressively vague.