We visit Mum as soon as I arrive (Jack and I) – that is the purpose of my trip; to see as much of Mum as I can. Somehow I feel it’s her last Christmas… she’s gone downhill so fast since I was here in September.
“We're pleased,” says Angela, as we walk in. “She’s decided to feed herself again.”
“Mummy! I’ve missed you,” I hug her and snuggle close to kiss her cheek, the months apart melting away.
“Oh, my girlie, I’m so glad you’re here,” she whispers, still half asleep even though it’s ten in the morning.
“Hello, Mum,” Jack kisses her as well.
“Oh, my girlie, I’m so glad you’re here.”
I pull a little stool closer just as Janet trips and falls. It happens so fast that I can’t even put out my hand to break her fall. Guilt pours over me like an icy cloak.
People come running, cushions appear, phones materialize alongside privacy screens, all couched in words of care and concern. Janet seems OK but they opt to leave her on the floor until the ambulance arrives.
Mum leans over, alert now, as are most of the residents. But none of them move from their armchairs. Jackie and I try to continue a conversation with Mum, but the excitement of the prostrate body far more interesting to her than the struggle of piecing together who we are and how we fit into this puzzle that’s her life.
When nothing further happens, Mum nods off again, but wakes to the commotion of the incoming paramedics. He is tall, dark, and handsome; and his assistant short, white, and sweet.
Unabashedly, Mum stares at him, checking him up and down, “Ooooo, hello there, where did you come from?” she coos. Jack and I burst out laughing.
“Do you want some lipstick, Mum,” Jack asks. (Old family joke.)
Mum is clearly mesmerized by this man and her eyes dart left and right. “Now, what can I fall over, eh?” she mutters but soon falls asleep again, hatching her plan.
It seems a sensible moment to leave.
Next day, I come back with Dave and Jess and it’s a good day today. Mum's sitting up, awake and alert in the dining room. The pale winter sun streams in through the tall windows and plays hide and seek on the furniture.
Mum is smiling and making conversation. Warm hands, brushed hair, she reaches out to touch each one of us. David takes pictures and everything’s almost normal until Mum clutches her head, her face tightening into a frown, “It’s zizzling … zuzz …” she whimpers, “in here,” pressing her temples.
I massage them, round and round, whispering words of endearment as I do, yet feeling totally inadequate. What is it? What’s going on?
Mum seems to feel soothed and shuts her eyes with a sigh and falls asleep. Her face and hands have turned icy, so I wrap her in my soft two-tone shawl, knowing I won’t see it again, but glad at some silly level, that it matches her outfit.
Did something happen?
The next day I return:
“Yes, she’s in there,” they say
And they point your way.
“Over there,” they wave to the room
Of two-dozen, great comfy chairs.
But you were sat in a chair
In a different place,
Not the tall Alice in Wonderland
Chair by the window,
Nor the squat plush one beside Pam,
Nor the one you were in yesterday,
And I can’t see you, Mum
I can’t see you. I miss you.
They say, “Mum’s right there, love,”
But I miss you,
I miss you. I miss you.
Then, at last, I discover you,
Sleeping, shriveled and bent.
My eyes, my heart, and memory ache.
But with a deep breath I’m collected,
I must be collected, for I miss you,
And I can hardly bear that
I’ve missed you here too.
Your eyes flutter open,
When at last I caress the back of your hand.
It’s so chilled and still from sleep.
“Hello, Mumsie, darling,” I whisper,
Stroking your cheek now,
Holding your face in my hands.
“I’ve missed you.” I say.
“I’ve missed you.” You repeat,
but the words sound more like
“Bligh-ve mushh ooo.”
Your voice has dropped about two octaves,
since yesterday – just yesterday, the good day –
And no further coherent words emerge,
Though plenty are spoken.
I’ve waited thousands of minutes
To see you again, just to be with you
Again, and to hug you
Because I miss you,
And you miss me, here too, today.
Because all the while I stay, you sleep,
And sleep, and sleep.