My mother didn’t want to go into an old folks’ home. I didn’t want to have to put her into one, either. But the decision was taken out of our hands by events, and she has now been in a nursing home for almost five months whilst I have had to return to Switzerland. Yes, I can pop back to England now and then for a week or so to check up on her, but those visits result mostly in frustration and a sense of impotence, because even the best “Home” isn’t capable of providing the individual personal care and attention she was receiving in her own home. But she needs nursing and I am no longer able to continue looking after her.
The staff are caring and kind, but my mother is dwindling. A tiny, frail little figure, no longer the matriarch she was even on her hundredth birthday. And yet, she is still here, still battling on, despite her loss of independence and sense of purpose, despite the fact that she now gets confused and muddled; unable to see properly because of her macular degeneration and frequently unable to hear what is being said because either her hearing aids have been mislaid or there is simply too much background noise; and unable even to stand on her own two feet any more. She hates the hoist that has become necessary whenever she needs to be moved, she hates having to ask for assistance for even the simplest task. Yet she is still here.
The wise, wonderful, witty, kind, considerate and lovable person she was is now a treasured memory in the minds of her family and friends. Her own memories, the source of many a merry tale, are as muddled as a mixed salad. She is no trouble and doesn’t complain, so the staff are quite fond of her. But they have little idea of the person she was for a hundred years, until her little accident in May and the traumatic events that landed her here, and have wrought such change in her. Her birthday party was the last occasion where she seemed really happy and still herself.
I tried to give her news of the family, the recent successes of her great-grandchildren and the amusing doings of her young great-great-grandchildren. Photos were of little help, as they appear blurred: is that little brown-haired girl really her great-great-granddaughter? Or maybe her great-granddaughter, her granddaughter or even her daughter? Maybe even herself? As five.year-olds we all looked very much like this, so that kind of confusion is understandable: the experiences of a century blend together into a timeless mass.
She is not in any physical pain, thank God, but mental and emotional suffering are taking their toll. Does she feel abandoned? She hasn’t said so, but she would so like to go home and that is just not possible.
Am I selfish to pray that this situation will not have to last much longer, and that she can, finally, really go home?