I entered the ward and looked around the four beds searching for my mother. I saw an old white haired lady lying in a bed moving her head and shouting out incoherently and was momentarily horrified to see that this may be my mother. I turned around for reassurance from my Dad and husband but somehow I was alone, they had stopped by the nurses station to check it was alright to come in. Retreating I then followed my Dad back in seeing which of the old women he would go to, the silent ones or the person I believed was my mother, I was not wrong.
My mother has vascular dementia and had been in hospital a week following a deterioration in her physical health, however I could clearly see that her mental health had declined also.
‘Hello, hello’ she is shouting trying to get anyones attention. ‘Iris’ my Dad says, and she recognises him immediately. I sit the other side of the bed and tell her I am Gill her daughter. She looks vacantly at me and then at my Dad who tells her again that I have come to visit her. ‘Our Gill’, she says with some recognition.
This woman is not the woman I last saw, she had dementia then, but still looked like herself, now she was shrunken, her dead eyes darting everywhere but not on me. Her hair not combed in the way she like it. In her hands she holds a small soft toy; a reindeer which the nurses have given her to hold. She feels safer holding someones hand which she grips with a vice like grip surprising for someone seemingly so frail.
My feelings are so mixed up, this is the woman who damaged my brain punishing me with a ‘smack’ to my head with daily regularity or more. She forgot she did not like me once she developed dementia and now she is towards the end of her life. She refuses to have her false teeth in and is incoherent but continues to talk, nobody understanding all the words. I watch my Father sitting with his hand gripped by her, his head tilted trying to hear with his hearing aid what she is saying. He fails and just says ‘I’m here Iris, Okay’, then he falls asleep. Lymphatic Leukaemia makes him tired, the stress of seeing my mother like this makes him weary.
I am listening hard trying to make out vague words as if they are important, as if they are the words I will remember when she has died because this is the first time I have heard her speak face to face in over a year.
She has a pacemaker and a chest infection, her kidneys are not working properly. Her dementia seems to have got more of a grip on her and she is on oxygen.
I sit. I touch her. I have not touched my mother in my life before like this. I stroke her hand but feel unattached to her. She looks at me with dull eyes and I don’t know whether she is seeing me or not, or what she thinks if she does see me. It is too late to talk to her of what she did to me, of how we are, or what she feels about me. Although somehow I don’t think I ever would.
The nurses come and talk to her, they are kind, they are sensitive, they do not know her like I know her. But her viciousness has gone…..I see her trying to speak, shouting at the nurse standing at the end of the bed, she is kicking her feet; up and down; I want your attention but don’t know the words to say it – She wants to go home. That is all that she is interested in, going home.
She knows me and then when the nurses ask who I am she says she doesn’t know who I am. My father explains that she never sees me very often. I now have feelings of guilt, but I could not bring myself to visit someone regularly who hates me so vehemently. I have kept in contact by phone which has maintained my mental safety having spent three years in counselling to overcome the damage she did.
I am sitting there, I am gentle with her, she does not deserve this, but I need this to be like a daughter that has always been part of a loving family.
My Dad on the Sunday we are leaving is ‘off’ with me, I am not sure why. Maybe this is the old way that they both treated me. My husband comes down and joins us, there is a conversation which is not conducive to me being a great person. I ignore it because I know silence is the most powerful tool. Then I am asked a sexist question so I make it very clear what I think; ‘us women are stupid aren’t we’ I say. Nothing more, I have made my point that I was listening and that conversation is over. The subject is changed.
This house is where I grew up being put down emotionally and psychologically. You are useless, you are stupid, you are a whore. I was thirteen when my mother told me I was whore. What is that I thought, I had no idea then. I left home to escape, to grow into someone who could believe in themselves. It took me forty years and three years of counselling to get there.
Now I was sitting at the bedside of my Mother, her gripping my hand telling me and all the nurses she loved them. The pain cuts like a knife. I have never heard her use the word ‘love’, apart from telling me nobody would ever love me. Her words feel as empty now as they have always been.
Back at my fathers house ( my old home) I washed, cleaned, ironed, and tried to make things better before I left to go home. As we are leaving my Dad says to me ‘I can’t see that she is ever coming back to this house because I can’t look after her’. There is a sadness when he says this, adding if she ever comes out of hospital.
Family is extraordinarily painful when we have alway been fractured.