Those of you that follow me on twitter will have seen my message about my mum’s death. She became ill with Corvid-19 around a week ago, her nursing home had an outbreak in the corridor of the building her room was on and they locked it down to isolate those people who were ill with it from those that weren’t. In retrospect it hasn’t taken long at all, however it feels like a journey of a million steps from there to here.
Mum was comparatively physically robust, certainly when I contrast her with my dad’s frailty of the three years before he died. Her mind was where her fragility showed. As her dementia took hold she was at first, forgetful, then repetitive because she was forgetful and aware of it, then anxious because she was aware of her forgetfulness and her repetition, and finally silenced by the fear of giving away her forgetfulness and lack of comprehension. She became increasingly obstinate, belligerent at times, suspicious and paranoid. She saw long dead people and un-named children sitting at the table, some taunting her by hiding her shoes, some actively stealing her things when she was unable to retrieve them from where she had hidden them to keep them safe from the thieves.
She stopped recognising my dad, refusing to believe that this old man was her husband. As her social filters slipped she revealed more of the pain and circumstances of her childhood. During this period she began to speak of the sexual abuse and bullying in her family that had caused her to feel ashamed and flawed throughout her life. She often slipped back in time to where she was pursued by the demons that had always snapped at her heels.
In her final two years in the nursing home she was at last, the centre of her own life. She was cared for not because she was useful, or because she deserved it by being good, but simply because she was there to be cared for. She sang and played and laughed, made friends and helped the staff with small tasks. She was a respected and loved part of a community. The woman who in my childhood had no friends or companions other than my father was finally connected. When I visited she proudly announced I was her daughter, and then asked several times during the visit where I lived now and if I was working. I had long since stopped trying to correct her, or remind her of the ‘truth’ or ‘reality’, I went along with every wild tale of visits to the city centre, meetings with my dead father, time in a garden that was now being prepared for development, or the need to go home to get dad’s tea. I joined her world and didn’t ask her to leave it to make me feel better. Her happiness was paramount for the first time in my life. I cared for her as I did my babies, unconditionally.
I sit here today contemplating a future that she has given me. I am grateful to my mum and dad’s generation for being the pivotal one for families like my own; poor, mostly unskilled but hard working and consequently reluctant to give up hard won independence and autonomy. This made my dad a total nightmare to care for when he became ill and even worse once mum had had to go into a home. He was never reconciled to her loss, I think it killed him in the end. It was an ugly, painful time of decline. It still hurts to think of it and of my outbursts when my frustration boiled to the surface as he yet again refused to let us adjust the house to enable him to live safely at home. I raged at his stubborness as he refused to replace a broken fridge because he could keep milk on a cold step like he used to as a child. I sobbed as he told me that I had betrayed him, and mum by ‘putting her in a home’ when he had to go into hospital.
Somethings can’t be healed, they have to be lived around, as an oyster does a grain of sand. Somethings said can’t be unsaid, but with time can be understood. Some losses will never make sense or be got over. Some will always feel that they exhorted too high a price for the gains when looked at specifically, but over all, when looked at in the round, can be accommodated, feel destined, and still terribly painful. The Buddhists say resistance is pain, I believe this to be true.
I have done my fair share of grieving the big losses in my life over the last six years. I am now an empty nester which seemed impossible to imagine then. I don’t live with my partner, I don’t own my own business or house, I no longer care for elderly parents. But I do own my life, and I own my life at a stage that I can live a full and happy one with a partner who loves me simply because I am there to be loved.
The lessons I have learnt from grief though is that the only time we have is now. That relationships and intimacy can be built in accompanying someone on their own journey without judgement or conditions. And that you can lose pretty much everything you thought your life was made of and discover that you have everything you need to build a new one within you.