Nine years ago, my mother who is now ninety-four, came to live with me. I think that she was, at that time, sufficiently in her right mind to realise that she could no longer look after herself. My mother is a domesticated being and she has devoted her life to looking after people: my brother and I as children, my grandmother and my father. My father died eighteen years ago, at the age of seventy-eight. Since then, apart from occasionally looking after my brother’s two boys, when my sister-in-law was at work, she has had nobody to look after.
When she first came to live with me, I was surprised (and somewhat dismayed as I don’t really like day to day cooking) that she left most of the domestic chores to me. She would, however, set the table, dust, do the ironing and wash her own knickers. As time has gone on, all of those things, apart from setting the table, have gradually stopped. Don’t get me wrong, for her age, she is physically in very good shape. The table setting is, however, becoming a bit of a problem: not only does she do it far in advance of the time she could reasonably expect to get a meal, she sets it for too many people and the number can vary from three to five. She is always talking about a mysterious ‘them’ and cannot remember anything I tell her. I don’t give my cat, Jack, milk but there are frequently tell-tale traces round the rim of his saucer. I know she wants to be helpful but most of the things she does need undoing. The washing-up, which she still does sometimes, has to be done again as her eyesight is poor. She has a cataract on one eye which she refuses to have removed and she stopped using her hearing aid long ago. I have to repeat things several times although she sometimes hears things I wouldn’t expect her to making me think that she’s using this to gain attention.
Her certainty that people who only exist in her dreams are realities has led to some frustrating experiences for me. The other night, she woke up from sleeping in an armchair and came to tell me that a woman had come to the door. She would not believe me when I told her this was not the case and insisted that she had been told to wait up for my daughter. My daughter, who is currently working in Canterbury, is thirty-one years old and would not want her grandmother waiting up for her anyway. Even when I said I was going to bed, she said she would have to wait. I do occasionally have trouble getting her to bed but this turned out to be much worse than usual. I tried putting out lights, locking doors and going to bed myself. I came down several times, my efforts to concentrate on reading a Kiss of the Spider Woman a failure, but she would not be moved. It’s like having a small child again and such a role reversal doesn’t sit well with me. She did eventually go to bed at around 1.00 am but it had taken all of two hours. One afternoon last week she happily moved some plant pots outside the backdoor in order to sweep up whilst I cut the front hedge. I wish there were more ways of making her feel useful. She wore herself out with the sweeping, and for that night at least, I had no trouble getting her to bed.