A couple of years ago my mother came to live with us. She has her own annexe attached to our house and lives quite independently, although I provide support by cooking, shopping and doing laundry. However, as i still work full time she is effectively living independently.
Over the last couple of months she has declined noticeably. Her memory is very poor and conversations, already hindered by her deafness, tend to go round in endless circles, usually with three topics.
Today for example we had a looping conversation about how pretty the snow looked, how surprisingly quick the hospital appointment was, and how quiet the village is during the day. These three comments went round repeatedly several times before she got tired and went back to her living room to doze in front of the television.
I also move through cycles of exasperation, sadness and resigned amusement. The hospital trip today did not penetrate her consciousness until it was over; she repeatedly asked where we going and why. At first I was irritated, then sad to realise how she struggled to understand. In the end I accepted it and we got through the afternoon.
Other days go less well. It can feel like dealing with a recalcitrant toddler. She performs pouts and sulks and quivering bottom lips. I get moody and snappish, straight back to teenage frustration and ineptitude. The rest of the family ignores us or escapes as best they can.
Perhaps our parents’ frailties in later years is their final lesson to us. Perhaps it is part of the process of becoming an adult that I learn to move beyond teenage dependence and emerge into full adulthood, in charge of my destiny.
It’s sad to see a person move backwards through time, losing memories and skills and becoming child-like and fragile, constantly bemused by the strangeness of life. It is also sobering to wonder how long it will be until I tread that path myself, and what will remain of the person typing at this keyboard.
What is the story I leave my children? Will it be about me in my prime, or in my dotage?