Last week, I tested out eating outside in the Bungalow’s back yard and sun bathing in its front garden and was very pleased with the results. The grass was comfortable, the bench table worked and the company was great so it was with heavy heart that I left the astonishing sunny climes of Cavan and touched down into the cold, clammy cloud of London to visit and take care of my mother for a few days.
I have been coming over regularly recently, and to date my mother has told me all about her daughter (i.e me, she thinks I am her grand-daughter), told me I look ‘very old’, and asked if I am ‘ok’ as an ‘old person’. I came down with her dinner yesterday to find ten cigarettes in her hand. She was trying to charge them in her mobile phone charger (she couldn’t get them to stand up). When I eventually convinced her that she didn’t need to charge them, she laughed at herself and said, ‘of course, I can charge them from the packet.”
In her basement flat, I sit on the broken, uncomfortable couch (the cat takes precedence and gets the only comfortable armchair other than hers) and listen to her repeat the cat’s daily routine, interspersed with moans about the horrors of incontinence and her bowel movements. After a few glasses of wine, I try to engage, but I have to repeat everything four or five times and eventually I lose heart and we sit in silence. This woman, who once was an academic with a sharp mind, seems happiest picking the cat hairs from the woolly cardigan she spreads across her nightie, itself already stained with food and cigarette burns. Except, in her lucid moments, I see the horror and fear in her face.
I have always had a feeling of never quite making the grade in my family, never doing it quite right, in fact, usually getting it wrong in some minor way. I am too slap dash, easy going, and am more like my father who enjoyed the ‘joie’ de vie. I defer to my older brother and mother who generally ‘know best’. But I have always been able to talk to my mother, happy to enjoy a drink and tell her my woes when the ‘joie’ is not so apparent. And she has always liked to give measured, rational, grown-up advice. So, we have been close. We talk. Without this this talking, it is hard to know what to do or what to be, and once again, I feel a failure, not up to the mark. I am letting her down. In our silence, watching her tendrils of cigarette smoke drift into the stifling air in the room, I wish I was in sunny Cavan – and immediately, guilt surges up inside and I try to stuff it back down my throat into my stomach where it turns and flaps like an unwieldy baby dragon.
In all this silence, it strikes me that I might be struggling with grief, even though my mother is still alive. I remember from when Dad died, how grief strikes; it taints everything. I had been thinking that I was depressed by Brexit, Trump, Teresa May, the attacks on Corbyn, the corruption of politicians, the world. But maybe my depression is also linked to my mother. Aha, something else I can blame on her! Typical, I think with some resentment (quickly followed by a surge of guilt), that she would cause me grief before she even dies.
If we were talking, and she was offering advice, she would say breathe deeply and slowly, it will pass. My mind quips, ‘not fast enough’. I have another guilt surge. I say here and now to my daughter (the one my mother thinks I am) beware this mother daughter thing as I get older. But my mother is right. Whatever happens, it will pass. I take a deep breath, I just hope quickly, preferably in good company, in the back garden in sunny Cavan.