In and amongst wall to wall world wide coverage of events in Paris, long conversations with daughter resident there, email exchanges with francophile friends, reading and re-reading of articles that free speech is all or respect for others is all, culminating in Russell’s uncharacteristic reticence to proclaim anything other than the fact that ‘Love Is All You Need’, I got Mum out of ‘The Home’.
Turns out that these days it is mainly late stage nursing patients, often bed bound, who are resident there. Is this because the current ethos is to try to look after people in their own homes? Or is it the eye watering expense of residential care should the client have more than £23,000 in assets? Either way, my mum had a major wobble as soon as she realised she was stuck there. Despite a plethora of competent staff, she was isolated in her own room, didn’t want to fraternise with the few mobile inmates and thoroughly resented the rigid regime. I visited twice daily and on every visit I was greeted with ‘I hate it here’. Staff reassured me she would ‘settle, but actually I didn’t want her to ‘settle’. So it was a no brainer to approach Mrs Nice Manager and ask if we really had to stick it out for the trial month and hand over the few thousand quid that that entailed. Mrs Not Quite So Nice assumed a slightly pained expression but said we could go.
I am now on a crash course of understanding dementia, specifically Contented Dementia (Oliver James). This involves agreeing with everything Mum says, never interrupting her and most importantlŷ not asking any questions. The latter is the hardest. If I forget and ask “Would you like a cup of tea or coffee or would you prefer hot milk? ” or “Do you think it is time to go to bed now?” the look of bewilderment immediately reminds me of my mistake. I am learning to speak in short simple factual sentences, never making more than one statement at a time. And the moment is always NOW.
It is easy on Day 1 of life’s next big challenge to convince myself I CAN do this. I CAN put the rest of my life on hold because this is what I must do now. My mother needs me more than anything else in the world. In the past she has always selfishly demanded more of me than I was prepared to give. She never appreciated that anything in my life was as important as her need for me. Jobs, children, partners, grandchildren, friends, events, study. Nothing compared with her need to have me all to herself. But This is different. I examine my own feelings and wonder why on earth I feel this compulsion to give in to her now. Am I succumbing to to the need to be needed? I remind myself that this same mother (in another lifetime) abandoned me to unimaginable six year old grief, when she left me in a boarding school for children of ex service personnel. Because she had a twenty- something- year- old life to lead. My apparent loyalty and devotion defies all logic. I am suspicious of it. But all I can do is act on a gut feeling of certainty that the the life of this extremely vulnerable frail old lady is inextricably interwoven with mine and now is not the time to untangle it.
Paris has been on the streets today in a collective emotional declaration of ‘Je Suis Charlie’. Despite agreeing with some dissenters who have cogent arguments against being Charlie and the uncomfortable feeling of showing solidarité in the company of the likes of David Cameron and Benjamin Netanyahu, I have a sense I would liked to have been there. To share with so many others the sorrow and sheer incredulity that the predictable irreverence of cartoonists could cost them their lives. The lives of soixante huitards with whom I feel I have so much shared history. This is bonkers! But the bigger complicated picture looms large. Colonial legacies. Marginalisation of minorities. Rampant racism. Inequality. Illegal wars. Radicalisation of people with confused identities. Dangers as well as elation when large numbers of people gather to speak with one voice. So at the end of the day, I have no idea if I am Charlie or whether I am not Charlie.
But ironically, at the end of this particular day, the Last Tango was thankfully not in Paris. It was in Halifax!