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The Return of the Prodigal Mum

Thursday 21st August 2014

My mother has dementia. She had the beginnings of it before Dad died five years ago but he was her anchor to reality so the progress was gentler. After he died it became more apparent and, much to my disappointment, she eventually went into a nursing home. Engaging with her in a strange environment was a challenge but I eventually found a way of stimulating her mind using a process of going through the words of Welsh folk songs and singing them together, reading various things like Edward Lear’s poem of the Jumblies and talking about our time living in Anglesey and her early years in Dolgellau where she was born and brought up.

But during the last six weeks or so she seemed to have gone down quickly. Her eyes have been shut throughout that time and she would barely speak, it was as though she had given up. She had had a fall recently after succeeding in getting up from her chair but then failing to support herself and it was clear that some means of keeping her in her chair was necessary. The big question was – how to do it, clearly to strap her in would be tantamount to forcefully restricting her and would have caused her distress, fortunately the care home found the ideal answer.

Last Friday when I visited there was a luxurious new chair next to her, it was covered in a false sheepskin and was on wheels. It had just arrived and the carers were shortly going to transfer her into it. In the meantime I sat beside her and spoke to her but she was unable to get comfortable and her face was a picture – but a picture of pain. Two carers came along with the lifting gear (not that Mum is that heavy!), very soon and with an impressive lack of discomfort Mum was up in the air and on course to her new chair. She sank into the sheepskin and her face relaxed. I read the Jumblies to her but before the second verse she was asleep, I carried on to the end because I must admit a certain fondness for the story myself.

Yesterday when I went to see her she let me feed her a Complan yogurt and she managed most of the pot but her eyes remained tightly shut throughout and there was very little decipherable response. It’s hard to believe that someone has given up, but that was how it seemed.

But then today!

Today there was a tray in front of her with a plate of marmalade sandwiches, a beaker of tea and a bowl of porridge. Not only that, she had a sandwich in her hand poised ready to place in her mouth just as soon as there was room.

But that was not all – her eyes were open and shining like beady jewels. She was fixed on one point in the corner of the room.

I said “Hello Mum,” “Hello” she said with a grin. And I knew she was back.

Anne and I had been out picking blackberries the day before and Mum was interested to hear about that. She and Dad would go picking blackberries each year and store them in the freezer, they had found a spot which always escaped the farmer’s flail and there was much to be picked. She smiled when I reminded her.

“And I made some marmalade too!” I said, ”fourteen pots!” For some unaccountable reason this caused her great mirth and she couldn’t tell me why.

But I didn’t care – my prodigal Mum was back!



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