Mum's life has a rhythm that works for her and my brother, Rob. I try not to mess with while I'm here.
I am conscious that I drop into their lives for two short weeks twice a year. I hope to be of support, comfort, blessing and use. It is easy for Mum to see me as especially attentive and loving and to forget how much Rob's constant support means. I remind her of how tenderly he cares and what he does, in spite of a back that is in terrible shape and feet that are flat and which hurt by the end of the day. When I do that she nods in acknowledgement and agrees, "Yes, he is so good."
I guard my time carefully, this time even more so because I am here for less than two weeks. Every hour with Mum is precious; she is my focus; the reason I am here.
The Helping Hands carers come each evening just after 7.00 and spend 20 minutes or so helping Mum through her bedtime routine. Rob is upstairs in his own flat after supper and comes back down at 8.00 to put in Mum's eye drops and give her the last puffs from her inhaler. By then she is already tucked up in bed, although she says that she doesn't usually sleep for several hours after that.
When I am here I enjoy the "between time" with Mum, the time after the Helping Hands carers leave and before Rob comes back. I sit on or beside the bed and we talk and say prayers.
Tonight she looks at the clock and it is not quite 7.30. "You have to sit here for half an hour," she says, calculating how long it is until Rob comes back, "You can go and sit down in the room."
I ask (with a smile) if she is trying to get rid of me. "Why do you think I came?" I also ask, "I didn't come to watch television."
She relaxes then and with no pressure we have the best conversations of the day. "Next month it's my birthday," she says.
"Mum, you're trying to rush things, it's still October (her birthday is in December.)"
She looks surprised, "Oh, is it still October?"
And we laugh.
I ask if she remembers the 80th birthday party we had for her almost four years ago with her friends at the Sycamore Club. She digs deep into memory, but says, "No, I can't remember."
"You can't remember the cake? And the wine? The flowers?"
Mum can't. "Well!" I say, "I have the photos on my laptop."
"I'd like to see those tomorrow," she says with real interest.
She tells me how worried she was that after her fall on Friday she would have to go to hospital. Her expression registers distaste. "I've gone to hospital too many times lately."
"But sometimes it has helped, Mum," I say. And I remind her about last year, how she had a chest infection that wouldn't go away and how she lost her appetite and couldn't hold down the antibiotics. I had come over with Brenda and Pete had followed a few days later because we thought she was not going to pull through and this was their last chance to see her. But our coming had brightened her so much that she fought back, and a few days in hospital helped her back onto her feet. She can remember none of that. I have photos--we'll be looking at those tomorrow too.
I ask her, "Mum, is there anything at all I can get you while I'm here--anything that you would like?"
She is completely content and devoid of any sense of need or want of "things." She thinks only briefly before saying with sincerity, "No, I don't need anything."
I look at the nightie she's wearing; not worn out but well used, "What about a new nightdress?"
She shakes her head, "I don't need a new one."
"Well," I look at her bedding, which, similar to the nightie is far from new, "What about new bedding. Something bright and colourful."
And she takes my hand and says, "I've got you. You are bright and colourful."
And I think that my heart is about to melt.