Omigod I love my mother. She has always been such a character and a really good woman. She’s entertained many of our friends and family with her take on life and sense of humour. I remember a friend of mine telling her that she was getting married for the second time. “Why on earth would you want to do that?” my mother asked. “Just think of all the socks you’ll have to wash and all the meals you’ll have to cook, it’s just not worth it. Rather get yourself a wife!” (By the way, that marriage didn’t last longer than 6 months). For a woman who never finished school, she was quite capable of holding her own in any conversation, she kept up-to-date with current affairs and showed an interest in what others had to say. And she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind even if she knew it was not what you wanted to hear.
She was an amazing grandmother to Kiera and Alex and would’ve been to the other grandchildren as well, if she had been allowed to be. Unfortunately, family dynamics prevented this – it is one of her regrets. I am however eternally grateful that my children got to experience the totally unconditional love of a grandparent and as a result I think they are richer for it.
Recently however my mother became quite difficult. She gave up, turned her face to the wall and waited to die. Yet die she didn’t and quite frankly she just became a pain in the arse. I’m sure I’ve bored all my family and friends silly recently with incessant tales of difficulties with my mother, I’m pretty weary of them myself. So I’m feeling quite relieved to have finally taken the decision to move my mum into a care centre. It wasn’t so much that we were no longer able to care for her, it was more her increasing antipathy toward her caregiver, Thandi, and the resulting unpleasantness, that necessitated the move. Without Thandi’s help we would not have been able to cope but my mother was totally convinced that Thandi was stealing all her possessions despite us being able to show her that this was simply not true. As her quality of life has become more and more negligible, I have felt increasingly overwhelmed by the responsibility for her happiness, or lack thereof. In the end, I decided that I had a life to live and it should not involve being made miserable on a daily basis by my mother. As simple as that, or maybe not! There is still the guilt to contend with but I’m dealing with that. I’m lucky to have friends who have had similar experiences because talking through these issues has really helped me to come to terms with the situation.
On the day my dad died, I knelt by his bed and assured him that we would take care of my mum and I guess I believed I would be breaking that promise by putting her in the care of other people. However, I don’t think that either my dad or my mum would hold my decision to do it now against me because I’m doing it for what I believe are the right reasons. I have to acknowledge that I just don’t have it in me to be the kind of person to selflessly devote myself to my mother and I truly hope that the last few years of her life will be happier in the Amber Valley Retirement Village in Howick than they have been during the past year at Rocky Mountain. And even if they are not, I know that it is going to make a qualitative difference to our lives here.
I shall try to remember the good times with my mother, which were by far the majority, and look upon these times as an “eddy in the space-time continuum”, a blip in the grand scheme of things. And despite it being a difficult time, we have had quite a few laughs out of it and many lessons learnt. I’ve also rediscovered the incredible value of Rescue.
Believe it or not, I’m going to miss not having her next door in the wee house. We made a good team her and I. The other day, Judy and I were remembering the time I joined the university yacht club. I was not impressed by the somewhat sexist attitude of the committee which called for female students to volunteer for catering duties while the guys were asked to look after the boats. Because I objected, I became responsible for the maintenance of one of the Mirror dinghies. One of my first tasks was to sand and varnish the centre board. Needless to say, I took it home and handed it straight over to my mum, who from then on became the unofficial boat owner, and a splendid job she did too.
When I left home to move in with Peter, my father stopped my allowance. I was still a student and he continued to pay my fees but he reckoned that if I was living with Peter, he should support me instead. It wasn’t easy, so I took a couple of weekend jobs to help make ends meet – as a cashier at the OK Bazaars on a Friday night and Saturday morning and at the emergency chemist in Berea Road on Sundays. Unbeknown to my dad, once a week my mum would come to our Umbilo Road flat to do our ironing and she would always leave a R10 note for me on the ironing board. I think she knew that my dad had always given my brother preferential treatment and she tried to make up for it in her own way.
I have so much to thank her for, as a mother and as a grandmother to my children, but mostly for being my ally in life and I really don’t want to desert her now at the end of hers. So, we just have to make this work.
I must admit I was dreading the tour of the Care Centre and found the whole experience quite draining. However, as Care Centres go, Amber Valley really does seem to be a good place (pleasant staff, beautiful gardens, nice facilities) and the “inmates” looked at home and well cared for. For the first time in months I feel optimistic about my mother’s future. Here it seems pretty bleak but there, there is a chance of her getting more attention, more stimulation and, I hope, companionship. Perhaps the old Edna will come back, but even if she doesn’t, she’s bloody well done a good job.
A lot of people my age talk about not wanting to be a burden on their children. My mother has, for the most part, been more of a help than a hindrance so I don’t think we should regard taking care of our aged parents as a burden. It’s a challenge to be sure but, if we retain our sense of humour and keep the whiskey and Rescue on hand, it can be quite rewarding as it connects us to the full catastrophe that is life. I speak for my family when I say that our lives were made better for having “Enna” as part of it and I like to think that it was reciprocal.