I am losing her, even though I never had her really. I always felt older than her, somehow more mature and capable, even as a young child. I know she felt judged by me and it wasn’t helped by my close connection to my great aunt whose house we lived in for my first seven years, she was, I guess, my child mum, always girlish, and more so these days, light as the summer wind, you noticed when she wasn’t there.
A good looking girl too – the couple of photos I have seen from those days show a serious face, in fact now I think of it she is rarely photographed smiling or laughing from those times and now I know there were so many reasons for that. Her dementia means the filters are slipping and her fears, her anxieties and ancient losses are what she gives tongue to now, she can’t swallow it anymore.
We had cousins and aunts and uncles to spare but rarely saw them. Both of my parents came from fractured families. My dad’s by the early death of his mother from TB which was followed by that of his sister. His baby sister was placed with his maternal grandparents and the custody battle then ensued over her meant he didn’t see them or the place he had been brought up in again without the censure of his father. He married again and I was brought up understanding at such a subliminal level that we were not the right grandchildren for the woman we called ‘Nan’. We were inconvenient reminders of the fact that she was an older bride and mother who had married a widower after the war. There too soon and greedy for her son’s, our step-uncle’s sweets, reading his comics and drinking his Tizer. My mum’s family were even more distant. We were told that they weren’t very nice but to be honest thought that this was just our mum being fey again. Until my uncle’s second marriage where my mum was surrounded by her oldest sister and niece and given a black eye in front of everyone for “Lookng at them.”. The story that comes out now is heartbreaking . My mum was sexually abused by my uncle and a friend. It went to court and she refused to speak and so the case was thrown out. She was 9.
Now when she cries down the phone to me, saying “I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” I know I am hearing not the echoes of that time but the actual sound of her inability to process this level of abuse. She was physically, emotionally and sexually abused. Thrown out of her home on the death of her only protector, her father, aged 14. She was not mothered, she was not loved or cared for until she met my dad.
So now, my mum, when faced with not recognising my dad any longer is determined to leave home and find him. She begs me to call him to ask him to have her back. She is convinced that every social worker, nurse or doctor that comes to the house is there to ask her about her infidelity. She tells me that she wasn’t a very good mother and I lie and say ‘Yes, you were mum’ because I know what she means. She knows that she didn’t know what to do. She knows that she fell short of the unrealistic expectations we have of mothers. She knows she didn’t teach me to read, or write, or ride a bike. She didn’t take me to museums or art galleries, or church or to the countryside. She didn’t make me do my homework, or call the school to argue that I should be allowed to take German or even make sure I stayed on to 6th Form, or buy me a driving lessons, or teach me to cook and clean. But that’s because she wasn’t taught any of those things either.
What she did teach me was how to survive against the odds, how to absorb the blows and keep going, how to retreat from the pain of living and switch off your mind via TV. How to work hard, expect little and receive even less. And how to get to the end of a life determined to walk home to dad no matter how far.