“Hello, it’s only me…” My mother always says that when she leaves a message on my answerphone. If it’s an apology for taking up space, I wish she could change the habit—but, at 83, this is unlikely. “Just” (another minimising prefix) “called to see what you were up to. How are the girls? Is there any chance of coming over to see me? You’re probably tied up with things. Anyway, hope you’re OK and I’ll see you soon. Lots of love, Mum.”
Last week she called me to say that she had found a scooter for sale
and wanted to know my thoughts about buying it. For most of our conversation, I imagined she was talking about one of those electric buggies that senior citizens use to get around the shops. She explained that driving a ‘scooter’ on the pavements of her local town was not what she had in mind: she wanted a vehicle to visit family miles away. Her thoughts were on more serious travel; far more serious than shopping, in terms of both distance and purpose.
The idea of a scooter is out of the question. We had to take the car off her a couple of years ago for fear of an accident. She couldn’t find her way into town, and went up a one-way street the wrong way on her route to my house. Arriving in tears, she could only be consoled with kind words and a cup of tea. Many of us say our memory is ‘like a sieve’. For my mother, this comparison is sadly accurate: her memory has declined rapidly.
This decline has taken us all by surprise. A retired headmistress, she married my father at 33 and became a devoted wife and mother to me, my older brother and my sister. She was very much a ‘doer’ and constantly busied herself in village life, from the Women’s Institute to Meals on Wheels—the best neighbour you could wish for, and my parents’ combined hospitality was renowned by all.
Dementia has its sad moments, but it has also provided an opportunity for other qualities to feature in my life; ones that were not there before. For a start, I communicate a good deal more with my mother, as I do with my siblings as we talk about her needs and options for care. For the last eight months, my mother and I have read Morning Prayer together over the phone. Helping her to keep her place with the pages as we flick back and forth has certainly increased my patience, and that’s no bad thing!.
“Life is difficult,” wrote Scott Peck, the first three words in A Road Less Travelled. He suggests that as soon as we accept life’s difficulties, instead of fighting them, it becomes a bit easier. Perhaps these difficulties help us dig a bit deeper, and get closer to each other—and God—than we otherwise would? Perhaps God can provide the resources we need to meet life’s challenges. Perhaps, on a world scale, dementia isn’t the worst thing that can happen to us, anyway.
Whatever the case, I’d better sign off now—and go pay my mother another visit.