A Winter’s Tale

Yes, ‘I said, ‘she does forget’. Because she does. That’s just how she is. I wasn’t going to lie. Some days she remembers lots of stuff. She always remembers stuff with Dad better than she remembers stuff with me. But some days she forgets everything completely. They went on, ‘and it’s because of the forgetting Christopher, that we all think that Dora now needs to be in a care home. The nights are drawing in. It’s October. Nearly winter. She can’t be out at night in the dark, Christopher, not again’. I looked down. Then one of the other ones in a different coloured uniform chimes in, ‘If it happens again Christopher it would definitely be considered as a safeguarding matter and that’s serious. Your mum needs looking after. And, well, we all think you need a break too. It’s been so hard for you lovey. I mean, we’ve all seen how she is in here. Dora is a real handful’. I looked down again. Dora? She’s called Dorothy. 

Dad had died in 1987. He was only 66 and had just retired from Smiths. I’d never left home. Never found the right girl. Never really looked. Anyway I liked living at home. We rubbed along together well as a three and as a two it was fine too. Well, it was fine until she started forgetting but that was only recently. She still remembered stuff like when we went to Tenby together and the bus broke down. And she remembered the awful week in Morecambe. On good days we talked about Dad a lot, and on some days she talked about our Maxine and she died a long time ago. She then used to turn to me and say, ‘and you say they’ve both died now, Christopher?’ She’d dab her eyes and I’d make her a cuppa. 

I did tell the nurse that over the last few months I’ve had to do more and more for her. Wish I hadn’t said anything now of course. I wasn’t complaining but it seemed like everything I was saying was being wrote down. And wrote down in a bad way, sort of like it was to be used in evidence. She never wrote anything down when I told her about the holidays and our trips out and how I’d got her sewing again and how I’ve even got her to know that the internet can deliver shopping and we’d do the order together. She didn’t write down when I said mums always said she didn’t want to go into a home, even before she started forgetting.  Even when things were hard like on that night in October and it was late and she was missing, I wasn’t complaining, I liked looking after her and she was never too much for me. I didn’t panic that night. It wasn’t me who rang the police or the social. I knew where she’d be and they found her exactly there where I said she’d be.

The thing is about that night is that it was a Sunday and on Sunday evenings she always went out with dad for their one drink of the week. Her ‘date’ she used to call it and dad used to roll his eyes at me. Dad would generally have a pint of mixed or a Guinness if he felt it was needed for medical reasons and she would have a port. They’d usually be home by nine and I’d be waiting for them, watching, That’s Life or something. And that’s the thing. You know the more I think about it now the more I think it was the sound of the theme tune on Songs of Praise that set her off that night. She’d watch Songs of Praise before she’d get ready to go out with Dad for their regular Sunday night drink. Harry Seacombe saying goodbye, the theme tune would start up and she’d take that as her cue to make tracks or ‘beautify herself’ as she called it. Well, that night she’d watched Songs of Praise too.  And she’d talked about Dad as I was getting her ready for bed. She wasn’t agitated like she can be sometimes, but it did take her a while to go off and she was still mumbling about him as she went off to sleep. Anyway, once she was off, or I thought she was off, I went to the front room for watch the snooker. It was ten when I checked on her but there was no sign of her. She was gone. I must’ve dozed off watching the snooker and she must’ve walked right passed me and out…  But as I kept telling them over and over again when they were checking her out at the hospital, it happened just once. 

The care home wasn’t my choice. The hospital brought in some experts to ‘help you choose somewhere tip-top for her, Christopher’. I even told them that I wanted her home but they just said, ‘the Doctor had decided Christopher, its what’s best for her now’. I have to admit the room is lovely. Nice view. And the care girls do their best.  There’s a smell on the corridor but it’s never mentioned. I generally find mum sat in the lounge with the others. Some days she doesn’t recognises me but some days she does. Most days I’d say. And sometimes she even knows where she is. I mean exactly where she is. She said to me last week ‘You know, I think I’m in that place in Netherton what used to be the old asylum, they turned it into flats and a care home, where your Auntie Jean died? Oh Christopher, please don’t let me die here’. I didn’t let on she’s right about where she is. I just changed the subject. Earlier this week she took my hand and said, ‘I’m coming home. You know that don’t you Christopher? I’ve told them. I live with you, not here.  I’ve told one of the lasses that works here. I could be home for Christmas’. I didn’t say anything. I bit my bottom lip hard as it stops me crying. I gave her a kiss and said I’d be back.

On the way out, just passed where blind Mary sits and asks everyone who she senses is passing what the time is, I saw one of the carer lasses who had been in the lounge where I had been talking to mum. She looked at me a bit funny and then sort of half whispered, ‘could I have a quick word?’  Before I knew it, we were in a little alcove alone and next to a door that said Sluice. She said ‘Look, I shouldn’t be telling you this but it’s not right that your mother is here. She doesn’t want to be here. She misses you and wants to be with you Christopher. On a night, when no-one is about, I have beautiful conversations with her about her home and your dad and about you. On the night she went missing she was just looking for your dad’. I was a bit stunned. No one had said anything like that to me after the Sunday night thing. I said ‘I know that, but I don’t know how to get her home. The doctor at the hospital had said…’. She stopped me and said, ‘Here’s a number. It’s someone who can help. Don’t mention me but just speak to them. You never know. Good luck’. And that was it. She was gone. I think her badge said her name was Grace. She had an accent, sounded West African. Lovely smile. 

A young man called Mike came to see me today. He’s from the advocacy agency. That was the number I got from the Grace at the care home apparently. Advocacy? I’d never heard of it. I just rang the number she gave me, and I told them the full story. I didn’t leave anything out. Anyway, they sent this lad called Mike to see me. I told him it all again. Everything. And do you know what, he started explaining things. Things that seem right now I come to think of it but that were never mentioned when mum was admitted to hospital. I think I just got swept along with it all and after the Sunday incident everyone seemed so worried about mum and about me. Mike asked, ‘had your mum beeen sectioned into hospital, Christopher’? He had to explain what that was. No, I told him, she went to hospital happily. By the time the ambulance came she’d convinced herself the Doctor wanted to see her about her iron. He said, had they talked about your mum having support in hospital from a social worker? I said no. Had they talked about something called ‘mental capacity’ and talked to me about mums’ rights and about mine? I bit my lip hard again. No, I said, they told me to tell her that she was going to stay at a hotel. Mike wrote down everything that I was saying only this time it felt like he was writing things down in a good way.

It’s Christmas next week. Christmas Day is on the Thursday. Mike rung to say he’s spoken to the social worker and it’s sorted. Mum will be home on the Monday. I can’t quite believe it. Monday will be the 22nd. I went to tell her. She cried. And so did I. She told me to make sure I had trimmed up for Christmas and that I had bought a bottle of port to celebrate when she got back home. I bought two. 

I wrote a Christmas card for Grace. As I was wheeling her majesty towards the door and the waiting taxi to take us both home, I pushed the card into Graces hand before anyone could see. Anyway, she opened envelope and read the card.  I’d put ‘Merry Christmas to our Amazing Grace from Christopher and Dorothy’. She smiled. Beautiful. I smiled back. I remember thinking in the back of the taxi as I felt mums hand squeezed my arm, that’s the first time I’ve smiled since October.

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