The woman in the centre of this photograph is my mother pictured here with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This image, taken nearly ten years ago, shows a woman in the autumn of her life. She was in her early eighties, independent, still enjoying life, content in widowhood, a model of growing old gracefully.
Last week she left hospital to become a resident in a nursing home. No longer deemed to have capacity to make her own decisions the state took over. Before a minor heart attack and fall at the beginning of July she was frail but with the support of an exceptional care team she had been able to continue living in her own home.
My mum’s house was her palace. It was a simple two bedroom semi on a local authority housing estate but when we moved in in December 1961 it was brand new with an indoor toilet, bathroom and running hot water and, from my mum’s point of view the best thing, we were not sharing it with any other family. My mother loved her home, spent hours cleaning and looking after it, caring for her family was her work.
And now, in the space of three months, it is gone. The place that had been a constant, my parent’s home, the place of celebrations and refuge, no longer available to any of us. Filled with guilt my sister and I have cleared the house, emptied it completely and handed the keys back to the housing association.
And the worse thing is my mother does not know. How can we tell her that her home has gone forever, that her stay in the nursing home is not a temporary measure until she is well, that behind her back we have taken away the place that holds all her memories of my father, her children, her grandchildren. I always assumed that we would do this when she died, the last task we would perform for her. Somehow this feels worse.
The nursing home is lovely, she isn’t left on her own anymore, the staff are caring and she seems to be settling in well. So her immediate well being has been addressed. She is safe, warm, well fed, and yet……
I suppose for all people part of our maturing is to go through stages in our lives and this is just another stage on our journey. The cared for becomes caregiver, a reversal of roles.
My mother appears to be happy and content again and not once has she asked about her home. Nature has been kind perhaps but it’s sad she doesn’t seem to have any memories of the house and it’s her family that mourn its loss and more importantly the woman she once was.