By Sarah Jane
Something’s afoot. There’s definitely something different going down. It started three or four weeks ago at the rest home Christmas party...
I arrive to hear that Mum’s been out of sorts all day. She showed no enthusiasm for a trip with one of her favorite caregivers, and she isn’t keen on getting dressed up for the party. She is lethargic and withdrawn.
“I feel very strange,” says Mum when I arrive in my most obvious Christmas outfit—lots of red with loud, festive earrings. Mum looks fantastic and stylish as well—a beautifully coiffed vision in lilac and silver. But she’s not herself.
“Strange?” I ask. “Tell me more.” But, despite my probing, Mum is completely unable to explain what she means, either physically or mentally. Which is most odd for my ever-articulate mother.
Staff dressed in their Christmas best are handing around nibbles. “What’s happening to me?” Mum inquires, over and over. I find myself falling back on woolly euphemisms and old-fashioned phrases.
“You’ve had a bit of a turn,” I tell her. “Nothing major, just a blip.” I sound cheerier than I feel.
Mum comes right temporarily then tunes out again. Pretty soon she’s back to being fearful and preoccupied. Suddenly, without warning, Mum flees to her room. We coax her out a couple of times, but nothing works. For Mum, the party’s over.
We take Christmas Day very slowly and opt for the low stimulus approach—fewer people, lots of one-to-one time and more rests. At the end of the day, Mum’s happily exhausted.
But by Boxing Day, the strangeness is back. Despite my best efforts to pace things, Mum’s seriously losing it after less than two hours. The worst part is she knows.
“What’s happening to me? What’s gone wrong?” Nothing seems to reassure her.
“How about a rest?” I propose. “Give your brain a chance to reboot.” Mum refuses and soldiers on. She’s exhausted and confused.
Once again I suggest a sleep. “Just a quick one," I implore. "You'll wake up a new woman. I promise.” Mum reluctantly complies and I tuck her into bed.
It doesn’t work. Mum wakes half an hour later, not just confused but angry too. She wields a challenging stare that’s hard to avoid. It’s the “damned if you do, damned if you don't” situation. Meet her gaze and you're clearly up for a fight. Avoid it and you're cynical and uncaring.
“You haven’t sold my house, have you?” asks Mum. More an accusation than a question. I struggle to explain.
“Don’t look at me like that!” she exclaims. There’s no way to arrange my expression that doesn’t cause suspicion or fury.
After several more rounds of that, it’s almost time to drive back to the rest home for dinner. Mum flatly refuses. This has never happened before. Not once in the years she’s been living there.
She has no idea where she’s supposed to be going. She only knows that she doesn’t want whatever I’m suggesting. The only thing to do is back right off, change the subject and hope something will shift.
After a few minutes, my mother struggles to her feet and announces that she’s walking home; to the rest home I presume, but I daren’t ask.
I take her arm. “You're not coming with me!” shouts Mum.
“No,” I say. “You're right, I'm not. Just walking to the gate.” By the time we get there, her rheumatic knee pain has kicked in. Her resolve has faded. She makes for the car and I go to help her in.
Suddenly Mum’s back. “I think I might have behaved badly. I’m sorry.” She rubs my arm and looks at me kindly, maternally. She’s fluent again, articulate.
“I think I need psychiatric help,” she says. “If this goes on, you'll have to put me in a home.”
She looks at me. I have “You’re already in a home” written all over my face.
Mum sighs heavily and gets into the car.