My mum was , as far as I can tell, born about 20 minutes after Corrado Segre died. Given that he is credited with much of the work on modern day algebra many might think it was a poor swap – I, of course am a little biased.
She wasn’t the brightest kid on the block and wouldn’t mind that being said. Starting work as a warper at the age of 14 she made parachutes during the Second World War whilst my dad trekked across the Sahara chasing Rommel and landed on Anzio beach as part of his return home to his fathers’ native Italy.
They met in 1947. My dad was an outgoing flamboyant and confident man, my mum a bit of a wallflower, but her sister was very outgoing and always wanted to go dancing. Mum’s parents wouldn’t let my Auntie Nell go on her own so mum had to tag along. Dad worked nights as an MC at the dance hall they went to and one night he announced a foxtrot and then went looking for the girl to open the dance with... he picked mum who wouldn’t get up at first. His very first words to her were “are you always this happy”.
Twelve months later they were married and my mum learned about the outgoing, hectic world my dad inhabited, he was an engineer so had money and they partied for 7 years before my mum got pregnant with me. She always suffered from high blood pressure so it was a fraught pregnancy and there was doubt I would survive – but I did although they told her not to have any more children; she was old for childbearing in those days (she was 32).
So I was an only child. Probably to my rip roaring dad I was a disappointment, well no probably about it really. He was a fighter, a rough and tough Yorkshireman. I was artistic and mild. We didn’t get on. But me and mum did.
My dad died 30 years ago from hard work, smoke and beer. A very good way to go if you ask me. I mourned him a little but I can’t say I was devastated – as I said we didn’t get on.
For a very long time it’s been mum and me. I have married, had two kids, divorced, been engaged again, thought better of it and bought a Jack Russell in that time. I’ve discussed every move with mum, some she approved of, others she didn’t but we discussed it anyway. And I always listened to her. When doubt got the better of me (as it does on a fairly regular basis) I would travel to see her and ask her what I should do. She never told me of course. She would just say “well what do you think”, then listen while I worked it out for myself. Guess that’s what mums do.
Three months ago she had a fall. She’s 88, these things happen. Of course it was very worrying, devastating in some ways, but she’s tough and she fights. I knew she would be ok. She broke her hip.
Of course, I didn’t know she would be ok, but I had to believe that. We are way too close for anything to take her from me. Maybe for the first time in my life I realised how much I relied on her.
She’s had a rough time this last three months. Three operations, three sets of anaesthetic , three sets of recovery days with tubes everywhere. She’s been in and out of hospital twice and into the rehabilitation centre twice. I’ve travelled to visit her every week, sat at bedsides while she’s slept, cried to myself that I am losing my best friend, felt scared for myself then chastised myself for being selfish. It’s been a bit of a journey for both of us.
Then last week they told me she was ready to go home. I don’t know if I agreed with them but what do they care about what I think – they have financial pressures. So I drove up and collected her and took her back to her flat. My plan had been to take her to my home but she told me she was homesick and wanted to go back to hers if that was alright. Of course it was alright.
When we arrived back at the block where she lives, the other residents were in the lounge waiting for her. It was lovely. It was also telling. Their faces showed that her return (she is older than all of them) said that you could go through this and come home. It seems to me old age brings a kind of realism to the business of living that isn’t very nice, something that is unspoken but scary all the same.
I stayed for three days, she admitted to me that when she was in the ambulance on her way to hospital she had believed she would never go home. She also admitted she had cried that first night back, with pleasure she said – with a bit of fear mixed in I felt.
We are both fearful I think. The violently independent mum who I could chat to, who would listen and be wise, the determined lady I loved, seems to have gone. In her place is a frail old lady who is confused a lot, very tired and looks for help from me and others for everything. I’m told that’s about being Institutionalised and she will come out of it in time. How do “they” know that?
Whether she can live in her flat I just don’t know yet. Time will tell. And I believe she will be able to do it; it’s important to her. But the friend I had, the person who guided me, loved me unquestioningly no matter how much mess I created, that person seems to have gone. Perhaps in time she will return but I doubt it. Too much has happened to somebody of her age. Getting through it, walking again, getting home, exchanging banter with her friends – those are all fantastic achievements. But getting her mind to work like it used to, maybe that’s one leap too far.
And so I fear being alone. I get angry with myself for being so selfish. I should be thinking solely about her and instead I’m feeling sorry for myself. How utterly pathetic am I! But that is how I feel, I can’t be in denial with myself. Hell, my bipolar means my head is pretty screwed up most of the time anyway, this is just another step into oblivion.
And it’s making me see the downsides in everything. Driving me into the ground. Making me think everything is unravelling.
I have no clue where this will end. All I know is there is a lot of pain ahead and it simply will not end well. There is no way that will happen. I’m no fool, neither am I a coward. I need to look after myself now and accept that I’ve probably been doing that for years. It just didn’t feel that way. Somehow it felt much nicer than that.