Memories Of My Mother – 2
Jake is sleeping on my bed, and has done for the past two weeks. It’s his domain, and Henry rarely pops his head in, so he sleeps mostly in the lounge. He loved sleeping on my mother, stretched out, her holding his back paws, her other hand stroking his head. She had this fleecy dressing gown, light blue with white trim, that she loved. I think over the past year it was barely off her back. It would get the odd soup stain on the cuff or whatnot and it would get washed within a daily load setting for an hour then get dried inside. I used to set the drier a little longer and then take it out earlier so the cool cycle would be quicker, making the dressing gown warmer. I’d take it straight from the dryer and give it to her and she’d put it on immediately. Over the past week, I had to help her arms into it from behind. I would guide her hands into the sockets and pull it up her back, sort out the neck, then slip the equally fleecy belt through the loops. Then she’d sit down and wrap herself up and I’d go make some tea for us.
This dressing gown was what she was wearing when she was admitted to the hospital for the last time. She was wearing it when the paramedics helped her onto the wheelchair. She was wearing it in the ambulance. She wore it on the hospital gurney while I held her hand as we both waited for her to be admitted. It was in a large white polythene bag under her bed when she died.
I brought home this bag. In it were her slippers, tiny and worn. Her nightdress, a black one, one she’d bought but never really wore because she liked them baggy to the point of falling apart. Her usual nightdresses were old favourites, sometimes with cat-claw-made holes at the shoulders. They were always short-sleeved.
I didn’t like seeing her in black. It didn’t match her – for the sake of it – “aura”.
She was sky blue and sunshine yellow.
When I came home after she died, I emptied this bag onto her bed. I immediately threw out the hospital bag. The contents of the bag (and the bag I packed for her stay when we both assumed it was going to be longer) are still there as I write. I can’t bring myself to sort through them, so they can lie there until I do as far as I’m concerned. These are the last clothes she wore, that touched her when she was alive. I’ve placed value on them.
I didn’t wash her favourite dressing-gown. I took it gently off her bed and draped it on her chair in the lounge. Spread it out, opened it.
Henry misses her. He’d been sleeping up on the sofa, not on her chair. I picked him up and placed him on it, just to give him her scent or something, and left him. Last night he spent it asleep there, curled up in a ball of black on her dressing gown. He was there until the morning, 7am I think.
I got two hours sleep last night but much more during today. This rather still, Autumnal Sunday in 2012.
I’m doing a lot of chores. I find myself cleaning and re-arranging things. I’m de-cluttering, but I’m also placing some of my mothers items, personal things, away into a shoe-box. The knife and fork she had to use because they were light and didn’t cause her more arthritic pain than she was normally in. Spoons. Her purse.
What I’m moving tonight is whatever rubs my eye and makes me cry.
I feel better for it. I can’t bring myself to sort her clothing out, or pick something (yet) from her meagre wardrobe for the undertaker. But I can remove things like lighters, cigarettes, letters from the hospital, knives and forks, pictures of me and my sister, our little bronzed baby shoes that were under the television,
oh man – these can all go into safe-hiding.
I don’t feel guilty while doing this, but I do afterwards, ever-so-slightly.
It’s like I’m marking them in my memory as I put them away. I’m not throwing any of it out, even though a lot of the items in there are utterly mundane to outsiders.
And I do feel better for it. Every item I pack, I think about.
I cry sometimes.
The shoe-box is one I used to keep her closed-ear headphones in. When she was better she would listen to music in the kitchen. When I got her a laptop, she wore them while browsing YouTube for the first time. She loved it, but forgot instructions easily. This was before her dementia had been diagnosed, and at the time I ticked it off as just lack of interest.
She cried when browsing YouTube, probably the first time I showed her how to type in things and click on links. Old Scottish and Irish folk songs. “Liverpool Lou” sung by Dominic Behan, on repeat. I can’t listen to that now. I would break down and sob like a child. She literally cried with happiness while singing along, both hands-clasped to the headphones, wildly out of tune. Hours of that. I’d leave her to get on with it, busy myself elsewhere. But sometimes I would pop my head around the door and see her hunched over the keyboard, pecking out letters, tapping with her middle-finger because her index finger was bust. In her sky blue dressing gown, BBC News on the muted television, her singing off-key, a cigarette burning in the ashtray, ignored.
“You always gave me the music” she used to say to me. I was able to get her CD’s or downloads of anything she wanted. They’re all stacked in decent order in the kitchen. There’s a little portable CD player hooked up to a bigger stereo system on a long, wooden shelf above the table and chairs.
“You always gave me the music” had become her way of telling me she loved me. She wasn’t normally one for making heartfelt statements, and it always caught me off-guard and slightly embarrassed me.
Towards the end when should would say that, I had to go away and cry.
I know I did the last time.
I’m going to iron some fresh bedding now. Jake is asleep on the electric blanket, bare on my mattress. It’s on a very low heat, because why not. Henry is in the lounge, asleep either on the couch or her dressing gown. The room is his at the moment, so I’m now making an effort to join him and keep him company. I watched about two and a half hours of television while making detailed lists about what to achieve tomorrow. Henry was curled up asleep on my lap for an hour. I don’t know who needed that more.
“Sailing By” is playing on Radio 4 now. She loved this tune. I knew before my mother died, maybe years ago, that somehow hearing that particular tune after her death would make me weep like a baby. It’s not at the moment. I’m in my bedroom writing this, and I only caught a snatch of it over my typing and the television in the lounge. So – I wasn’t exposed fully to it, it’s power seems diluted. It’s a beautiful piece of “light music”, spiralling strings over spiralling strings and Radio 4 play it before the Shipping Forecast. When I hear it I imagine her and I in the kitchen, drinking tea and talking, fifteen minutes before the 1am of whatever tomorrow would be. The cats joining us, sitting on the sink or next to the kettle.
Thoughts like that now just stop me breathing. I can almost feel my heart lie still for a second, or miss a beat. Memory floods my vision and spills out into slow tears. Then I go on.
Towards the end these meetings were perfunctory. She couldn’t sit on the chairs in the kitchen for very long. On one of the final occasions, I made plain scones from a simple supermarket mix, which I did sometimes. We’d sit and while they were warm we’d spread butter straight from the fridge onto the halves. We’d just sit there, eating scones, drinking tea, smoking cigarettes, talking to cats in the depths of night. Two, three, four am sometimes. She always stayed up late. We’d meet there and talk about stuff. Maybe make me a shopping list for the next day.
There’s a lamp above the kitchen table, a banker’s lamp that doesn’t belong in a kitchen really, but it gives off a warm pool of light below, right onto the table.
It’s a cosy kitchen at night.
I’ll miss sitting talking to her. Especially during those moments. Those strange hours in the middle of the night. Cats around, fresh tea. Cosy, with the banker-lamp glow and the radio on low.
Twice over the past 36 hours I’ve thought about Christmas. I try to block it out. Christmas without her this year will be tough. New Year’s Eve especially so.
Can’t think about that right now. Sorry.
It’s chilly here, but the house is cosy, the cats are well-fed and sleeping, and I’m going to iron bedding in the kitchen, listen to Radio 4 down low, and try not to feel lonely.