The beginning of the end game?

I’m walking out of the meeting room feeling utterly numb.

Since her stroke, everything about my mother has been laid bare.

My mother was still a powerful matriarch, well into her 70s, a proud, fierce and independent woman.

A woman who has bought children into the world, trained and worked in a highly specialist role for the Health Service, and fought against patriarchy to have an incredibly successful political career.

She now sits in her wheelchair, barely able to hold her head up, being judged by a meeting room full of strangers.

The strangers begin to discuss her most intimate details, their words dragging like nails across a chalk board.

One speaks about pain management and how there is a clot forming in her leg. My mother is on three different schedules of morphine and yet still the pain comes.

One gives intimate briefings about her lack of bodily function.

One talks about her slow recovery and how the stroke has affected her particularly badly.

One explains how she is depressed

The whole family is here, and the strangers carry on talking like we are not in the room. It is clinical, objective and where humanity, compassion and feeling should be, there is just a big dark hole.

My mother’s head lolls to one side and she shifts uncomfortably in her chair, the studs from the harness she has to wear for lifting her in and out of bed digs into her side.

I hold her hand, a small gesture of comfort in this painful baring of all.  

A knot of anger rises in my chest. This cannot be how it ends for my mother, reduced to a discussion point in a room full of strangers, her final days spent wracked with pain.

The meeting concludes and it is apparent that my mother cannot go home, her progress too slow, her vulnerabilities too actute. We are informed that in two weeks’ time she will have to go to a nursing home; a departure lounge where the destination is death.

On the way out of the meeting room my brother informs me that he thought he had read somewhere that the average stay in a nursing home is 3 years.

We now have a number. It all feels very real now.

I walk outside into the grey, concrete car park. The rain is coming down hard, it is unbelievably dark for this time in the afternoon, and the bruised ragged clouds scurry across the sky.

It is beginning to feel like the end game.

I get into my car and notice the sandwich packets and drinks cartons strewn across the passenger seat. These are symbols of how itinerant my life has become, a transient existence where vulnerability, pain and sadness is a consistent theme.

I start the engine. The heating comes on and sends a cloud of used hospital car park tickets into the air, a stark reminder of the current reality.

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I am now at my mother’s house, my childhood home. It has been unoccupied for nearly a month now, save for sporadic overnight stays by family members.

Where there was once light and warmth and noise and the urgency of lives being lived to their fullest, there is now a cold silence.

I notice cracks in plaster, wilting plants, signs of decay.

The walls seem to echo with the ghosts of the past, the heart of the house brutally ripped out a few weeks ago.

I make my way to the spare room, the walls heavy with files and folders crammed full of the past. There are photos on the walls, my family beaming down from blue skies and sunshine memories, a reminder of what once was.

I’m in the garden.

This was where I learnt to ride a bike, to play football, to play cricket;

This is where I learnt to run, and hide.

This is where I learnt to climb,

This was once the extent of my universe, and with my parents love, a place that left me wanting for nothing else.

This is where I learnt that if you fall over, you just get back up again – you must always get back up again.

Except I’m now learning that sometimes you can’t. You just can’t.

And now the sandpit has gone and the two great apple trees have died. The swing has been dismantled and the garden has matured. There is a huge gaping, hollow sadness in my heart. My mother is not dead, but I am mourning loss.

All over the house there are painful reminders of my mother’s funny idiosyncrasies.

In the kitchen there is a Paddington bear, a testament to her love of Peru and countless afternoons watching the famous bear on television with her young sons.

There are bowls of rocks and fossils all over the house, each one telling a story of how it came to be in the house. If she hadn’t been a politician and a scientist she would have been a geologist.

And there is the garden gnome taking pride of place on the kitchen island, taking residence there ever since my mother couldn’t bear to put him outside during a particularly cold winter.

There is something reassuring about all of these icons, but equally I am struggling with their memories. Each one has something of my mother vested in them. As such they are powerful and meaningful.

I am looking out of the kitchen window, my favourite view in the house. There used to be a huge cherry tree and a honeysuckle bush here.

We used to sit in the kitchen on late spring evenings, the door open and the evening sunlight streaming through the blossom, turning the light shades of orange and pink.

The scent of the honeysuckle would pervade the house and the shrill cry of the housemartins chasing around the eaves would signal the welcome onset of summer.

These were times of life and hope. These were times with an exciting future.

And now I look around and there is nothing. Silence, save for the ticking clock.

I leave the house and lock the door. I stand in the porch and wonder how many more times I will walk around this house. I shudder at the thought of someone else living here.

I step out onto the drive and notice it has started to rain. A chilling, cold wind bites my face. The ragged clouds scurry overhead. I pull up the collar on my coat and dash for the car.

It is beginning to feel like the end game.

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