My mother turned 80 yesterday and in terms of ‘worst birthdays’ this was definitely one that’s best forgotten.
My dad’s 80th was a large family gathering of three generations and old friends. We took him out for lunch at a lovely hotel, spent the whole afternoon together, walked down to a beach near Porthscatho (some of us even swam), chatted, laughed and came back to have tea in the hotel’s garden with birthday cake we’d made him. It was a lovely day of cementing family ties and idyllic in every sense. A sunny Saturday in late September 2009 is a day we’ll all remember with lasting nostalgia and affection.
In painful contrast, I was my mum’s only visitor on a day which should have been a celebration of her long life.
There were no gifts, no flowers, no chocolates and she had only 6 birthday cards in total: from her two sisters, her three daughters, and one from my dad. Nothing else. For in all intents and purposes my mum has vanished from the rest of the world.
It is not that she’s forgotten. We miss her terribly and find it painful to see the frail shell she’s become since the slow death of dementia robbed my mum from all of us. What point is there in making a fuss? There’s no joy in going through a tragic farce of making it special. My mum’s no longer able to share, join in or enjoy any family celebration. Confined, incontinent and riddled with arthritic pains. We’ve no idea how aware she is of us or anything around her.
She lay on her bed on her side. Her eyes were open but she showed not the slightest flicker of interest or recognition when I kissed her head and I stroked her hand. I tried to talk a bit and tell her things, but it wasn’t a conversation. I opened each birthday card for her while she lay on her bed on her side. Reading the ‘Happy Birthday’ wishes and names, showing and talking about each one before placing them carefully on her window sill. All the while my mother didn’t even utter a single sound or change her expression.
I’ve watched her over the past decade disappear like dry, flaking paint. Eventually, the surface is so destroyed that nothing sticks and you only have to breathe to watch the pieces flutter and fall away. She looks as if she’s been swallowed by her sadness.
I need desperately to cling onto my memories of her, to picture her as she was in her prime and feel inspired by the energy, the love and the passion she bestowed on us. And write her eulogy.