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An Arthurian Legend

The most frequently asked question when mum’s dementia comes up in conversation, is: 

”Does she still recognise you?” 

It’s a complex question. You see, it's me who doesn’t recognise her, most of the time. 

A scrambled-egg-and-ketchup eating nonagenarian, my mother is now in full time nursing care. A wonderful team of experts look after her, allowing me to be her daughter, and her voice, instead of her exhausted carer. She's immobile, and make-up-free. She's shrunk, as we all do, sometimes seeming tiny in her wheelchair, almost fragile. In many ways, I’m locked into a memory of a feisty pre-dementia glamour, which led to drawers full of skincare products, and a doggedly determined morning regime, when living independently. This vibrant, red-haired, carefully coordinated, ‘well-put-together’ woman, is now wearing someone else’s pink sparkly top, black trousers, two fluffy, sometimes odd, socks. Her hair is grey and short, (and although occasionally styled by a very talented, and persistent, mobile hairdresser,) is mostly ‘just hanging about’. She would have hated the lack of curls. 

So when I enter the dining room full of Elders, it can take me a second or two to adjust to a shapeshift of my mother I can recognise - even when the last visit was only yesterday. I have tiny rituals to steady us both…fresh flowers in her room, unnecessarily refolding some of her clothes, straightening familiar pictures, so that, on some level, I hope she knows I’ve visited. Have I shaken off the guilt of putting her in care? No, not entirely. I don’t know anyone who does, really.

And yet, yes, sometimes she knows who I am. Despite her changing form, and mine too as I age, she recognises that I’m someone she was close to, someone she may still love. Very occasionally, she moves beyond the ubiquitous ‘love,’ and calls me Sally. 

Then, all of a sudden, there's a defining moment when she seems to come alive, fully present in a way I’ve not seen in years. One such instant happened on the 2nd of February this year, (2024), and it is the titular stuff of legend. 

Sitting between lunch and afternoon tea, mum glances up, through semi closed eyes, to see a five year boy heading towards her…he bobs down to be at eye level.

“Hello, I’m Arthur,” he says, extending his hand towards her, and she takes it in a shake. 

“Hello, Arthur, [I’m] Thelma”. And there she is - fully present, her fine features shining with reflected youth and recognition. It is truly magical on every level. Full of confidence, and perhaps a kindred spirit, this young Legend’s handshake lights up my mother. I’m in a small circle of observers welling up, and breathing in the poignancy of this spontaneous illumination. 

The familiarity of that smile - almost a giggle, sends the decades spinning back, scattered with remembered moments. It’s a moment of divine hope, joyous delight, in the midst of the extremes of this human condition. A rare, vulnerable, intimately recognisable, glimpse of my mother.

The trick is to really celebrate these moments, to nurture and record them, and that’s why this blog has taken form. It’s been two years since I last wrote one, and I thank you for your patience, and your time spent reading it. 

Wishing you Happy Mothering.

Such love to you.



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