Week Twenty-Eight

Mammy with her “babby-wabbies” on her 21st birthday.

I am continually surprised at how much happens in a week. Ana was with us for the weekend and, after taking her back to the train station yesterday, I went to see Mum. The staff were singing her praises and saying how she’d eaten six slices of jam on toast for breakfast. Mum seemed very lucid, but then began the conversations with herself again.

“So how do you like it here? – It’s OK I guess, but there’s not a lot to do. Is it Cocker?- I don’t really know. I just sit and watch.- Oh, that’s good though, isn’t it? – I suppose so…”

“I’ve got a fella!” she suddenly confessed.

“Oh, another one? Where is he?” I wondered, laughing.

“He’s here and there…but it’s like that…she came up and you know…DAWN,” she suddenly shouted, looking behind her, “Are they all right in there? – Yes, it’s Tatty and Blatty.- They’re OK then, the bobbies? – Yes. – That’s good then. Tee hee!”

A couple of times she had these conversations with ‘Dawn’ and about the bobbies and babbies.

Then she squashed her fore-finger and thumb like a mouth and said to it, “Isn’t that right babby-wabbies? – Are you not going to answer me then? – No, ‘cos we’re not really here!”

Then she exploded into hysterical laughter at the fun of it.

I was hard pressed to follow her today. But she was in good form and most of her soliloquies were positive. She enjoyed a back massage and took part in ordinary conversation too. She asked about the boys and the second time she added, “but I’ve asked that already, haven’t I?”

I wish I could record her words accurately, because I do find it fascinating. Her speech follows no normal logical syntax or semantic pattern. She also said something about being ‘ready to come out of her mind and be normal again’, but I forget the exact words. If only it were that simple, wouldn’t it be wonderful if she could choose!

I wanted to tell her my news, but didn’t. I’m pregnant again. Today I was busy making appointments for doctor/midwife and a haircut. I’m waiting to hear from Debbie too, because she’s finally gone over to Graemsay to show a prospective tenant around ‘Clett’. It will be good for the property to have someone living there – especially over the winter.


I took Conor on Sunday. Mum was in a gorgeous mood. She seems like the only sane one there now. There was a man wandering with his pants around his ankles, another kicking and fighting the nurses, another trying to grab hold of Conor – he was very brave, but his face told a different story. Mum just kept smiling through it all. I do want to get her settled somewhere a bit calmer.

On Tuesday I spent a leisurely morning preparing to go for my 8 week scan – enjoying a luxurious shower, admiring my firmly rounded abdominal shape and my boobs like huge ripe lychees. I felt beautifully pregnant. I wanted to go alone for the scan, because Simon was nervous and I wanted to stay positive. Entering the ward I encountered the nurse who had talked us through our last bereavement, 16 months ago…

The scan was the same as the first – almost exactly two years ago to the day. I went for a hot drink, devastated, sent Simon a text and drove home. I told the boys and tried not to feel anything.

I feel very blessed in my Spirit. Part of me, emotionally and physically, is scared about going through another miscarriage. The last one was almost unbearable. Isabelle came over to support me whilst I made arrangements with the hospital for a surgical evacuation (sounds very cold and clinical and I tried to keep my thoughts that way) and phoned school with my apologies. I shed my first tears for the baby I will never know. Isabelle accompanied me for the pre-op tests and forms. The operation was scheduled for Friday morning. I appreciated her company – spending over 3 hours in the hospital is never a pleasant experience.


On Friday – yesterday, I was there for eight and a half hours, but I drifted through most of that in anaesthetised, semi-consciousness.

And now it’s all over again. I still look and feel physically the same as I did on Tuesday morning. Emotionally I feel quite different, but I am still blessed.

I’ve not been to see Mum for a whole week. I hope to go tomorrow – for, if nothing else, she will be needing her laundry. And I need a ‘Mammy hug’.


Mammy intuitively knew that something was wrong, so I told her and enjoyed a proper cuddle. I had brought Christmas cards for her to send, as promised. I reminded her of people, like Wendy, Tony, Debbie etc. and as she approved, I wrote… “To Debbie…” and she added “and all”, which I wrote and then “with lots of love from Mum?” and she nodded and added again, “and all!” And so we continued for seven cards. She was dressed in a pretty, sparkly jumper, which I didn’t recognise, but I took a photo of her looking so lovely – the first I’ve taken since she went into hospital nearly 5 months ago.

I am trying to imagine the transition, which has to happen, from hospital to some new place. After all of her previously active outdoor life she has been cooped up in the hospital with not one walk out of doors for all of that time. I don’t know how it will be for her – exhilarating or unpleasant? Last week I told her about Tony, who is moving house yet again and she shuddered and said she was glad that she didn’t have to move. But she does.

Today I spoke at last to the Social Worker. He apologised for being so busy and said that he has seen Mum twice since. He observed her today – singing away, but then she became fixated on some thought or hallucination that distressed her for some time. He said that the ward staff had given a generally positive account of her mood, improvement and well-being. Apparently we are waiting on an overworked somebody who has to do another assessment, before we can look for a placement. It was hoped that we could have it done before Christmas, but this is not looking promising. When that is done we can all meet up and discuss the ‘What Next?’ question. I aired my concerns about taking Mum out after so long indoors. I would need to request a ‘consent for leave’ apparently (as she is still under Section 3), but it might be possible to take her out with a member of staff into the secure courtyard for a time and maybe, another day, take her for a walk around the grounds.

This next stage feels scary for me. I want to make sure that I get it right for her. I don’t think I did last time. I’m sure they will give me sound professional guidance.

It is nearly Christmas. This time last year, Mum was at home with us and Pat was around the corner. We just do not know what is around the corner and we really have to live the best of each day and be grateful for every blessing.


Today is the Epiphany 2009. Ana shared Christmas with us and has returned to London. I have Catalena with me now and Little John has been too. Friends are priceless.

My priority now is to do some thorough research of ‘homes’, so that I can find the perfect place for Mum to move in to.

I took the boys to the hospital on Christmas Eve. Josh was very worried. He hadn’t been to see Nana since she was sectioned back in August and he very nearly bottled out of performing in ‘a mad-house’. As the boys began to play the carols, Josh on guitar and Conor on flute, residents began to gather and join in the sing-along. Mum was right beside us, singing and blubbering happily. Before long the carers had brought half the ward along and we had to repeat our rather limited repertoire. It was a wonderful atmosphere. I went around with a box of Belgian chocolate biscuits and really felt that Christmas had finally arrived. It was amazing how these dear people, many of whom have forgotten who they are, yet, when the music begins, they can sing all three verses of ‘Away in a Manger’, word perfect. The power of music on the soul never ceases to strike me as remarkable.

Josh actually enjoyed the experience in the end. I am sure he will perform in alternative ‘mad-houses’ with his band. He did get a bit worried when one of the patients wanted to tidy his music book away whilst he was playing. ‘Who is this guy?’ Josh’s eyes mused. But he was pleased to have overcome his fear and done something good for his Nana and for others.

I was very proud of them both.

When we first arrived at the hospital Mum was looking more miserable than I’ve seen her for a long time. As I sat her down she was able to say that she ‘just wanted to go away – completely – and not come back’. She took pains to assure me that it wasn’t the place or anybody else’s fault, just her – ‘being mardy’. But the carols made her forget and she opened her presents and cards with child-like anticipation. It was a jolly Mum that we left behind.

A Boxing day photo from long ago – about 1978

Week Twenty-Seven

Chapter 16

Celebrating! Merry Christmas everybody. xx

We enjoyed a fairly quiet half-term week, but this weekend was full of activity and celebration – including Conor’s birthday, parties and fireworks.

On Friday afternoon Mum was still in good form. Her clothes showed evidence of custard and I watched her drink tea and eat a milky way bar. She also drank water and sang to the cup again. She seemed calm and less bothered by imaginary worlds. She played and laughed, let me hug her and enjoyed me massaging her back. It was great. I didn’t want to leave her this time, but I had to get the car back for Simon.

Today I got a call from another doctor, who described a seizure-type manifestation that Mum was having this morning and asked me about the seizures that she had experienced in the past. It doesn’t compare at all. Apparently the top part of her body just trembled violently for as long as you might wave, but it was occurring every 20 seconds this morning, so they called a doctor to watch her. By this afternoon, the ‘shakes’ were happening roughly every 20 minutes. I asked if this was perhaps a side effect of the Haloperidol, but she said not. I took the opportunity to ask about the dosage. They are being cautious with the new drug and started her on 0.5mg. They have now increased it to 1.5mg.

Apparently they all cheered as Mum ate a proper lunch today and she was sitting laughing with a bunch of ladies this afternoon.

Then the doctor asked a sobering question that took me aback: If she gets very sick, do I want them to resuscitate her? I had to ask what this means in reality, because if she gets poorly I want them to treat her as they would any body else. What she meant was, if her heart stops of its own accord, do I want them to give her shock treatment or resuscitate in any other way? She made it clear that they wouldn’t advise resuscitation and that, although they like to consider the wishes of family, legally it is a medical decision that would be made by the doctors anyway. It is a scary thought – that the doctors carry such power – particularly when you hear of cases of abuse of that power and the growing sympathy for ‘euthanasia’. But, on the other hand, if it was her time to go, I sure wouldn’t want to hold her back to suffer any more, when she could be set free and enjoying heaven. To deny her death, when it called, would be much more cruel. I have not actually thought about her dying yet. I have been more concerned with the quality of her living.

Still, at 62, I can’t see her leaving yet. I must speak to Debbie about it and phone Monica to give her an update – she might fancy coming with me tomorrow.


Monica did want to come and was delighted to see her back in her happy and ‘naughty’ mood. She has such a cheeky laugh. Monica had received some poems from a good friend of Mum. I read them aloud to her. The poems convey such sweet fondness of memory. They tell a story of Mum and life on Graemsay island. This one is about her home, Clett.

‘Avril’ by A.R. February 2007

If you came by Windbreck over the hill

or by Scarataing under the broken cliffs

to the silent house above the shore

it would be the same: your wall stands firm

and the tall ships of your willows blow

and all is well.

The raggle-taggle fuchsia by the garden door

in hard midwinter waits

and in the rank grass sleeping now,

Veronica, wild iris, rose, montbretia, meadowsweet

in innocence and silence wait

and all is well.

A stone hut by the shore

stone on stone to the eaves,

a flagged roof, a plank door.

Remains of tackle, tar, caulk, creel,

scraps of net like lace.

The season passes.

From the South West a breeze

bringing hope and resurrection.

[Copyright A.R.]

A stone hut by the shore….

He also wrote another poem for her.

First he wrote: “Do you remember the stone wall you laboured at? It was magnificent. You wore out two wheelbarrows. We used to work at it in all weathers and if the rain came on too heavy we would retire to the house and drink gallons of tea. Remember? I enclose a small poem in memory of that wall and its builder and I send it with my love.”

Waller’ by A.R.

Stone waller, my dear, dry-stoned and love laboured.

With stone all day labours, lovingly,

each stone caresses. No line;

eye alone is her level.

Stone waller, my dear, day long

in her garden. Dogged. Stubborn.

Stone from the shore, sea quarried,

wheelbarrowed and muscled,

stone-bedded and blessed. Stone,

stone, stone,


shelters rose, willow, wren.

[Copyright A.R.]

Mammy’s stone walls, sheltering her garden

I read the poems twice out loud and we talked about the images and memories. Mum built the walls from stones off the beach, to protect her shrubs from the incessant wind. I’m not sure how much sense Mum actually made of the poems, or how much she does remember. I love the poems.

Monica enjoyed talking about her memories of her two years living with Mum at ‘Clett’, and talked for all of us in her very entertaining way. Mammy was able to respond with independent comments and contributions though, just like her old self. As we were leaving, Monica asked if we could come again. Although I genuinely cannot recall her words, her response reminded me of the time I first visited Mum and Dad in Orkney – that she would be glad when I left, because I disturbed her routines.

Memories of Monica living with Mammy on Graemsay and mad parties

The junior doctor, to whom I had only spoken on the phone, came in and introduced herself. Fortunately she didn’t ask again about the ‘resuscitation’ issue.


This morning I had a funny memory – years ago, my friend, Little John, used to tease me for always saying, “I can’t remember”. Today I remembered that as a young child at the caravan, my mum once made me write 100 lines, saying, “I must never say ‘I forgot’.” After that I tried very hard instead to admit that “I can’t remember” One wonders if there is a faulty memory gene in the family.

I was also musing over the changes in Mum’s life since Dad died. In the space of a few years, Mum did so many new things with her life. She began driving again – something she’d never done since passing her test in Nottingham some 15-20 years before. Then she did a ‘motor-mechanics’ course in Kirkwall. She ran the Post Office on Graemsay and did a computer course. She worked voluntarily for the ‘Red Cross’ in Stromness, bought a guitar, took lessons and began to play guitar at the church services. When applying for the job as ‘Sub-postmaster’, Mum listed her hobbies as “Designing; Knitting; Gardening, Music; Watching boxing, ice-skating and gymnastics; Languages; Science and Computers.”

It seems so sad that Mum got a chance of an independent life at 49 but within 10 years was completely incapacitated with this dementia. I wonder what made Mum’s brain go so quickly? Did the brain rebel against having choice and freedom? Did she miss the routine, challenge and suspense of living with Dad? Was it a lack of stimulation? Is it a genetic predisposition? Do I carry those same genes? Do infections, strokes or knocks on the head cause its onset? Or is dementia simply no respecter of persons and comes to devour whomever it wills? Does anybody know? I have looked for explanations, but few are offered.


On Sunday Mum stood motionless in the corridor with tears wet on her cheeks and droplets falling from her nose. She seemed so totally dependent and vulnerable… She had no idea why she was crying and said that she didn’t want to live any more. She probably feels totally alone in her world. But she asked after the boys again and soon we were singing and dancing to Roy Orbison. I left her smiling and dancing, but again I feel like I have abandoned her.

One of Mum’s key workers phoned yesterday to ask permission to give Mum the flu jab. I took the opportunity to ask questions in general. She answered that the consultant had wanted to reduce Mum’s medication now that she is doing so well, but that the staff had argued (and won) to keep her medication as it is, because she is doing so well. They are all very pleased with her progress.

In terms of her future placement, reading between the lines, it looks like it will be after Christmas before they attempt to place her. They want to see her properly settled and stable first. I think it will be better for Mum to be in a more homely environment where she can perhaps make friends and have her personal belongings around her again. Maybe she still likes going out walking. I do hope that there will be a suitable home for her within Nottinghamshire. I will contact the Social Worker soon to see what recommendations and time-scale he is considering.

I think I have been very well guided by the Social Services and support teams throughout these two years caring for Mum. I could not have managed alone and they have truly provided where I could not. It hasn’t always been the kind of care that I would have desired, but it has been an invaluable support and I take this opportunity to say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone that has been involved in helping to care for Avril. We are so blessed to have the NHS in this country. Of course they cannot work miracles and are not perfect, but they do provide a wonderful service to so many needy people, who otherwise would be suffering alone.


I’m just back from seeing Mum again tonight. I felt that she needed a hug and am so glad I went. I thank God for these precious moments. If she were still in Orkney and in good health I would probably still not have seen her since my wedding. I may never have had the chance to know her. But it’s a tragic price to pay for closeness.

She seemed down-in-the-dumps when I arrived. I began to chat and recognised the song, ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ playing somewhere near. We located it in the big empty lounge and began to dance. It was so good to sing, smooch and jive our way through 18 fabulous Elvis tracks around the big room. At one point I looked up to see two nurses smiling at us through the window frame. I felt like a goldfish in a bowl, but very proud. I was even offered a cup of tea today. Again Mum’s key worker reiterated (in a whisper) that, although she was handing me the Care Homes’ Directory, they were not in a hurry to send her away.

I wonder whether I might be allowed to bring Mum out at all? I think she would like to be involved in some carols and Christmas events. I could always take some Christmas spirit to them instead – maybe Conor could bring his flute and play some carols. They would all enjoy that I’m sure.

Week Twenty-Six

Mammy’s cheeky smile and my beautiful sister

On Tuesday she wouldn’t let me anywhere near her. She was saying, “Go away. No!” the moment she saw me. I couldn’t be bothered to argue, but I’m not giving up hope.


On Saturday she was pleasant again, a bit dopey, but relaxed. She must have asked me over thirty times, “Where’ve you been?” “What are you doing now?” “Where is it?”

For my own sanity I tried using identical responses, then tried varying my replies, but her questions remained the same. At least I got to hug her.

It’s the days when she fights that are the most difficult for me. I want to shake her out of it.


It’s Wednesday 17th September today. I’ve been trying to tie up some loose ends with regards to Mum’s affairs. I spoke to Broad Glade. who have emptied Mum’s room and have all her remaining belongings in storage. I was in school for the afternoon, so I drove by to collect the stuff on my way home. They asked kindly after Mum. I was surprised to see such a large sack full of her belongings still – I thought I had taken most of them the last time. It felt strangely like the end of another era – as if she had died and I was clearing her estate. I found myself in a bit of a trance, but glad to be getting on with inevitable tasks.

I came home for a cup of tea and to collect Mum’s clean clothes. Simon offered to look after the boys’ dinners, homework, showers etc. My head was throbbing – not the best frame of mind to go to see Mum, but it’s all I’ve got today.

I found her alone in the lounge listening to some country music. I should have left her there.

She seemed to be bothered by voices, hallucinations and questions and threw it all at me. If I could have taken it all away from her, I wouldn’t have minded, but she just became increasingly agitated.

“Where’ve you been?… No, it’s not…. You haven’t! Who are you?… You look like her, but you’re not! Go away.”

“I am Dawn and I won’t go away. I love you. And I’m staying here!” I challenged.

“You still here?… Go away! You’re not her!”

‘Lord give me strength.’ I screamed inside.

I told her that I wouldn’t go, that I’d come to see her and that I wanted her to stop acting like a mad old woman. Then she told me that I was dead. That they’d had my ‘thingy’ (funeral?) already. She didn’t seem to think it incongruous telling me that I was dead, so I don’t know why I argued, but I wanted to ‘snap her out of it’. I hated feeling so ineffectual and useless, unable to reach her or comfort her.

“Why are you still there?” she moaned.

“I’ll be back!” I said and went home.


I’m finding it tough being back at work. Two days a week are taking up more than half of my week in real time and much more in head-space. It will settle I’m sure, but I do seem to be running behind myself and catching myself coming in the opposite direction.

I still haven’t spoken to the Social Worker and have heard nothing from the consultant since the first review, over six weeks ago. I know it’s up to me to do the chasing.

Julia calls me from time to time to ask after Mum, but she won’t go again herself. Debbie is moving back to England this week, for good. Actually, not England, but a large cottage on mainland Orkney. I wonder how she’ll find it seeing Mum now? I hope Mum is having a good day when Debbie goes.

Mum had a good day on Sunday. Well, good from my perspective. I actually managed to get two and a half glasses of water and her medication down her. She said the coffee tasted ‘like poo’ and the nurse made some funny comment about NHS services in general… But she liked the water. She also let me accompany her to the loo, which felt like quite an honour after all her recent behaviour. She had a long wee, which must be a good sign of a certain hydration level, but it looked more like ‘cola’ in the bowl when I went to flush it. We talked a lot of nonsense about the boys, my job and the sunshine. Round we went with pleasantries, but then her body language changed and a deep frown set in. She looked so frightened and confirmed it:-

“I’m scared!” she confided.

I asked her what she was scared of, guessing the answer.

“You know what! Daddy.” She whispered, exasperated.

I didn’t know what to say for the best, but I hugged her tight and tried to reassure her that Daddy couldn’t physically hurt any of us any more. We went over this theme for some time and she tossed and turned and wavered in her understanding of the reality that I was presenting. She seemed to understand that Daddy had died and that she had his ashes in a brass case, but she still believed that he could and would hurt her. But having been married to this formidable, abusive and broken man for 32 years, it is understandable.

We prayed together and after some time she seemed visibly less anxious. It was long since time for me to be gone, but I clung on to the moments, feeling happy to be of some use this time.


The Social Worker came round to see me last Tuesday and made me more determined to speak up at the next review. The hospital have been observing Mum for over 8 weeks, watching her deteriorate – not eat or drink or take her medication – but they don’t seem to be doing anything proactive or even trying new drugs. Mammy seems to be becoming more and more obsessed by the hallucinations and monsters in her head and is angry and frightened and miserable – tormented really is the best word. They can’t send her to any other place in this state, but I want to know why they seem to be doing nothing and whether they do plan to do something.

I personally think that Mum is suffering from more than ordinary dementia, but I don’t know that. She appears psychotic or schizophrenic, but I know that these behaviours are also manifest in dementia. The nurses are very concerned for her and do not seem happy with the care plan themselves. We have to trust that the consultant does know more about dementia and available drugs than the rest of us, but I know more about Mum than they do. I feel that she is in too much distress and I feel responsible. I want to make it better.

Busy with all these things, as well as school, I also heard that an article I wrote over the Summer has been published in the October edition of the ‘Curate’s Diary’. It is the first thing I’ve ever had published, except school policies. Also, some bad news – Ofsted have announced they are coming next Tuesday for a one-day inspection. There is an ‘f’ in Ofsted! Obviously I have offered to be there to support my colleague. I then realised that I was expecting Debbie and family over that weekend and that Mum’s long-awaited review is the same day as the inspection.


Debbie came and went to see Mum, but didn’t get a better reception. She had gone with Olivia on Saturday and found Mum typically monstrous. Mum had scratched Debbie too. Despite my warnings, I think they were still shocked to see the way Mum has deteriorated these last two months.

On Monday I decided to do my job application before I went to school. As it is a temporary contract, I have to now apply formally for a permanent post. I don’t have time to think about whether I have the energy for all of this, but we need the money.

I also had to prepare for Mum’s review. Debbie and Monica are coming, so we are going in force.

On Tuesday it all went to plan – the Inspector came into our shared Year 1 class and as she left at 10:15, so did I. Apart from the buzz of nerves, there was a very positive and warm atmosphere throughout the school. I felt proud to be a part of it. We expect a good report.

Mum’s review was positive in that the consultant does have something that she wants to try. It is Haloperidol, a drug often used for schizophrenia. One of the difficulties at the moment is that Mum won’t take medication orally so that limits them to drugs that are available for intravenous injection. Hopefully, if this one calms the monsters in her head, then they might be able to get her eating and drinking again and she might consent to taking them orally. She will not consent to the injections, but part of having a ‘section’ means that they can force an injection. It isn’t really possible to force someone to swallow. It’s not ideal, but it is a move forward. So I am satisfied for now and will keep monitoring the situation. Monica and Debbie also made their thoughts and wishes known, so it was positive in that respect too. Sitting discussing Mum in this way got to me again and I couldn’t restrain the tears.

I had attempted to see Mum before the review, but she saw me coming and screamed at me to go away, so I went and did the laundry. Monica had a more successful attempt later. When her mum finally went into a home, they prescribed what Monica describes as a ‘Happy Pill’, which made a considerable difference to her angry, malicious behaviour. Monica clearly hopes that the Haloperidol will be a ‘Happy Pill’ for Avril, but it could have been Diazipam.

Anyhow, more anxiety over for now. We next await the RE Inspection at school and I await the interview for my job.


Three weeks later and the Haloperidol seems to be having a beneficial effect, Gradually Mum is mellowing again. They have found that she will take tablets orally if administered just as she is waking up. She is still different every time I see her, but each time a little better. I am so grateful for the positive changes in Mum. Maybe I’ll take Conor again next time. Last time I saw her she was much calmer, but talking such nonsense it was nearly impossible to understand anything. She seems to have renamed everybody and everything. She was ‘Aferbabby’ and I was ‘Ackally’, and I really cannot remember it all. But she was not laughing then (although I was).

Today she was laughing and giggling and busy trying to ‘sort things out’. I don’t tell her who I am any more, but I tell her what the boys have been up to and she tells me about ‘the to-do’ with the ‘people upstairs’ and all the things going on in her busy head. But she seemed so relaxed today. They said she’d had a cuppa just before I came and I persuaded her to drink a glass of water. She was talking to the water and trying to play the glass like a trumpet. Of course she got wet, but we were both in stitches.

She still has nonsense conversations with people in her head and is clearly very confused, but she doesn’t argue with me or attack me any more. It is great to enjoy each other’s company again.

I finished a tough half term at my school: the inspections both went very well and last week was a whole day of interviews for my job. There were four applicants including myself. I know my nerves got the better of me doing the teaching task and I bodged it terribly. I wouldn’t have hired me on that performance and I didn’t get the job.

For now I’m just thrilled for Mammy and I’m exhausted.

Week Twenty-Five

A very young Avril with baby Julia

We’ve just come back from our weekend away. I have really missed Mammy and look forward to seeing her later. Seeing others with their mums makes all this seem so much more tragic and makes me feel protective of her.

I couldn’t find her at first. Nor any staff. Then I heard someone saying, ‘Your daughter is here, Avril’. So I retraced my steps and found her lurking in the shadows of a doorway.

“Don’t do that!” she began, but with a bit of a smile, “You’re trying to trick me. I thought you’d gone… But you look different… That’s why, isn’t it? Have you seen him?… Well you should… Yes, I thought you had! Is that why you are here? …Me too! I don’t know what it is. Yes, I saw Dawn there with him… She does! You can tell by her face… So why don’t you ask?…No, it doesn’t look good. Did they send for you?… I’m just waiting. I’m scared!… No, I know there isn’t, but they don’t tell you…”

“Mammy, who are you talking to?” I asked, fascinated by this new dimension and eloquence.

“I wasn’t talking to anyone!… Yes, you were, it was her.” she answered herself.

“Who is ‘she’ Mammy?”

“Daddy! Yes, Daddy.”

“Daddy isn’t a ‘she’.” I said, stupidly.

“No, you’re right… He’s not good… Why, what’s the matter. ..A bit of this and that! He’s grumbling… I know, but he’s not good today.”

We sat down in a quiet place and she continued in her ‘Gollum’ style speech;

“I want to go home… Yes, I’m frightened. ..You have to stay, that’s why they called you… Yes I know, but I want to go home. There! Did you see him?… Daddy…”

A lady walked in and came over to the window next to us. Mum glared at her. The lady said, “Do you mind if I close this?” (Curtains)

“Yes, I do mind. Go away!” said Mammy, beginning to rise aggressively towards the woman.

“She’s only trying to close the curtains, Mammy.” I pleaded whilst trying to hold her down. “It’s a good idea, because it’s dark outside now.”

“No, she’s not! They do that, if they can get away with it. And then it’s gone… You know it’s them. There are some horrible people and they take them. I know you don’t believe me. You have to watch them…”

At this moment a man came in, noisily dragging a chair.

“Oy, stop that! Get out!” Mum shouted.

Fortunately this man’s relatives helped him with the chair and Mum grumbled on about how it was him, them, all those others…

“Why do they do that?… Maybe I got it wrong. They will think I’m a loony!… Did you get it?… You did? It came?… And what did it say?… He’s clear? Oh, thank God! Oh, that’s great…” She turned to me again with a look of sheer relief and joy.

“So it came? He’s clear?” I asked, trying to muscle in on this conversation.

“What do you mean?… Oh, I’ve forgotten now.” She added, clearly distracted by my interruption.

“Who are you talking to, Mammy?”

“A man.”

“A man?”

“Don’t say it like that!”

“Sorry Mammy, but I can’t see the man. Who is he?”

“Can I go home now?… No?… Why not?… Do I have to?… I’m scared… He’s all right! I want to go home… Can’t I? What did they say?… Was she there?…”

I became aware of the bell ringing indicating that visiting time was over. I kissed her and said, “I’m going to find a nurse now.”

I got the key and sorted her laundry. Boy, how it ponged! I looked over to her still chuntering, so I left without interrupting her again. Every day is such a different experience. Today she seemed to be two distinctly different people talking to each other and quite unaware of my presence for most of it. One really flew over the cuckoo’s nest in here today.

Chapter 15

My visit to Mum started well today with a big smile, hugs and tears. The nurses said that it was her first smile all day. Apparently she had only consumed one small glass of squash and two biscuits all day, so I got another drink for her and we sat down in the empty dining room. I had spoken yesterday to Debbie and Mum’s friend Wendy, and I told Mum all about it. She was responsive and drank her juice, so I ordered a second one.

“We were coming to see you today,” Mum began, “but we were busy chasing the boys around and doing this and that…Daddy was…but we wanted to come…How are the boys?”

I explained that Josh was in London to see the new Batman movie and that Conor was at home having a saxophone lesson. A few sentences later, she asked after the boys again and I repeated my story.

“No,” she argued, “she’s here!”

“Sorry, I meant that JOSH is in London.”

“No, she’s there!” she emphasised, pointing to a blank wall.

Clearly she was hallucinating and was beginning to get cross with me. Then she was distracted by ‘someone’ under the table. Looking down, she smiled sarcastically and began remonstrating,

“What are you doing there? You should be in bed! Go on. Back to bed now!”

“Who was that?” I asked stupidly.

“Dawn! You know what she’s like!”

Then she addressed me, “Well, what are you waiting for?… Who are you?” A black cloud had come over her again. She hung her head and asked, “Do you want something?”

I said I wanted nothing. That I’d just come to say Hello…

“I said ‘who are you?’ she repeated with agitation.

“I’m Dawn, Mammy.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Who am I then?” I challenged, becoming impatient.

“You ask me? You look like him, but…”

“I’m your daughter, like it or not!” I said, getting up. “I’ve got some laundry to do now.”

I did the laundry, found her again and kissed her goodbye. I’m too tired for this today.


Mum’s friend, Wendy had apparently gone to see Mum on Friday afternoon, but Mum hadn’t acknowledged her, so she didn’t stay long. Julia and her daughter went on Sunday and had a similar experience.

I took Conor with me to see Mum today – our last daytime trip before the Autumn term starts. I start my teaching job tomorrow. We are all a bit apprehensive, especially Conor and I – new schools and unknown challenges ahead.

It’s also the end of Mum’s 28 day section tomorrow and I’ve heard nothing about the hospital’s intentions or plans for her.

We took fresh doughnuts with us, hoping to tempt Mum into eating something. It’s good that she is losing some weight, but she does need to eat and drink something. As we arrived, a nurse was reassuring a very distressed Mum. She saw Conor and I and rushed over with tears and grabbed me for a big hug. Conor joined in too and Mum seemed so relieved and happy.

Then the nurse said, “See, Dawn did come!” and Mum stiffened up.

Then Conor added, “It’s nice to see you, Grandma!” (Why he called her ‘Grandma’ and not ‘Nana’, we don’t know)

Mum panicked and pulled herself away from us, stammering, “No. No, you’re not…Go away! You’re lying…No!”

We got nothing else from her. She wouldn’t eat the doughnut, wouldn’t speak to either of us…she had such a look of hatred towards us. Conor was upset again and Mum marched up and down the corridor chuntering to herself and growling whenever she passed us.

A nurse said that Mum had had no medication, food or drinks for 2 days again. Her mouth was dry. The nurse was concerned and said that obviously they wouldn’t be sending Mum out like this. They would need to see her condition stabilised. She said that they wouldn’t give the Lorazepam because Mum was not being ‘physically aggressive’. I argued that she was being verbally aggressive and was pushing everyone away. More importantly, she was in danger of self-harm by not drinking anything and surely they must be able to do something, or she would die. The nurse answered that they would address all this at the review tomorrow. Dawn, you are not a nurse!


Well, I am back at work, doing a job-share in a Year 1 class. On my second day, yesterday, I had a missed call from the Social Worker to say that at Mum’s review they had decided on a ‘Section 3’ for a further 6 months at the hospital.

Today, after an exciting day in my new class, I went again to see Mum.

She is oblivious to what is happening and to where she is, it seems. Mum greeted me with the old smile, hugs and tears of relief, or joy, or whatever it is she feels when she recognises something. Immediately she began to talk – fluently – about Avril and Dawn, about how unfair it was that Dawn always got more…

I don’t know who she was talking to. Suddenly, she ‘became aware’ of someone tugging on her trouser leg and became irritated, saying,

“What are you doing here again?.. Who are you?.. Avril!…” Her thoughts were interrupted by some visitors leaving the ward and she turned suspiciously to me.

“Who’s that?” she enquired.

“I’ve no idea!” I replied, still squatting down on the floor, where her eyes were fixed.

“Yes you do! Who is it?” she demanded.

I fumbled an explanation that they may be relatives of people there and that they were visiting, but suddenly another lady, brandishing a ‘zimmer frame’ towards me, emerged from a door beside Mum, only to attack me with,

“Why did you say that? Why did you say you would…”

I backed away swiftly from the frame and Mum pulled away from me saying,

“Why are you here?” addressed to me.

“I came to see you.” I replied feebly.

“No you didn’t. You don’t know me!” she accused.

I began, stupidly, to argue with her, feeling stressed and fed up with these difficult games. I said frustrated things about her not getting rid of me this time and threatening to tell her everything I knew about her and Daddy. She didn’t want that either and I knew that I was being unhelpful and speaking out of frazzled emotions. I fired some memories of names and places at her deaf ears and walked away to sort her laundry. I was shaking and upset when a kind nurse offered me a cuppa, a listening ear and some words of comfort. I calmed myself and found Mum in the same spot in the corridor on my way back. I kissed the back of her head cowardly and she said,

“You leaving now?… Goodbye!”

“How did you know I was going?” I asked incredulously.

“Go on. Get on with it!” she spat.

“Goodbye Mammy.” I sighed.

I never know what to expect when I visit Mum.