No sap rising?

By Duncan McLaren, Friday 1 March 2013

With another spring on the way, Duncan looks through old blog entries to remind himself how Mabel has changed in recent years

Mabel in winter hat and coatMabel in winter hat and coat

Lovely sunny day; forebringer of spring? Mum seems to be sleeping in her chair when I call for her at the home. As I’m trying to rouse her, another resident asks me where he is. I tell him the name and the address of the care home and he nods his head in apparent understanding. Throughout our exchange an elderly woman is crying dry tears and lamenting “Oh granny,” repeatedly. “Oh, granny! Oh, granny!” Mabel is in her line of vision but I think she is speaking of herself.

Once I have Mabel safely in the front passenger seat of the car, I ask Ian where he wants to go. “North, young man,” is his reply. So off we go down the hill. Mabel has still not spoken. Sliding her from the wheelchair into the car elicited the usual yelps, but she’s not stayed awake. She’s asleep again as we head off into the country.

Once we’re off the main road, Ian spots a bank of snowdrops. Then he calls my attention to a field that has lambs cavorting amongst the sheep. Spring is on its way. Invisibly, sap will be rising in the trees. And in Mabel? Is she going to join nature in perking up as we head towards March?

We stop at the top of a hill, overlooking a farm. A low humming noise comes from the farm buildings. A couple of tractors look like they’re ready to roll. Yes, it’s all systems go down there. The flock of fieldfares that are feeding in the pasture between us and the farm will soon be flying back to Scandinavia where they nest.

I feed Mabel a cake. And, with some difficulty, because she coughs after each sip, get her to drink a cup of tea. To entertain myself while I’m doing this, I’ve brought along some old blogs to refer to. I see that in February, 2011, according to ‘Good Company’, Mabel was capable of making hand-to-mouth movements. She was capable of standing up and walking a few steps with her Zimmer. And she was still talking. When I asked her about a bruise on her head, this is how I recorded her reply:

‘Mabel went on to tell us that she’d climbed on to the shoulders of a man and then fell backwards on to the floor. I was quite impressed with this answer. Mabel had used her imagination in a coherent way and had put over her thoughts in sentences that communicated meaning. So what if the end result could only bear a distant relation to reality?’

So, in February 2011, Mabel could feed herself, walk a little, and was still speaking. Fast forward a year to February, 2012, and the blog entry called ‘the Van Gogh in the room’:

‘From her wheelchair in the corridor Mum greets me as I enter the home. She’s back to doing this and I celebrate the small recovery in her vitality that it represents.’

Well, Mabel hasn’t greeted me for a while now. A year ago I also wrote:

‘I point out to Mum three horses feeding in a field. “How do you know?” is her response. I can’t ask ‘How do I know what?’ as it wouldn’t get a reply, so I say, “Because I count three horses and I see them standing around a bail of hay, munching their heads off.”

‘I get Mum to admit it’s a beautiful sunny day. I get her to admit that she would like a cup of tea. And, after feeding her a biscuit, I get her to acknowledge that it’s a good job she’s got a big mouth. That’s three ‘yeses’ in one trip. Yes, yes and thrice yes!’

Today, in February 2013, there’s nothing from Mabel. No words. No looking out of the car. No smiles. (No, no and thrice no.) She doesn’t look unhappy, that’s all one can say. Ian isn’t in good shape either. “I feel like a washed out rag,” he tells me, from a slumped position in the back seat. Dad had a bath this morning, which meant climbing the stairs and all sorts of other little movements. He’s always tired after a bath, but never more tired than he is today. As for me, well I’ve never felt more energised, I’ve got two writing projects on the go that are filling me with joy. I open up new pages on the relevant websites and the words pour into them without any apparent effort on my part. So it goes when you’re in the middle of life, simultaneously drawing on abundant vitality and the requisite experience.

Back at the home, I wheel Mabel into the living room. Edith asks me if I’ve done my duty and I confirm that this is so. “Let me polish your halo,” she says.

Gelda, an elderly resident but more robust than most, guides Donnie, one of the shakier residents, onto the seat beside Edith, an action which goes down like a lead balloon. “Don’t let him sit there, for God’s sake,” says Edith. Gelda tells Edith not be so unkind and turns around so as to further help Donnie into the seat. “Get your backside out of my face,” says Edith. Gelda spins round and pulls back her arm as if to strike Edith. “Oh, I’ll do for you!” she says.

“Oh, Gelda,” I say, trying to sound disapproving but not exactly cross.

She turns towards me and assures me ‘she wouldn’t do it’. “But she wants to watch herself, she does. She’s not nice.”

I nod and try to communicate sympathetic understanding. Gelda would certainly flair up if she thought I was taking Edith’s side against her. Nevertheless, when I pass Edith on the way to Mabel’s room with her hat and gloves, I give her an understanding look.

“Can’t you get rid of her for me?” asks Edith, indicating Gelda with her index finger. “And him while you’re at it,” she says with a tilt of the head and a flash of her eyes.

At 92, Edith is no spring chicken, but her sap is still rising. In the absence of good news to report about Mum, I’m pleased to report that.

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