By Duncan McLaren, Friday 27 April 2012

Author Duncan McLaren documents his relationship with his mother, Mabel, who is now in a care home, in this tender and compelling online diary
Diamond ringsMabel's sapphire and diamond engagement ring with two others

Sunday, 7pm. I fed Mum yesterday lunchtime. The usual thing is for Dad and me to take her out for a run in the car on either Saturday or Sunday afternoon, but things have been busy this weekend and the outing will have to wait until tomorrow. But I’ve managed to drive up to the home for what I plan to be a quick visit.

There are four residents in the big lounge, including Mabel. Mum gives me a warm, lop-sided smile. She is in a mood of contentment, just as she was yesterday lunchtime. Then she went from being serene, silent and hungry, to serene, silent and full of pea soup and cottage pie. Dorothy is speaking to me from the other side of the room. We often have a chat but I can’t respond right now because the television is far too loud and I can’t hear a word she’s saying.

But hang on, a quick survey tells me that no-one is actually paying attention to the TV, so I turn down the beast. “That’s better,” says Dorothy. “Now what am I going to do about these diamonds? I’ve been carting them about for a week.”

Dorothy is pulling at her cardigan, indicating its fancy buttons. To be fair they do look jewel-like. She has been on about these ‘diamonds’ before when wearing this cardi. It seems to focus the otherwise vague anxiety she has about her jewellery and wealth, which is not an uncommon fixation for elderly people. Edith, who is sitting silently on the sofa with her arms crossed, staring at the floor, goes through phases of wondering where her cheque book is. ”But I haven’t got any money,” she’ll say when I can’t give her a satisfactory answer as to its whereabouts. “How am I going to pay for all this?” I’ve never suggested to Edith that we use Dorothy’s diamonds to pay for the care she receives, because while that solution might satisfy Edith, it wouldn’t wash with Dorothy.

“I thought they might put these diamonds in the garage for me. You know the garage out there,” says Dorothy, pointing vaguely to the outside world.

I squeeze Mum’s hand as if to say, ‘Hold on this may be a bumpy ride.’ Then I say to Dorothy: “There is no garage outside, just a car park which has one car in it. I don’t think your diamonds would be particularly safe in my car.”

She laughs. Then I add: “Perhaps you mean the safe in the office. That is the place where valuables are kept in this house.”

“Maybe I should go home with them.”

“This is your home, Dorothy.”

“Oh yes, I remember… My husband gave these to me, you know. He was a lovely man. This one alone is worth a fortune,” says Dorothy, pulling at a button and making a tent-shape out of her cardigan, inviting me to take a closer look.

Instead I say, “There’s a song by Paul Simon. Do you know it? It’s called 'Diamonds on the soles of her shoes.'”

I’m not trying to mock, Dorothy, just going with the flow of her conversation. Perhaps it will allow her to get a different perspective on what she’s saying, perhaps not. I even try and sing a little of the song, but don’t manage to do justice to the ebullient tune. Mum squeezes my hand though, so that’s something.

Actually, it reminds me that Mum has lost her diamonds. I mean the engagement ring - her most treasured item of jewellery - went missing during a stay at a hospital a few years ago. I was with her when Mum was rushed in, having had a stroke, and I was more concerned that she came back out alive rather than with her bits and pieces. But now I regret not taking more care of that side of things as well.

When I next go to the family home to make a meal for Dad, I look for the photographs that Mabel took of her jewellery for security reasons. I find a picture showing the engagement ring beside two other rings, one a pearl and the other a ruby. Then I look for Mum’s diamonds in a place I feel sure I’ll find them, in her diary for 1956. I flick through the little pages until I reach this entry, which sparkles, at least in my eyes:

Monday 8th October, 1956: ‘Great day. Ian and I went to Dundee to get an engagement ring and he gave it to me at the top of the Law Hill. Celebrated at the Grey Goose.’

Mabel wrote that she spent most of the next day showing off her ring, and admiring the sapphire and two diamonds herself. I flick back through the diary and my eye quickly settles on this entry:

Saturday 15th September, 1956: ‘Just went for a run and discussed the future.’

Why does that single sentence, written in pencil, move me so? I think because there is no future for Mabel to discuss now. Because all the future that was in front of her then - 57 years’ worth - is lost. Unless it survives in the form of a hard little crystallised lump in her brain, a diamond called experience or ‘That’s all Folks’ or serenity.

Yes, if you know where to look - garages, diaries, cardigans, care homes, the well-worn soles of old shoes, the time-torn brains of our mothers and fathers - the world is awash with diamonds.


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  • Hilary Westbury

    Posted: Friday 11 May 2012

    My 90+ year old mother's rings "disappeared" when she was living in a care home. They had become very loose on her fingers as she had lost so much weight but she wouldn't let me have them for safe keeping. The police were involved and an investigation ensued to no avail. They were valuable and I had them listed on my household contents insurance. The insurers refused to pay out as the rings were not in my home at the time they disappeared. A truly horrible and upsetting experience.


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Duncan McLaren tries to find a balance between ensuring his mother gets the care she needs and understanding the problems faced by the staff

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Visiting Mabel

A carer's diary

Read Duncan McLaren's tender and compelling online diary about his relationship with mother, Mabel, who is now in a care home.