My mum’s story will be familiar to some of you and completely alien to others: everyone’s experience seems to be very different and the world of dementia is diverse and rapidly expanding (like the universe, but less fun). My mum used to be a social butterfly. She loved to dress up, host parties, natter with my friends about their pregnancies, new babies, weight gain and home furnishings. She was a like a walking copy of Woman’s Own (other magazines are available), always on hand for unsolicited advice, tea and sympathy. She liked gossiping at the hairdressers, tidying her house to within an inch of it’s life and most of all she loved her family, particularly the littlest members of it. She was a wonderful mum when we were small and although both my sister and I set about causing teenage strife in our own unique ways, she and dad dealt with those ghastly pubertal years with rational equanimity (at least they presented that front – in reality they were probably tearing their hair out and rueing the day we’d been born). When we first left home she arranged Christmas shopping weekends in our respective University towns and managed to strike a balance between being a constant support without smothering us. It helped that she and dad had a fantastic social network of their own back at home so I never felt that she was trying to live my life for me – she was very happy in her own life.
When I gave birth to my first child mum came down to stay and was a fantastic support in the subsequent weeks, unobtrusively clearing up, putting the washing on, making sure the fridge was stocked. I went back to work and she travelled the two-hour journey to stay in our attic room and provide childcare every Monday before returning to her normal occupations of extremely house-proud housewife and part-time library assistant. She was in her late fifties at this point, capable of packing her own bags and leaving the house (and my father) in an acceptable state for her return, navigating the M4 corridor, soothing my frayed nerves and assuaging my guilt about leaving my child to go back to work, managing a toddler for a nine hour stint and getting herself safely back home later that evening when I returned. She was doing what grannies up and down the land are frequently called upon to do – acting as the very next best thing to mummy – combined with leading her own independent life back at home with dad. This was eight years ago and it will come as no surprise that the situation is now vastly different – see next post ‘Mum’s not right’.