15 May 2023

When you wish Mum was still the word

| Sally Hopman
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If you take my photo I’ll make a stupid face – and she did. The author’s mum in her best days. Photo: Sally Hopman.

We never made much of a fuss about Mother’s Day – mainly because we could never get our mum something she actually wanted.

We’d listen throughout the year for any little nugget of a suggestion of some thing, any thing, we could get the woman who said she had everything.

My sister and I even started a book on it. Whoever could buy something first that she wouldn’t ask us to return after what she deemed to be a polite interval – about 30 minutes – won.

My sister, a textile artist, made quilts for her when she realised our mother actually liked them. For her knees, her shoulders, her back, the chair’s back, the bed, anyone’s bed – any flat surface would do until we ran out of space and started putting them in the dogs’ baskets. That was until Mum, who thought Polite was a foreign language, told her, politely, to stop.

Well, not so politely actually, our mother had no filter. She’d ask anyone who wore a floppy dress how pregnant they were. They never were. She’d buy me two shirts and when I wore one of them, she’d ask why I didn’t like the other one. She’d criticise our boyfriends, in front of us – and them. She thought if she lowered her voice to a dull roar – to criticise some one or thing – they couldn’t hear her. They could.

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She could, also, be so very rude. “You’re going out wearing that?” she’d ask when I was 10, 20, 30, 40….

But her most frequent comment: “Why don’t you ever brush your hair?” I used to dread saying goodbye to her because I knew she was always going to ask me that question. I’d yell out goodbye from behind the door and bolt off like only a person with unruly hair could, but she’d always corner me. Just wait ’til I get a brush, she’d say, when I was 10, 20 30 40…. Sure I’d say, doing a runner.

In retrospect, she drove us crazy with her, well, craziness. She wasn’t like my friends’ mums. She was a terrible cook. Baking things for us but forgetting to put quite important things including flour/sugar/butter in cakes. She insisted our boyfriends stay over because she didn’t want to worry about where her girls were at night. Best they be at home discussing world peace with their blokes than in the back of a car somewhere. She told me smoking was bad but gave me her cigarettes. She found fault in just about everything we did, but somehow we always felt it was coated with love.

READ ALSO How one mother’s love now keeps so many others safe

That was a few years ago, before we started losing her. Dementia took her. She got the disease like everything else she got – in spades.

We started noticing things gradually, how she started to fall over almost every time she was upright, left appliances on to burn, forgot our names, our birthdays or that we’d come to see her the day before. She would also cook stuff that had no correlation to its ingredients – but she did that before she got crook so it doesn’t count.

In her increasingly rare lucid moments, she’d get so very angry when she realised we’d put her in a nursing home – despite the fact she loved the place and used to volunteer there years before.

She couldn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed to roam the floor at night, bursting into other people’s rooms and yelling at them. After that, they moved her to the next floor, with about as many nurses as patients before there was an altercation with another woman, a walking trolley and something unmentionable.

Two women

The author and her mum – in better days for both. When the hair was almost neat and one of them was wearing a tie. Photo: Supplied.

Finally, she was placed in the secure ward. I was so glad she didn’t know where she was because she, too, had seen that scene from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

There were some good times. Like when I just sat there holding her hand. Didn’t matter that she probably thought I was a nurse or Frank Sinatra, but sometimes she’d look up from those blurry, pale eyes squeeze my hand with what looked like all her might. I could barely feel it.

In those last days, all I could think of was that I’d give anything for her to indicate how badly dressed/coiffed I was. Maybe she was just sick of saying it, and closed her eyes for good.

Bless her.

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on Riotact.

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