“I’m just talking to an old lady.” My son was on the Xbox when I asked him what he was doing. (So much for worrying about violence and gore on this game anyway). As it happened, I was about to do the same thing, being on my way to the nursing home to see Mum. Usually I visit with my brother but he was on holidays, so that day it was just me.
It was earlier than usual when I got there. She was in her room with a nurse who was helping Mum get dressed, go to the toilet and do all the things that come with a lack of independence we all fervently hope we never have to face. I waited first in the sitting room and then, when the attentions of the other residents got too much; stroking my hair, asking me in astonished tones what on earth I was doing, talking officiously about paperwork while( so sadly) holding a child’s colouring book, I opted for the waterproof couch in the hall outside her bedroom. Sometimes I can take it all with good cheer, often it is genuinely funny, but that day it was just depressing.
I concentrated on making a shopping list in my head as the nurse came and went, with laundry, with rubber gloves and eventually, appearing with Mum. She looked like she usually does these days; clean, completely vacant and yet still, miserable. The nurse held a baby doll, and told me that mum had slept with it the previous night. We both smiled and agreed that it was good for her to have something comforting. I tried my best not to think about all the people Mums age (75) who were right then, peering at the Sunday Independent through their reading glasses, admiring/despairing at their gardens, drinking tea and thinking about ringing their children for a chat.
So we sat on the couch for a while holding hands, she nodded off and I wondered how soon I could leave without the nurse thinking I was a selfish, horrible daughter.
Driving home I knew that I should buy her a doll. The one she held belonged to another resident (the one who was asking me “what on earth are you doing here?” in the sitting room) But I didn’t want to. I just didn’t want to buy my Mum a toy doll.
A fortnight later, when I had felt sorry for myself for long enough, we were in Smyths spending some Communion money. I headed for the pink aisle and found a doll with a soft body, bib, soother and bottle for €12.99. Twice on the way to the checkout I put her down but in the end, took the plunge and paid.
So, on Sunday, I visited again. She was asleep in a chair so I put dolly under her arm. My brother was there and we chatted until lunchtime when a nurse came to collect Mum. She took the doll to put in her bedroom, Nora, one of the quieter residents advised her to, “hold the head very carefully now”, and we left to go home.