SLIPPING AWAY

 

Sixty years ago a woman, with five small boys, turned up on my mother’s doorstep. She had been mistreated by her husband and had left him, taking with her their children. She was looking for work.

So my mother took her in. And the five boys. 

Pat, who stayed with my mother for sixty years. Who brought me up when my mother was away, who stroked my hair and put me to bed, who dried my tears and steadied my teenage years. And the only person I ever knew to face my father’s temper. A person with enourmous kindness and patientce. In her late seventies Pat married again, to Steve, my parent’s gardener, whom she had quietly loved for all those years. My mother, also in her late seventies, was their bridesmaid. An unlikely image.

Along her way Pat faced the deaths of three of her children. A blow most of us could not sustain. So inconceivable. And then Steve, her husband, also died.

Hardly surprising that Pat would become physically weakened and contract phneomia ending up in hospital, a few months ago, just before Christmas. When I went for the first time to visit her I passed by the bed she lay asleep in, not recognizing the barely breathing skeleton that lay beneath the sheets. Redirected by a nurse, back to the bed I had passed, I saw her name, Pat, printed on the medical record hanging above her head.

I stood and wept. How could she ever recover, so diminished and frail was her appearance. I thought death must be imminent. And then her eyes opened, she looked at me and whispered “There she is, there’s my girl”

I returned to The Bahamas and was kept up to date by her oldest granddaughter. Pat did recover, she fought the phenomia and regained her strength but her mind had sustained a blow too great. Thoughts became muddled, names forgotten and simple tasks became monumental mountains to climb.

A care home was found and Pat was moved. Only a few weeks later I returned to see her again. There she was, dressed and looking fit, even walking a few steps here and there. But this was not Pat. In a those few short weeks Alzheimer’s had slipped in and stolen her away. Before our eyes Pat was disappearing into a world of fear and paranoia, where confusion and worry ruled. 

One only hopes that our government in Britain, and British care homes, work together to lift expectations and call for tougher minimum standards to boost the quality of life for those in care, as recent reports reveal poor treatment of residents. And in some severe cases suffering horrifying humiliations. 

I pray for Pat, that she finds some light in this dark place. She does not deserve anything less.

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