Laughter in the darkness

TODAY I told mum that dad was no longer able to visit her at her care home. He has been in hospital for a few weeks, and she was asking why he hadn’t been to see her.

“His legs are too bad,” I said. “He can’t walk any more.”

“Oh, I’m glad about that,” she said.

“Why are you glad?”

“Because I thought that perhaps he had gone off with another woman.”

Dementia is a horrible thing. But occasionally it can make you laugh out loud. Even if it is just laughter in the darkness.

Mum moved into Hillside Care Home in February. She had been growing increasingly confused and anxious for several years.

One day I dropped off some cleaning things I’d bought at the supermarket.

“I’ve left everything in a bag in the kitchen” I said.

“Where are they?”

“In a bag. In the kitchen.”

“Are they coming in?”

“Do you mean is Jacqui (my wife) coming in?”

“Yes.”

“She’s not here. I came on my own.”

“But she’s all right, isn’t she?”

“Yes, she’s in Llanelli.”

“Oh, thank God.” As if, by visiting her sister in Llanelli, Jacqui had evaded some danger or threat.

Dementia can be funny and sad at the same time.

“Has he got a wife?” mum asked my cousin one day.

“Who?”

“Him.” She pointed at my father, sat in his usual place on the sofa in front of the tv.

“Yes, he’s got a wife. You.”

“Who is he then?”

“Uncle Harry. Well, I call him Uncle Harry. You just call him Harry.”

“Oh, I thought he was dead.”

We were able to keep mum at home until it was no longer safe for her to stay there. We were lucky enough to find a good care home just minutes away from our house.

In one of the several lounges, there is a scale model of the Titanic. Initially I thought it could have been a metaphor for mum’s dementia. A life holed, a voyage discontinued.

But the metaphor would not work. Mum, and many of the other residents at Hillside, have not been sunk by a single catastrophic event.

They are more like survivors in a lifeboat, drifting in uncharted waters with uncertain bearings and a malfunctioning compass. And the lifeboat is slowly filling with water.

Soon after she moved, I called to see mum and found she had gone out on a bus trip. The next day I asked her how she enjoyed it.

“It went on and on,” she said. “Bumping.”

“So you won’t be going again?”

“Oh yes, I expect so.”

She had taken to wearing rouged cheeks and bright red lipstick. Her handbag was full of make-up; some of it even belonged to her.

Jacqui and I sat with her in the conservatory lounge. There was a magnolia tree in full bloom in the garden next door. It was getting towards evening, and the birds were singing in the trees. The birdsong mingled with the sound of police or ambulance sirens in the city laid out below us.

We walked home through the park. Children were playing beneath the trees.

“It’s difficult,” Jacqui said.

“It is what it is. And it’s not going to change.”

Except that now there are more bad days than before. Days of private, whispered conversations and smiles. Busy restless fingers pulling at invisible threads.

I see my mother slowly moving away from me. But just now and then, we still catch the sound of laughter in the darkness.

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