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For whom the bell tolls… The Man in the Middle

It’s twenty minutes since I slouched past Mother’s bedroom door, yoga mat under my arm, and I can still hear her talking on the phone. 

Twenty minutes is an unusually long call for her because her hearing is so poor and her patience quite short.  She also keeps calls quick because she thinks telephone charges are ‘scandalously’ high along with the TV licence, bread, milk, butter, eggs and cake. She lives in an imaginary, inflation free Eden. 

Her last call this long was with a fraudster

The last call this long was with a fraudster, who was trying to prise loose her bank account details. Instead they got her life story in a pause free monologue of approximately fifty minutes. I felt sorry for the fraudster. It must have felt like being kidnapped by the James Joyce Society, who won’t set you free before they’ve read you Joyce’s 265,000-word, stream of consciousness masterpiece ‘Ulysses’, slowly and in one sitting.  

I make a mental note to ask Mother who she was talking to when she comes down for breakfast. If it’s the doctor, I like to know what’s been said. I am in the Downward Dog pose at the time. I realise I’m getting better at yoga because last week I would have fallen over if I had tried to think about anything at the same time as attempting Downward Dog. Is it time to move on from the five-minute beginner’s warm up video? 

I flop into Savasana, the Corpse Pose, a tricky move which involves lying flat on your back and breathing. I keep my eyes closed as I hear the clumping of Mother’s crutch on the wood floor as she walks to the kitchen. The fact I do not open my eyes to look at her is a sign of my growing powers of yogic concentration and ability to control my mind / body duality.  Another triumph!

At breakfast, I read a report which says 8,000 older people have died of corona virus in care homes. The death rate in April is 10,000 higher than usual for this month. Is the covid death rate being under-reported?  

I feel relief that Mother is here, with her family

It makes me wonder if Mother would still be alive if she had gone to an old people’s home instead of moving in with us. I  feel relief Mother is here with her family, not alone, isolated and scared in a care home. Would she ever want to go to one after this?  

‘Who were you talking to?’ I ask Mother, as she butters her toast. 

She looks up and out toward the garden. 

‘B— has died.’

B— is an old friend, who worked with Mother worked in the fifties. 

‘I was just on the phone to her husband. She died a few days ago,’ says Mother. 

‘I’m so sorry,’ says my wife.

‘Was it covid?’ I ask. 

Mother shrugs her shoulders. Her friend was in a care home for people with dementia.

‘When is the funeral?’ asks my wife. 

‘I don’t remember anything about a funeral.’

‘Is she allowed to go to a funeral?’ I ask.

‘I was thinking of sending flowers and card, really,’ says my wife.  

‘It’s happened, already, I think. Poor B—.’ She sighs. 

She isn’t shedding any tears

I can see my son looking under his eyebrows at Mother for signs of distress. But she isn’t shedding any tears. No flood of memories is unlocked. Perhaps she feels she lost her friend to dementia years ago and so this is moment has lost its hurt? Perhaps she’s just decided to keep a stiff upper lip?  

How are you meant to behave when someone you know dies? Can you train for it? Or do you just hope you will find a way to roll with the punch, like a boxer, who knows they must get knocked down one day, and that when that happens it’s instinct, not training, which gets you back up on your feet. 

‘I’d like to organise a Mass for her. I’ll go and see the priest today,’ says Mother. 

‘I think you better call first. I don’t think you can go to the church yourself,’ says my wife. 

‘Still this bloody Covid thing’

‘Still this bloody covid thing,’ says my Mother. 

‘I’m afraid so,’ says my wife. 

Later that afternoon, details from the church and florist to hand, I open Mother’s bedroom door.  She is asleep, fully clothed. Exhausted by emotion. Her radio is on and, for some reason, she’s tuned into Radio 2.  They’re playing ‘We are Family’ by Chic. 

The Man in the Middle writes our funny, thoughtful blog series. Musings from a middle-aged man living with his aged Mother and the Family.

© The Man in the Middle

Find The Man in the Middle’s at He’s on Twitter @maninthemiddl15 and Facebook maninthemiddle guru

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