The Man in the Middle writes our new blog series. Musings from a middle-aged man living with his aged Mother and the Family.
Mother is 94 years old. Her mind is as sharp as ever, as is her tongue.
‘Your stomach is larger than your father’s when he had his stroke. If you don’t do something soon, you’ll go the same way,’ she says.
She reserves lectures for me. Everyone else gets a grey-age, charm offensive. She knows the birthdays of our friends’ children and what they’re studying at university. She remembers what people were wearing when she last saw them, sometimes decades previously. Everyone agrees she is ‘unbelievable for her age’ and how ‘lucky’ it is she doesn’t have dementia, which is undeniably true.
‘She has the knack of being interested in other people,’ says Wife, ‘You could learn from that.’
Time, however, is beginning to take its toll. Her hip is chronically painful. A short walk to Sainsbury’s is now a marathon. Wet leaves are a bear trap and the stairs of her maisonette a mountain. Streetlights, dimmed to balance the council budget, make her scared of answering the door. The everyday is becoming filled with fear.
One night, she blanked out and I took her to A&E. It was a blip due to low blood pressure and she was home quickly. But the scare never went away. Every week, we talked about when something ‘bad’ would happen again and how she would deal with it if we were not there. I have started to dream of being imprisoned for Dereliction of Duty.
Pull yourself together
‘Pull yourself together. It’s time to plan for Big Decisions. You must talk to her about The Future,’ says Wife, who could have organised D-Day without breaking into a sweat.
A shiver of fear passes through me. Talking to Mother is a great idea. But doing it is quite another matter. It will require great diplomacy, patience, and timing. I’m not sure I’m qualified. Immediately, I regret not having a sister. A sister would have known what to say, instinctively. Instinctively, Mother would respond better to a daughter. Like a coward, I consider bribing my daughter to do it for me.
The Man in the Middle has an idea
Then I have a breakthrough idea. I will write a letter. A letter will avoid confusion. A letter will save me from a tricky, face to face first move. I write:
‘Perhaps now is good time to think where you want to live next? We will support your decision whatever it is. And if you want to move in with us, we would be really delighted. We just want you to feel safe, secure and happy.’
‘What’s this,’ she says, shaking the letter at me, a few days later.
It’s like the Irish back-stop
‘It’s like the Irish back-stop,’ I say. ‘No one is going to force anything on anyone. But we should talk about where we all stand if things don’t work, don’t you agree?’
‘I’m not going to a care home. I don’t like old people and I don’t need any help. Anyway, who cares if I fall down the stairs? I’m ninety four, that’s par for the course at my age.’
The conversation is over. That night, I tell my wife.
‘Great. Now we know where we stand.’
I am confused.
‘She’s going to move in with us, only not yet. Which is fine because we’ll need time to convert your study into her bedroom.’
I am gawping, reckoning with the impending loss of my man cave, as she sighs and says: ‘It means your letter did the trick.’