It is forty-five years ago since my maternal grandmother died.
During her seventy-three years ‘Mam’ (as we all knew her) had witnessed and/or survived the birth of flying machines, the great depression, two world wars, the space age and, The Beatles. She had raised two children and was adored by four grandchildren.
Until I was fourteen, she had lived next door to us, next door but one, or ‘just across the road’. She was very close to us in many ways.
My mum is now coming towards the end of her fourth week in the residential nursing home I mentioned before. She has settled in well, often remarking how warm it is (something she never said at home). She knows she is not ‘at’ home, but really has no concept of what ‘home’ is. Whenever she sees one of us she beams with a happy smile and fusses over where we will sit. When she and my dad are together they seem like teenagers; holding hands, smiling at each other and looking generally very happy.
Conversations with mum tend to be very much question and answer. When we run out of things to ask or say, mum will ask us things. For example, she often asks “how is my mam?” – which is the most telling and most heart wrenching aspect of meeting with her. We stopped telling her that ‘mam’ had died forty odd years ago, long before she entered the residential home. Instead we now say that ‘mam’ is doing ok.
My mum had spent some time, long before I was born, in a local sanatorium for T.B. patients. She’d contracted T.B. from her brother, returning from naval service in the far east. I wonder now, if that’s where she thinks she is because having asked how her ‘mam’ is, she often says – “she’s a natterer you know, I don’t want her to be nattered”.