So hard to watch: coming to terms with your own limitations

Today was not the best day. It turns out that Mum did not sleep too well. To be expected, really. It was her first night in Lovely Banks. The bed will be different. She will wake up to different surroundings. She will wake up tired. And all of that will compound to add to her confusion.

Old man and woman on a bench watching the sunset, watercolour by Erin Groenenboom

Dad and I visited at about 10:00am, and briefly spoke of our plans for the day. We would travel to Warrnambool, organise a phone, and maybe look at a few things Dad needed, and then make our way back to Cobden. Then there was a lamb roast to be cooked, and I was goIng to season and bake the potatoes and pumpkin.

We made the trip to Warrnambool, and finally made it back to see mum at about 3:30pm. By that time, however, it was clear her disrupted night’s sleep was taking it’s toll. She was rambling a little, and confusing her feeling
ill at lunchtime with having to go for a long walk away from home and thinking she was going to ‘croak’.

I made it back a second time to find that Mum was even more confused by that time. We watched as Mum rang the buzzer to go to the toilet. The carers came, lifted Mum to her feet, and took her to the toilet. Jo remarked “up to yesterday, we would have been doing that, or Dad would have been doing that, and I’m so glad we don’t have to anymore.” It’s not that we couldn’t be bothered, or that we felt the task was beneath us. I think Jo captured it when she put it in terms of being broken.

Love always has a cost. And for Dad and Jo, the cost was knowing that they had reached the limit of what they could do. The cost was realising that loving Mum meant they had to provide a level of care that they could no longer deliver. We struggled to accept the limits of our own love.

We struggled to answer Mum when she asked why she could not go with us, why we could not help her up, and why Jo and I were the only ones who were ‘allowed out’. We bit our lip as Mum came to terms with her reality as best she could…

“Can we get out? Can we leave now? Are you and Jo the only ones who can leave? Do I have to stay here by myself, then? On my own?”

“Yes Mum, you need to stay here, and Jo and I have to go. We have to be home by seven. The nurses will come and help you get changed. No, Mum, we cannot do that, they do, that’s what they are here for…”

In that moment, I remembered that as a young father, I occasionally had to leave our second youngest, Melody, at day care. She would be crying, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”, pleading for me not to walk away. But I did. I walked away and left her in day care. It was about the hardest thing I had to do.

…we just have to walk away. We have to go, and now

This afternoon I remembered that experience. When Mum was questioning why we could leave, and why she couldn’t. I made eye contact with Jo and mouthed the words, “we just have to walk away. We have to go, and now.” I knew the longer we stayed, the harder it would be to leave. So we kissed Mum on the forehead, and said we’d we there tomorrow. And then we walked away.

Grace and peace: Dave

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