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A quiet Sunday

This Sunday is more quiet than usual. The squirrels are frantically collecting food – it would seem that winter is getting closer and closer. The leaves on the Japanese maple are turning, the mornings are cooler. The sun has shifted so I have to move the pot plants. A gentle rain falls in mid-morning, lasting for the rest of the day.

The silence seeps through our house like the autumn leaves swept indoors by die wind, gently settling on the carpet. I listen to Schubert and Mozart, then Mahler.

The dogs follow me all over the house, not understanding why this Sunday there is no walk to the beach.

I phone my Mother, as I always do on a Sunday. Since the death of my Father, I feel that I should phone her every day. I don’t. She is chatty, telling me how much the wind is blowing there, and that it is cold. Suddenly I wondered if they would have enough food for their replacement, something my Dad always organised for them. In winter, their re would burn day and night. “For the dog” they would say…

Living with memory loss, my Mother is missing big chunks of her life story. I have learned to not ask “Do you remember?”. I would simply tell her the stories – when I recently slipped up and asked her if she remembers my sister’s wedding, I could see that it upsets her that that particular event is no longer in the database. It breaks my heart. I showed her the photographs. She said “Is that me?”, pointing at her much younger self. “Yes”, I said. “Ek was nogal mooi…”.

In our chat, she tells me how Sally (the dog) misses my Dad. Every morning they went to the shop to buy the newspaper. Sally always got a piece of biltong from the shopkeeper. If my Dad was a bit late, Sally would impatiently bark at the front door.

My Mother is very conscious of her memory loss. “Ek voel so dom” she keeps on saying to me. I really don’t know how to respond to that, other than saying that I can understand why she feels that way. It really is impossible to imagine what it must feel like to forget your own story, your memories, the emotions and feelings that go with those memories.

Yesterday I got a picture of her with her knitting, the caption says “Ek brei tog, wê!” I know that she is trying to show me that she has not given up, even though she no longer knits any patterns, just straight rows that become snoods. I think of “keeping up appearances”, and how much energy goes into her efforts to show the world that everything is ok. It must be exhausting.

Somehow, living in the moment serves her well. Watching her favourite soapies, eating breakfast on the stoep, doing her exercises, knitting. Doing has been replaced by Being. All my life my Mother was a doer – gardening was her favourite pastime. She worked hard all her life as a nurse and, in her retirement often cared for others. She was always busy.

I now watch her slow movements throughout the day. She was known for her fast pace, you could hear her from far away coming down the passage in the old age home where she was the Matron. Haastig. Always going at a speed. Midwife. Ambulance driver. Death doula. Golfer. Badminton. Gardening.

Now, life has slowed her down. I can see that it is not easy for her. Whilst she is not confused, the loss of her story is hard to navigate. Yet, she is content. She never complains. She is extremely grateful for every gesture of care, every phone call, every visit.

My Mother turns 80 on the 30th of September. My fear that COVID-19 might take her life is paralyzing.

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