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The Move

We drive in an uncomfortable silence to Mossel Bay for the appointment with the physician. At Albertinia my Mom tries to see the two elephants in the game reserve.

I see them standing close to the road, mother and child. She misses them.

After her last bad fall in the bathroom, she is too scared to walk, complaining of pain in her leg. The X-rays showed a cracked vertebrae. She can no longer go to the bathroom on her own.

My drive to Heidelberg where I picked her up was also in silence. I tried to listen to a podcast but switched it off. Then some music, but preferred the silence. There are so many thoughts, unresolved emotions and uncertainties. I have been giving advice to people for the past 26 years on parents moving into Care Homes. I never thought that I would have to do this one day… Somehow, I thought it would not happen to us.

My Mother was the matron of the local old age home. She lived in the home for many years, always on duty. She loved her job and was very good at it. She brought light, love and laughter into the home. She was criticised for always opening doors and windows. She loved the garden, helped out in the kitchen and was a real death doula. She saw every resident every day.

Living with a companion after my Father’s death was not as easy as we thought it would be. One resigned, and a second one was recruited. It was not working for my Mom. We tried. There was not that match or connection that we hoped for. After two years we realised that my Mother was getting lonelier and that she was depressed. The old age home suddenly became an option – for us. Certainly not for her. The doctor eventually convinced her, and yet she could not imagine herself moving.

We went to look at a room – the deja vù of going back to this place where I spent many years of my life was eery. It felt as if nothing had changed. Indeed the sisterin-charge when my Mother was the matron was still there. She had been working here for 47 years. The room is north-facing at least, right next to the entrance. We try our best to be upbeat, chatting to friends who had also made the move, and pointing at how sunny the room is. All 3,5 × 3,5 meters of it. Small basin. Brown cupboard.

Linoleum tiles. There is a Hibiscus in the front of the window. We don’t mention the fact that the shared bathroom is down the passage.

My Mother’s joy in life (and slight obsession) is Sally, the Maltese poodle (well sort of Maltese…) who is not allowed to move with her. We don’t discuss this. I am not brave enough. I can give advice, consult, and convince others. But not my own Mother. I feel completely helpless, cruel, and a failure for not having made a better plan.

Mossel Bay feels a million miles away. We comment on all the trucks on the road. Silence. My Mother says the fields are dry. I agree. The road feels endless.

The physicians offices have chairs that are too low for older people. An explosion of red Anthuriums adorns the desk. The ladies behind the counter chat loudly, typing away on their computers. We wait. And wait. An hour after the appointment time we are called in to the doctor’s surgery. My sister joined us from PE. We sit in a row in front of his desk. My sister says like school children in the head master’s of ce. His chair is a Pilates ball. Somehow his surname rings a bell…

My heart sinks to my feet when the Physician walks in….the same man who would not honour my Father’s Advanced Directive after his stroke. He does not recognise me. I screamed at him at the top of my voice two years ago – the nurses had to close the doors to the other patient’s rooms.

He is thorough in his investigation. Almost impressive. He thinks my sister and I are husband and wife. We help him out. My Mother is confused. We help her out. We go for lunch (it is not after 16h00). My Mother has her favourite pancakes with cinnamon sugar. She is old. Frail. Stoic. Stubborn…but laughs at herself. My heart breaks.

On the way, we saw an ambulance with ashing lights going at great speed. I remind my Mother that she once was the local ambulance driver – often we would wake up in the morning to hear that she had taken a patient to Tygerberg or Groote Schuur in the middle of the night – a 360km ride. At 08h00 she would be back at work. She smiles at the memory. I told the doctor that she was also the Midwife. And District Nurse. And Matron. My formidable Mother who cannot remember what she had for breakfast. My Mother in whose footsteps I followed, trying to create a life worth living for older people. I think I failed…

Tomorrow I go to x up her room, trying to redeem myself by making it pretty. On Monday we will take her to her new “home”. I think (hope/pray?) that she will be happy. My heart breaks…

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