You clean the excrement and blood from the commode. So I don’t have to. So my sister doesn’t have to.
On 63 year old knees, you have just pushed my decrepit father, all 15 stone of his withering frame, across the slideboard that connects his high chair with the commode. I have dragged him. My back hurts. But not as much as yours. This is a son’s duty. But I only visit. This is your daily routine.
You have watched my father fade over 22 excruciating years.
Dialysis. Broken hips. Stents. Cardio-obstructive pulmonary disease.
You have protected me from the horrors of my dad’s health problems over these years. Hospital trips in the middle of the night; so many you have spared me.
‘Why don’t you just fuck off?’ barks my prone dad at you after you plead with him to try and shift himself across the commode. You plead with him out of annoyance and to save my back.
We have clung to hope for years but my dad tells me later this Christmas night that ‘there’s nothing left’. Maybe he has given up? I couldn’t blame him. He has tried and tried. He didn’t deserve this. And neither did you mum.
Later, I cry under his eyes. You are preparing dinner.
My dad has resigned himself to the inevitability of physical decline. His decline. This resignation brought the tears.
He can’t have another kidney. Antibodies. Too frail from the failed hip replacements. A life of dialysis. He is 64. Immobile. Hoisted everywhere. Dependent. But an inspiration to me. My dad. Like you are my mum.
You didn’t fuck off. You stayed. You cleaned the commode. Again.
In sickness and in health.
You get his pills.
You feed him.
You pay the bills.
You clean the house.
You maintain the garden.
All while carers stampede through your home. Two carers. Four times a day. Some are ok. Some aren’t. I believe you. There are so many things you wished they would do to help. I wished for those to.
You tell me how they dictate to you; ‘get this’, ‘do that’. This riles me. And infuriates you.
You contend with social workers, doctors, nurses, the two-decade long nightmare that is the Department of Work and Pensions; all with their own (often financially driven) agendas and ideas, so rarely aligned with yours. Ours.
You fight. I admire you. I know what it is to fight now. To stand up for what you believe in, for what you value, for what you live for; the best care for your husband.
You look after your vulnerable and fragile 99 year-old mother. You sleep at her house on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve so she can save the extortionate night-time carer bills.
You babysit for my sister, waking at 4.30am twice a week, driving in the middle of the freezing Winter night thirty five miles to my sister’s house so she can work and provide for her children.
Seeing your one year-old grandson gives you pleasure. You deserve pleasure. You have sacrificed so much for us. I am not a parent. I don’t really understand. I would like to give you grandchildren too mum. To bring you some happiness.
You are getting more and more annoyed with dad and your desperate situation. I understand this. I don’t love you any less. My life would have taken a much harder direction if you weren’t there. Perhaps too hard.
I feel guilt when I am living my life, drinking, watching TV, wasting time. Things you cannot experience as you are at dad’s beck and call. But I know you want me to lead my life, to flourish. I will.
I want to make you prouder. I will.
Thank you mum, for the food you put in my stomach, the roof you put over my head, the hours you spent helping me revise for my A levels, the contacts in my industry you forged for me, the car you bought me, the flat you will.
After we left you and dad that Christmas night, I drove my sister home. As her boys slept, I asked her what she did when she had asthma attacks as a child.
She said you would tell her to ‘just breath’.
Your words, her mum’s, reassured her.
She said she would fall asleep with you watching over her in a chair.
This is love.
I love you so much mum.