Thursday, 4 August 2011

Fractured lives


I had been expecting this for some time but somehow the event was still a turning point in the whole parent child relationship.

For years now I have become accustomed to the calls, in clinic, on wards.

The face will light up for a fraction of a second before the tone and the screen shows the caller; nursery or school; please come and pick H up he has had a fall and his face is badly bruised, come and take H+ home she is feverish and crying.

This time it was different.

“Come and help me” she cried, I have fallen and cannot get up on my own.
Are you hurt? No
Are you safe? Yes
Are you warm? Yes
I will be there as soon as I can

When she arrived here with her suitcase, it was with an enormous sense of relief.

Everyone was pleased, she was out of harm’s way, she would return at some point to sort things out, once everything had settled down, once it was safe.

How many times have we uttered those empty words?

When we went to look at the flat, she tried to smile, but I sensed her despair.

The previous occupant had ripped the carpet off the ground, stripped the skirting board, and removed the light bulbs.
I tried to be positive, I tried to help her visualise how it would be, how it could look.

It was hard work, but homely it eventually became.

Over time we have had run ins with the nosy neighbour, and the racist neighbours.

And over time she has gradually filled the tiny space.

At first it was the essentials, but with time have come other things.

Not one set of plates but nine.

Not one bookcase but three, and all loaded with books.

Not a few sets of bedding but twenty, and enough curtains for the glasshouses at Kew.

They are all bought for a reason, “the pattern is just like my green set at home”, “you never know when I might need it”, “it is the same make as the one I left behind”.

All bought on the cheap, all bargains, all from markets, many second hand.

This is not just buying bargains for the sake of it.

This is a sickness she shares with many others like her.

Obsessive collections.

An inability to discard anything.

A suffocating surrounding of herself with "things" for the “home”.

Replacements for all of her losses, the contents of a home, built up over decades, cherished gifts, family heirlooms, thirty years of items and the memories associated with them, thirty years of home improvements.

I tried to intervene but to no avail, as she spent the past few years desperately recreating a warped version of the old family home, in a tiny flat, in a little corner so many miles away.

People her age tell me about their retirement activities, their dancing, their holidays, their walking trips, their plans.

Our parents’ speak of different things, they have run out of plans, they surround themselves with layers and layers of “things” that will never replace what they lost.

Five years worth of “things”, with rugs in layers on the ground, and tables overflowing, it was an accident waiting to happen.

The first fall was six months ago.

I knew it would not be her last.

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