Here is a poem my sister Caroline composed recently, capturing elements of the adventures of looking after our elderly parents – he teetering on the edge of 98 in December, she 96. I can only say I love it. Its acute observation of two extraordinary beings and its patience and stamina in the face of life’s adversities.
The Year of Looking After Mum
In the half-light from the Anglepoise
she is a Limavady beach back in the fifties,
the pillow curving in sand-dune folds around her silver hair,
a beached and bleached mermaid – legs as useless.
This bedroom where you and he have slept and laughed and loved.
The wedding dresses twirled, the hair bedecked,
bridesmaids fluttering like cabbage whites over the brassica.
The mystery of the missing Doll’s House, solved.
The First Man on the Moon in shuddering black and white
on a grey plastic television, which creaked and pulsed with heat;
all six of us in your seven-acre bed.
The carpet, once fluffy vanilla clouds,
now matted and reeking like a damp Labrador.
The resident ghost appearing and disappearing here, in delusion and reality,
came to stay for good when the imaginary became your life.
Hallucinations so real you could reach through the shimmering portal
and pinch their warmly yielding flesh.
Your sightless eyes following apparitions in some other parallel bedroom
where all the abandoned little boys in the world had ample chocolate
and the floor was flooded to your ankles, a rippling High Spring Tide
that wasn’t there.
Where nothing was real except my father.
Now it’s full of fading light and holding on.
Every dent and scratch on ancient walls have history.
Every mark, careless graffiti, left behind in war and peace.
What matters is the minute.
She says he loved her in an instant,
although she was wearing a stained apron, a dirty tea towel in her hand.
I think I love you, he said.
Don’t be silly, she replied.
But he was right.
The next day he came back with two new tea towels – post-war gold dust.
He had a girlfriend called Misty – she went back to America.
Mum was sad for her.
Caroline Elkington, Little Rissington, 2018