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A Life Less Lost: Chapter 72

...I am drawn then to the far end of the long corridor, past the staff room. Recollections of a hundred tiny kindnesses, a gentle kiss, a cuddle, a dignity respected, lift my spirits.

Determined, Rose plods past me on her never ending circuit of the passageway. Her hand grips the safety rail that runs its length. I shout a greeting and smile...

Kimm Walker continues her profoundly moving and compassionate account of a family which has suffered more than its share of cares and troubles.

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April 2005

I try to hide my crinkled nose in a smile of greeting. The carer turns to lock the door behind me, a solid barrier against the fresh spring breeze outside. Over-warm air, heavy with smoke, industrial strength cleaning products and the indignity of adults in nappies, encases me.

Signing the fire regulation, black-bound and lined visitor's book recalls a memory. From ages past, I see a simpler book on whose pristine pages my mother had painted evocative, miniature watercolours to cheer her friends. Her life had finished before all the pages received their joyful reminiscences. A tragedy and yet...

Through another locked door I greet a wraith, mumbling and loitering near this escape route. He brings his face within an inch of mine. Puffing and blowing, his breath is sour and his manner threatening to the uninformed. I shake his hand reassuringly and say his name. The skin feels cool even in this warm place and stretched smooth across the bony fingers. He smiles and turns away.

Peeping into a small lounge, the curtains clean but pulled awry, my eyes rest on a wheelchair bound soul with sightless eyes in a saggy, basset hound face. His hands are cupped together on his lap. 'Sweetie please?' he says.

'Sorry, Fred, I don't have any sweeties today,' I reply sadly.

The other occupant, a long lean man dressed in a rugby shirt, his distorted frame supported by brightly coloured cushions and a child's cow shaped furry backpack. In his silent world, chin locked onto his chest, even smiles are denied. His wife, so often by his side, is not there today and concern for her recurring bouts of depression flares across my mind.

I am drawn then to the far end of the long corridor, past the staff room. Recollections of a hundred tiny kindnesses, a gentle kiss, a cuddle, a dignity respected, lift my spirits.

Determined, Rose plods past me on her never ending circuit of the passageway. Her hand grips the safety rail that runs its length. I shout a greeting and smile.

'Eh? What'd you say?' she bellows in return.

'Hello Rose,' I raise my voice another decibel and smile as widely as I can.
In the large L-shaped lounge I notice the new carpet and an elderly man trying to pick the pattern off. The ragged armchairs have been replaced with stylish, matching ones and I feel grateful that these things are deemed important but not at the expense of the care given.

Wartime music is pulsing loudly and Hattie swishes up to me with an infectious but toothless grin. I bend, as she presses her soft, road-map-lined forehead to mine and says, 'Do you want to dance, Sally?'

Holding her hand, I sway and smile encouragingly. She lifts her skirt above her knees and dances a little dance for me, all the time telling tall tales about Charlie and Sally and whispering about the mischief we used to get up to. Then she moves away to another Sally or Charlie, lighting dark corners with her bright memories.

At last I spot the one I seek. She's in a corner asking incomprehensible questions to one unable to answer. Her fingers work incessantly, brow furrowed deeply and scarred where she's fallen in her anxiety, rushing nowhere on frail legs.

'Hello Mum,' I say gently, touching her arm and bending to place my face in her narrow line of vision.

'Ahhh,' she smiles, as she sees that I am one of hers.

'Shall we go up to your room?' I ask, leading her towards the locked door. One of the cheerful carers struggles with a cluster of keys to let us out.

'How's life clipping you?' she asks.

'I'm fine Mum,' making sure I smile because the words have no meaning now.

'One of the, I was going to say, what are?' she asks, her body language indicating she wants an answer.

'This lift is noisy,' I reply. Her muscles are tense and the fingers are still chattering away.

'Thought you were making yourself dilling.'

'Come on Mum, let's go into the lift.' There is no recognition of her image in the large mirror that dominates the tiny space.

She cannot understand my directions and resists physical prompts so it takes ages to negotiate our way to her room. It is clean and tidy, photographs of her children and grandchildren dotted around. Her mattress is on the floor so that when she falls out in the night she won't hurt herself. Bars would only frighten her. A soft throw over the two-seat settee, a pretty cushion and teddy bears are tactile attempts to comfort and reach into her muddled mind.

'I've looked at that miline one,' she tells me.

'Shall we sit here for a while, Mum,' I suggest, sitting down and trying to gently manoeuvre her beside me.

'We'll have to be adrose together.' For a moment she is quiet and looks at the floor, as if lost.

'It's a lovely day, Mum.'

'Oh hello, luv. I keep forgetting.' She smiles, seeing me, as if for the first time. 'How are for?'

I tell her in snatches about her son and other family news using pictures to help her remember but it has gone. She can only listen in tiny bursts but chatters happily, her muscles slowly relaxing, her hands finally still.
The photos and her hands remind me of the long hours of work she did in the mills and at home rearing six children. The muscular calves made large from walking miles in the Yorkshire hills and valleys have disappeared from her skeletal frame. The gaunt face barely resembles her smiling one captured in the photographs.

Her heart was more than equal to making room for me, the other wives and husbands and the many grandchildren. I remember her saying that it was important for parents to have a regular time together, backed up by the offer of free babysitting. I can hear her laughter and smell the roast chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, puddings swimming in custard that we often shared on those Friday nights before we went out. Her common sense advice, only ever offered on request, support and encouragement filled the void of my own mother's loss.

'Can I have some artimicial?' she asks.

I search in her drawer and find some chocolate.

'Mmmm,' she murmurs as I put a piece into her mouth. She gives me a chocolaty, coquettish grin.

'Is that nice?' I giggle with her.

'They seem very enjoyed by each other,' she adds.

As she tires, I take her back downstairs where she will be whisked into her pyjamas by skilled hands.

Mum smiles into the familiar face of the friendly carer and forgets that I've been.

I know better than to say goodbye, as the ache of parting would remain even if she couldn't remember why. I wait beside the locked door to be set
free, sign myself out and hurry back into the springtime.


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