Mum’s forgotten how to make her porridge. And her cup of tea.
She stands there in front of her bowl of soaked porridge, staring at me. Waiting for my instruction.
Put the porridge in the microwave for 3 minutes, I say as clearly and patiently as I can.
3 minutes - in the microwave, I repeat.
She’s been making her porridge for years, and especially over the last year since she moved in, I’ve been proud to acknowledge that ‘Mums not that bad, she prepares her own porridge and tea in the morning…’
She puts her bowl in the microwave and presses the start button 3 times. She removes her porridge and stands and looks at me.
Add a banana, I say, as I point to the bananas. She takes one and shows me. I nod my head.
Add it to the porridge, I continue. She peels it and places it whole in the porridge. It sticks out like a weird tower. Cut the banana up into pieces. I point to the knife. She manages the task.
Now add some sugar. She knows where the sugar is. I have labelled all the condiments - Sugar, Tea, Milk Powder… Now her porridge is complete - cooked, with added banana and sugar.
She stands and looks at me.
Go eat, I tell her.
No mix? She asks.
You don’t have to mix it, you can eat it as it is.
She stands and looks at me again with her porridge in her hand.
I point to the couch. Sit there, you can eat your breakfast now.
I feel it’s time for a smile or two, cos I feel I’ve been too sharp, not gentle or kind enough.
But I don’t feel like smiling yet.
Did you make yourself a cup of tea?
No, she answers meekly.
Why not?! I speak roughly.
It’s hard, this slow worsening dementia. I feel for her, but at times it’s so testing on my patience.
She shows me a cup with a teabag in her other hand. I nod my head. It has sugar in it already. Then I nod at the kettle. ’Hot water’, I direct.
She shows me the cup of tea once she’s poured the water in.
I then say ‘milk’ and point to the milk.
She stands and looks at me, waiting for my next instruction.
Sit down, I try to say more kindly. I nod towards the couch. Mum stands, very still, taking time to register the last instruction. She notices my change in tone and comes and kisses my hand, then heads towards the couch with her porridge, banana and sugar, and her cup of tea.
I call out, Stir your tea.
But she’s confused, as she holds the teaspoon in mid air. I can see her wondering, Does Jane mean ‘stir the porridge’ or ‘stir the tea’? I emphasise ‘tea’.
She finishes eating, and comes and stands next to me, looking at me.
Waiting for some instruction on what to do next.
I need to walk away as she stands next to me staring.
I breathe a few times, and then return to my seat.
Typing on my laptop helps me.
She is staring at me again. Just standing and staring directly at me, about a metre away.
This time I smile.
She shuffles around.
Again, she stands and stares at me. I know she wants instructions on what to do next, but I need some time out - a few minutes - then I will connect with her again and smile, and she will smile back at me with her missing tooth.
Bee comes downstairs. It’s Saturday morning and she’s had a good sleep after working hard for 3 long days straight. I read what I’m typing to her and Yasha. Bee says I should write about my life, and one day I’ll also grow old and have dementia like ‘nana’ and I will read the story I wrote about her but I will be reading about myself.
It’s the ‘Cycle of Life’ I tell Bee.
Mum’s standing at the doorway. I look at her and smile. She comes to me and takes my hand and kisses it again. ‘Only because of you I am alive.’