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Planning Retirement Online

Like mother, like daughter October 2005




by Sarah Frankel

Her smile radiated with the same love and devotion a mother feels for her child.


Spoon-feeding me was not something she was used to doing, but the care she took to ensure just the right amount at just the right time was touching. I lay flat on the hard, hospital bed, not allowed to be elevated or to move my right leg. She tucked the towel under my chin to ensure my dribble wouldn’t make the hospital gown dirty.


I remembered a friend’s words: “Even though you’re sick, you don’t need to look sick.” Sound advice, but I felt and looked awful. Helpless and sore. Worried and drowsy. Poignant and grateful. After feeding me with soft foods, my daughter helped me raise my butt onto the bedpan and looked into my eyes. Probably to avoid looking “down there”.

Lying flat was not conducive to having a pee, so there was rather a large area to wipe and dry. I needed her help. A look of horror appeared on her face. I burst out laughing and she joined in, realising that the game was up and I knew that she hated what she had to do for me.

The tables had turned. This was my daughter. The one I had fed, whose cheeky bum I had wiped 25 years ago. In so many ways life was a cycle and the hands of time had shifted turning my daughter into my mother. From the dependant to the independent to the depended upon. Not only did she care for me during those difficult days but also for my mother who had exhausted herself mentally with worry over my condition.

As I laughed and joked with my daughter and smiled gratefully at my mother
, I wondered whether they were as confused and concerned as I was. They got on so well, grandmother and granddaughter, and joked that it was because they had a common enemy, me!

Sometimes in life you don’t choose the moment but the moment chooses you. This was such a moment. I was a Londoner and loved my city. I loved being at home. In my space. Alone. Had I been in hospital in London, but for my friends’ visits, there would have been nobody loving to take care of my needs. I was reminded of a dreadful documentary I had recently seen about the elderly in hospital. I too could have been lonely and distressed as a cold, wet, hungry dog locked out on a miserable winter’s night.

But I was not alone. I was visiting my mother and children and, before we had time to sneeze, I was on my back going through medical procedures. Up one end, down another, the needles, wires and cameras twisted around inside me like snakes working their way through the maze of organs. The doctors had been decisive and gone into immediate action. I had collapsed, breathless and weak and they thought that I was a heart attack waiting to happen. After much prodding about with their invasive tests, they concluded that I had a problem but was not in immediate danger and referred me back to my doctor at home to continue treatment.

During the past few years I had tried to hide the seriousness of my illness from my family and regaled them with tales of my exploits on rediscovering my joie de vivre as I accepted the doctors’ advice to enjoy life. “You have a few years left,” they said. “See you soon and be careful how you cross the road!” Nobody knew when their time was up. I, however, knew that despite enjoying my “lonely” life, spending more time with my family had become a priority. We were part of the same skein and without them there would be no quality of life.

Back in my daughter’s flat I muck in and do her chores. “Put your glasses on when you do the washing up. The dishes aren’t clean enough,” she growls. “Look, you didn’t sweep that corner, the one that’s impossible to get to,” she chides, sounding exactly like me just a few years ago. Obviously she expects her brilliant Mum to do the impossible. She wants me to be normal. And healthy.

The other day she caught me putting some whites (mine, I hasten to add) in with the delicate coloured wash and shouted, “You’d wash yourself in there too, if you were thin enough to fit in!”

I was confused, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. I thought I was helping her but it seemed that she felt I was more of a hindrance; that I didn’t have her high standards, wasn’t as pedantic or perfect as she’d like me to be. I recalled how I hated having her in my kitchen when she came to stay with me, that I had my own way of doing things. Like mother, like daughter.

With my son, a chef, we keep out of each other’s hair
: I am his guest first and his mother second. Women seem to have an added perspective. I decide that peace must reign. I wear my glasses to wash the dishes, I am meticulous with the cleaning and separate out the different categories of laundry. Anything to keep my new “mother” off my back, to be able to laugh and say “One day you’ll have to wear glasses to wash glasses!”

As I sit there sewing on endless buttons lost over the past few months,
I admiringly watch the efficiency with which she wields her iron like a magic wand, turning crumpled rags into the beautifully pressed garments they were designed to be.

I wonder what has changed my once messy miss into a meticulous monster!
Having driven myself spare for years with my nagging and complaining about the state of my children’s tidiness, I knew the changes had happened in spite rather than because of me. Yes, my daughter has definitely turned into “my mother” and combined with my real mother, life is now a long series of “complaints” as they seek to house train me. It doesn’t occur to either of them that I learnt from one and taught the other.

My sense of humour seems to be a family trait and I was now certain that it has protected us
in times of stress and allowed us to overcome our frustrations with each other, underpinning the caring, loving and tolerant relationship we have. Nobody’s perfect. Not my mother, not my daughter, not my son and not me. But when we laugh at each other and with each other, we are as perfect as families could hope to be. And it’s no fault of theirs that they want me to be fighting fit.



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