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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Illusion, truth and reality (Part 3)

Over days – weeks in fact – my mother recovered from the effects of the hallucinogens in the drugs she had been given, and lucidity returned. After I came back to Armidale, Jan recounted in emails how Mum had dealt with this.

   Firstly, she grappled intellectually with the fact that if she were still seeing things that others were not, they were existing only in her own version of reality. By carefully checking what Jan and others round her were seeing and experiencing, and comparing those with her vision of the world, she was able to make the distinction between her reality and that of everyone else.

   This is a good deal harder to do than you might imagine, and it is a tribute to her strength of mind that she was able to take this to the next logical step. She was able to push away the imagined things, still vivid and real enough to lurk there, and in time to lock them down in the darker recesses of her consciousness.

   After some time with Jan, she was able to return to her unit and resume 'normal' life, though poor Jan and Ken had to be doubly alert with visits and phone calls to her about food, water and medications to allow her the degree of independence she still retained during that period.

   But we all knew that it wasn’t going to last. Jan had had some indications for quite a while that Mum was not holding it all together all the time. For example, she was a fiercely competitive Scrabble player with a vast vocabulary, and if you sat down to a game with her you knew you were in for a tough contest which often ended in getting well and truly thrashed. Yet Jan told me during this time that she was having ‘some very peculiar’ games of Scrabble with Mum, which was both vaguely amusing and more obviously disturbing, as it was clear that Mum’s rational faculties were now struggling to retain their hold.

   And I am sure she was well aware of that herself. In an email to me then (yes, at 89, she could still manage to cope with the technology), she wrote of how hard it was to write in her normal faultless English; how depressing to look up at what she had written and see it full of errors and to have to make the effort to correct them. Even more importantly, how hard it was for her to hold her thoughts together for long enough to get them down in a coherent form.

   It was a letter from her lucid mind, still strongly dominant, that contained a warning. I could see, plain as day, what Jan was well aware of. I’m also certain, as I said, that Mum could see it herself. Sometime in the not too distant future, she would not be able to retain that discipline sufficiently to get through living on her own.

   It was a message from an increasingly life-wearied mind, wracked also with the pain of losing Kay, her beloved youngest daughter, to breast cancer just two years before. Our dear youngest sister. It nearly broke her heart, but she bore it with fantastic courage and dignity.

   Still, with Jan’s determination (and Lyn’s, when she came down to help lift the burden a little off Jan’s and Ken’s shoulders) to allow Mum the independence she craved, the weeks stretched to months. But little by little, the strings binding lucidity were loosening.

   And then came the news that must have crushed her spirit completely. In December of that year, I was diagnosed with this highly aggressive brain tumour. Was it reasonable to expect that she would have to go through once again the terrible suffering of a parent to lose not one but two of her four children to a ruthless disease?

   I don’t think so. There is little imaginable to compare with that cruelty. If one were forced to go on living, why would not one wish to find a more bearable place to dwell?

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