Remembering to Forget and Forgetting to Remember

When I talk to mum, on Skype, I can see her but she can’t see me.

I tell her it’s because I am afraid if I turn my camera on, I’ll slow my internet connection up and our words will trip over themselves and then stall and our conversation will be frustratingly interrupted.

But really it’s because I am afraid she will not recognise me; will think I’m an imposter.  She has before.

She knows me as her daughter in name only. 

Sometime she makes me laugh. Last Christmas we gave her an Alexa with a screen; we hoped it’d make connection easier (not recognising some members of her family notwithstanding).

We taught her how to use it, ‘See mum, easy, just tell it to Skype whoever’. Use their name. Use its name, hers: Alexa.

“It has a name?!”, she is astounded.

Sometimes my brother helps mum to navigate this new tool. Sometimes he says, ‘Mum’s on strike today – sorry, she’s had a fight with Alexa’.

Yesterday when we spoke (and I could see her but she couldn’t see me because I’d remembered to turn my camera off), I ask her why she was still in her nightdress. At 2pm.

‘How do you know that?’ She demands as she clutches at the neck of her dressing gown to draw it more tightly closed.

‘Because I can see it Ma!’ I laugh.

She laughs too then and tells me she does not feel like getting out bed. There is a disconnect now. She does not know why this feeling has descended. I am not worried, she assures me.

Perhaps Christmas was too much, she says and then, clutching at straws for explanation, ‘perhaps it’s this awful thing, you know … ‘ and she falters because Covid19 has slid off her tongue.

The virus, I prompt? Yes, the virus she says, ‘it’s dreadful’ – as if we have never discussed it before, as if it might be news to me too: ‘do you have it where you are?’

I think there is something residual of Mum’s Black Dog. Not a depression exactly, but some learned behaviour, some misplaced self-care habit, some residual sort of go-to to get-better: whenever she was overwhelmed by life in the past, she hid in her bed. As she is doing now.

Only now it’s different; she cannot remember what it is that made her feel this way. Whatever transient anxiety or thought has slid through the sieve that is her brain now and left behind a sort of pall. A niggle.

In some ways I am grateful for this loss of memory. I hope it means that the needling fretfulness is blunted for she cannot cup the worrisome memory to her. I hope it means that I can coax her, kid her, tease her out of it sooner. Out of bed sooner.

I am sad that her memory is in tatters but I am happy that when I bully her up, she laughs (in the past she’d have scowled) and it’s not a hollow laugh, a feigned thing, it’s a full blown belly laugh. 

“Oh thank you, you have made me feel so much better with your pep talk, I shall remember that for tomorrow”.

The thing is, she won’t. She’ll have forgotten by supper time. So today when I call (remembering to turn my camera off first) she’ll ask why she can’t see me and I’ll ask why I can still see her in her nightdress.

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