Dried Leaves and Dried Tears

Every night, when I put Mum’s television on for her, I say, ‘Not sure if you’ve seen this one, Ma, it’s part of a series; I think you might have watched some of the episodes before and enjoyed them’.

Oh OK, she says, settling down.

She’s watched them all. Several times. Some many times. Over and over and over (Anne with an E a case in point). I am learning to stick with what she likes. I remember even if she doesn’t.

A documentary about the Windsors is a current favourite.

Is that the Queen?

Where’s the Queen?

Is she still alive?

Is she married?

Last night: Didn’t we watch this on the ship?

I look at her blankly: “Your know – on the Ship? Didn’t we watch this,” gesturing with a hand flapping in the direction of the television, “this film – on the ship?”

Princess Elizabeth. 1953. Kenya – where she was when she received news of her father’s death and her imminent ascension to the thrown.

Mum. 1953. Kenya – recently relocated there from what-was Tanganyika, what-is Tanzania.

I wonder if Mum watched a newsreel about this. On a ship?  But I think I’m just optimistically clutching at straws: my mother is often adrift at sea now.


In the afternoon, a walk round and round the garden. The sun and the wind have conspired to desiccating effect, the wind huffs and puffs and blows all the leaves out of trees which litter the lawn inches deep and which crunch like cold toast as we walk across them. This thrills mum, who clings to my elbow for balance, she is childlike in her appreciation of the sound. Occasionally she gives a small kick and leaves like popadoms spin upwards.

Every time we round the same bend again, mum comments on the same view, again: the valley spills away from us and we can see for dust-dredged miles, Mt Meru a ghost on our horizons.

Which mountain is that, mum asks.

Meru, I tell her.

I tell her that every day. Sometimes several times a day.


In the evening Hat calls. She is so distressed she can barely get her words out, her speech wobbly with tears, whatever she is saying is lost to weeping.

I have to keep repeating myself: ‘I’m so sorry, Hat, I didn’t hear that.’

I am always keenly attuned to Hat’s calls and can tell within microseconds, from her first ‘hello’, how she is.  I have answered calls at all times of day and night.  I have blearily stared at my screen, as it casts my complexion yellow, at 3 in the morning and worried that I missed her call at 2.

At the height of the pandemic, when Hat’s crippling OCD spiralled almost out of control, when fathomless anxiety nagged and gnawed as she chewed over and over and over a single incomprehensible but apparently swallowing worry, I kept my phone on me all the time, ringer at full volume. Just in case. Just in case she called.  I have never felt so necessary as a mother. Nor so useless: so far away, unable to get to her or she to me.

And yet she managed, she waded through difficult days, she got the right help, she limped on and has stepped out the other side with her condition better understood and much better under control. 

Yesterday’s tears were not OCD tears. They were ordinary tears. Everyday heartbreak. They reminded me again: there is a difference, between unhappiness and illness.

You can be well and still be sad.


2 Responses to “Dried Leaves and Dried Tears”

  1. renaissancerosie Says:

    My autistic daughter repeats the same things every single day too, but not due to memory loss but rather I fancy, the comfort of repetition. Some days it drives me crazy as she expects the same pat responses each time. I have to remind myself that she struggles to understand a lot of things so her repetition of the same subjects over and over every day is also a way of her feeling she understands her world. Did you ever try the large cork board idea for your Mother’s photos? I was wondering if she found it interesting or an irritant because she can’t recall the people or places. Warmest wishes, Roz

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      Thank you. That’s interesting and Yes, i hear you – it can drive you crazy but perhaps there’s something in that: comfort. Mum doesn’t recognise many people. just her parents really. and herself. the young – her grandchildren, great grandchildren cause much confusion of course, so much changing … thank you for reading Roz x

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