My Mother the Film-Maker …?

We are sitting in the garden, wrapped up warm against a nipping evening wind, watching the sun sink in the West; it settles itself low in the saddle strung between mountains, cushioned in dust and veiled by a haze so that the twilight is smoked pink. 

Mum observes it intently. She no longer understands the complicated relationship between sun and moon and earth and which revolves around which or whether one or the other revolves around its own axis and how long those revolutions take. She might as well be a sixteenth century explorer wondering at the sun falling off the edge of the earth.

Is it falling into the sea, she wants to know?


We are apparently ocean wrapped here. Aboard a ship and bound for some uncertain, unmapped destination.

Yes, the sea.

No Mum, I say, as the last long rays cling to the end of the day as if for dear life, fingerlings of light broad-spread across the far horizon, “we’re a long way from the sea”.

With practise, I am less likely to startle at the things mum says. With practise I am learning to keep up with dementia, which is a curious anomaly given that dementia is all about slowing down and going backwards.

We have a visitor. Mum has explained our relationship to her. 

“I was here for a film”, she says confidently, raising her glass of beer to her mouth to sip and padding her conversation with fiction as has become her habit, ‘And I bumped into Anthea quite by chance. It was very fortunate because then she invited me to come and live with her’.

The friend looks nonplussed.  She has met my mother before – even if my mother fails to recall this – but even understanding my mother’s memory is prone to holes, she has not yet witnessed this new habit of crudely stitching them up with fiction; fabrications which will come undone, of course, and next time the story will be threaded with some new colourful invention.  She is constantly spinning yarns.

Even I am still often astonished at to where these tales come from: A film?!

In fact, I scooped my mother up out of a cold and wintery Ireland in January. I raced there for four days, packed her up and brought her back before she had time to collect herself and resist. 

Then, back then, she mostly (sometimes grudgingly) accepted I was her daughter, she understood her place in this – in this jigsaw of family and fragmented geography – but too many of the bits have been lost since then, kicked beneath the unmade beds and dropped down the back of sofas in my mother’s unravelling mind so that none of them have a hope of ever being found again.  Then, back then, if we flicked open a photograph album, she could still easily identify my brother, whom she lived with for years and years and all through the close-knit lockups of lockdown, my brother and his family.  Now? Now nine months later there is nothing. 

Who’s that?

That’s Rob?

Who’s Rob?

Your son. My brother (always, always; I am always building links, stuffing blocks into the structure of mother’s collapsing cognitive architecture, propping it up).

My son?! (askance)

His children, their children, all of whom she know well, they are gone.

Who’s that?


Who’s Sam?

Your grandson; Rob’s eldest (more building blocks, but they are floury with age and crumble in the passing, from me to mum and they’re already undone).

Who’s Rob?

There’s a hole in my bucket and I give up.

A few months ago, Anthony and I went away for a couple of nights. The escape a necessary luxury. We left mum in the care of a minder.

When we got home she asked me where the couple who had lived here before had gone?

What couple?

Well, the ones who lived here before you, she said, impatiently, ‘You know: Them?’


Us, Ma, you mean us; we’re the only ones who lived here – live here – we’re back now.

She refused to accept we were the same Nice Couple who’d lived here until the weekend. It served as brutal yardstick: Two days, I thought, two days is all it takes for her to forget whole lives.

In the end – her feverish with frustration at where ‘they’ had gone and I exasperated by the relentless argument of it – we agreed to disagree (we do this a lot now). 

And the next day, she has forgotten entirely about any of it.

‘How was your weekend?’ She enquires with a smile.

And then you must just swallow hard, hold your tongue, gloss over it all and tell her: “It was great, Mum, thank you”. 

Sometimes my mother’s explanation as to why we share a home is apparently because she has been generous enough to open hers up to me. 

She has been here for years and years, she announces, and then, “When did you get here?” She wants to know.  She will pose the question politely. Framing it as if she is asking somebody who is not related to her: certainly not her daughter; her stance and expression and tone will speak to formality not familiarity. As if she is holding me at arm’s length. I used to mind. I don’t anymore. It is what it is: dementia. It is not her, it is the distancing by disease.

And so when some sort of exoticism is introduced to our puzzling equation – my mother the film-maker? (“Producer or director, do you think”, my sister asked, giggling, later) Film-goer? – I came here for a film – it lends odd, comic relief.

Yes, I was here for a film, my mother repeats, taking our visitor’s astonished expression as invitation to elucidate, not utter, utter speechless confusion.

Oh, says our guest: ‘How lovely’. For there is nothing else to say.

And it is; this evening, it is.


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