Books Magazine

Life Cycle by Jill Reidy

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
I've written all my life.  I have diaries from when I was six, short stories in exercise books and blogs on all sorts. I even self published a children's novel when I couldn't get a publisher to do it.  So this week's blog should have been a doddle.  It wasn't.  All my stories were too short or too long, so I'm hoping I'll be forgiven for this one, that's slightly longer than recommended.  The idea came to me years ago, when my grandma began to suffer from dementia, and it's only recently that I've put this down on paper.  I've always been fascinated by the passing of time, and especially within families, when roles eventually become reversed. This story has not had an airing before, and it would be good to hear what readers think.

Life Cycle by Jill Reidy
Life Cycle by Jill Reidy
Life Cycle by Jill Reidy

Life Cycle by Jill Reidy
4thAugust 1949
Dear Mags, 
Thank you so much for the card and pretty bootees.  They will be perfect to keep Jean’s feet warm once the weather turns a little cooler. I can’t believe I’m now actually, officially, a mother!  I hope this letter finds you and Charlie well, and tell Susan we’ll come over as soon as we get straight, and she can meet her little cousin in person.
Love Elsie xx PS. No, the birth wasn’t pleasant
19thOctober 1950
Dear Mags,
It was lovely to see you all last Sunday, and thank you again for our tea, which was delicious.  Jean has just started walking with her little trolley!  She’s still a bit wobbly and not always keen to have help, but we’re doing all we can to encourage her to walk independently.  We are keeping the pushchair for now as I don’t think we would get to the grocer’s without it just yet, never mind into town. She’s into everything as you can imagine. I can see we’re going to have to put some locks on the cupboard doors before long.  That’s a job for Bert.
Love Elsie xx

8thJune 1951
Dear Mags,
Potty training! How on earth did you deal with it?  I’m at the end of my tether, and running out of clean knickers for Jean, who doesn’t seem bothered in the slightest.  She hasn’t got the hang of it at all.  There’s wee all over the house, and I’m worried about the smell.  If you have any advice, please let me know by return of post before we all drown.
Love Elsie xx PS Nurse at the clinic suggested slapping Jean’s leg every time she loses control, but I’m not very happy doing that – and anyway, it didn’t do any good.

7thJanuary 1952
Dear Maggie,
Thank you for your letter. I understand your concerns about Jean’s speech, but the nurse really didn’t think there was anything to worry about. She said they all develop at their own pace and Jean has her own gobbledegook language just now.  Most of the time I find it not too difficult to understand.  Nurse seems to think she will be chattering away ten to the dozen before we know it. Susan is obviously much more of a talker than a doer.  I noticed she wasn’t keen to play outside withJean when you were over last week.
Elsie x PS the nurse has booked Jean in for a hearing test, although she doesn’t think there’s a problem.
18thDecember 1952
Dear Mags, 
I will be coming on the Number 4 bus on Thursday, about 11am.  Jean loves asking the conductor for her ticket now she has got her grommets in and she can hear properly!  I must admit, it’s made things a lot easier.  It was very frustrating talking to her when she couldn’t hear. By the way, dear, if you have any advice on sharing I’d love to hear it.  Jean had a little friend to play yesterday and refused to share any of her toys or even the sweets they had after tea.  I’ve never felt so embarrassed.  Little Christine’s mother was there, looking very disapproving.  I’m glad to hear that Susan has finally managed to pedal her bike without any help.
Love Elsie xx
19thAugust 1953
Dear Mags,
I can’t believe Jean will be starting school in only a few more weeks.  She’s still my baby and she can’t possibly be big enough for proper school. I sat last night and sewed her name into every item of clothing she owns! I can’t afford to be buying more if she loses anything.  We’re still on coupons for the time being.  Lord knows when that’s going to end.  How did Susan get on when she first started?  And, more to the point, how were you?  I fear I shall be in floods of tears when I send her in on her first day.
Love Elsie xx
4thOctober 1953
Dear Mags,
It was lovely to get all your news and to hear how well Susan’s doing at school, now she’s settled.  I’m hoping the same will happen with Jean. The first couple of weeks were dreadful. She had to be peeled off me, screaming. They kept telling me to leave her and walk away, but I just couldn’t do it, not when she was so upset.  They say she’s fine once she’s there but I’m not so sure.  I walked past the playground one day and she was standing by the fence, all by herself. I didn’t let her see me but I can tell you, it broke my heart, Mags.  Hopefully she’ll soon make some little friends, then she’ll be happier, I’m sure. Did you check with Charlie whether you can come over on the 9th?
Love Elsie xxx

22ndAugust 1965
Darling Mags, 
What can I say?  The telephone call was such a shock.  I hadn’t realised Charlie was so ill.  Bert and I will be at the funeral, of course, but we’re having a few problems with Jean at the moment, and I’m not sure if she’ll make it that day.  I’ve told her Susan will be there, but you know what teenagers are like?  Anyway, dear, take care and we’ll see you next Friday. I’ll bring ham sandwiches and a victoria sponge.  Do you want flowers?
All our love, 
Elsie and Bert xx
21stOctober 1965
Dear Maggie,
I’m sorry to hear you’ve been feeling so low, and I’m surprised you think we haven’t been very supportive. We’ve been over as much as we can, but, as I’ve mentioned before, we’re having problems with Jean.  It was bad enough when she wouldn’t come out of her room and all we could hear was music at full blast, but now she’s never in – out every night, dancing and goodness knows what else.  I put a meal on the table and she just looks at it, as though I’m trying to poison her.  She picks at it for a bit and then disappears upstairs again.  Things were so much easier when she was little.  From your last letter it sounds as though Susan is much more sensible, but even so, sometimes they need a little nudge.  I’d have a word with her dear, if you’re feeling a bit down. She should really be thinking a little more about you.
Love Elsie xx

29thSeptember 1967
Dear Mags,
The end of an era.  We dropped Jean off at Leicester Poly this afternoon.  It’s a tiny room but she seemed happy enough, in fact, couldn’t wait for us to go.  I cried all the way home but we’re back now and Bert’s putting the kettle on.  It’s just the thought of her there, on her own, knowing nobody.  I wonder how long the peace will last.  
Love Elsie xx
PS I’m sure we’ll miss her, just not the drama!

[email protected] 08.09.20012
Hi Sue,
Thanks so much for the warm bed socks and slippers for mom.  They will be lovely and cosy for her as the nights draw in. 
You asked for an update. Where do I start?  I dropped mom off at the Nursing Home yesterday, which was pretty traumatic.  I know she doesn’t really recognize me any more but it was still awful having to hand her over to a complete stranger, and to see her face as I walked straight back out (which is what they’d advised by the way).  I couldn’t see for tears as I drove home.  And then when I got home, I realised I still had her suitcase in the boot of the car – all her clothes neatly labelled with her name, so they don’t get lost.  I started off sewing the labels on, but it took me so long, and made me so sad I bought the iron on ones and raced through it so I didn’t have to think about it.  I couldn’t help remembering all the happy times when we were younger and we used to come and visit you and your mom.  How we used to wind them up and then disappear in fits of giggles.  
Well, there’s not been much to laugh about the last few months, I can tell you.  There was the deafness, which nearly drove me insane.  How dad had lived with it all those years, god only knows.  I’m just glad he’s not here to see mom now.  It would have broken his heart.  Once we got the right hearing aids at least mom could hear, even if she couldn’t understand.  It’s been so hard, Sue.  People don’t realize how awkward she can be, shutting herself in her room and refusing to come out, picking at her food, refusing to hand round her sweets. Then, one day last week, as I drove past the Home, I spotted mum, sat outside on a bench all on her own.  It made me sad to think she hasn’t really got friends any more. I know it’s the illness but that doesn’t always help.
I’ve been taking her on the bus, just for something to do.  She seems to like that, looking out of the window and clutching the ticket as if her life depends on it.  I dread anybody speaking to her as I know she’ll either not answer or come out with some gobbledegook that only I understand, but I suppose, in a way, that’s the least of my worries.
They rang me from the Home yesterday to ask me to take in some incontinence pants.  I know mom had had a few accidents lately, and I must admit, I was worried that the house would stink of pee, but I was really hoping it was just a phase.  Obviously not.  I’ve bought a huge pack and will deliver them tomorrow, along with the clothes.  They also mentioned that mum’s struggling to walk with her frame.  It seems she’s going backwards (metaphorically, not literally, although who knows what’s next!).  She always seemed OK with it when I was in the house, but she’s obviously getting more wobbly.  The trouble is she just won’t accept any help.  I might take you up on that offer of Auntie Maggie’s old wheelchair, if the offer still stands?  It will be handy when I take her out and it means we can at least get into town without too much trouble. 
It looks as though mom won’t be coming back to her house again, which is another big sadness.  I’m going to start tidying up a bit with a view to selling, although that could take a while.  The first job is to remove all the locks we put on cupboard doors to stop her getting to anything like matches or knives.  You just don’t think of all these things before it happens, do you? 
On top of all this, I’ve got Emily (at thirty two!) still at home.  As if we didn’t have enough problems with her when she was in her teens. Now she doesn’t know whether she wants to work in Superdrug or be a nuclear physicist (well, not quite, but you get my drift).  Jason’s daughter, Amber is eleven, going on twenty two, and is already throwing her weight about. When does it ever end?
Anyway, Sue, I’ll sign off now. I’m going to get out the old photo albums and take them in for mom to look through.  You never know, it might just spark a memory.
Things were so much easier when mom was younger.
Looking forward to a catch up very soon.
Lots of love 
Jean xx
PS Sue, I hope I don’t sound too harsh, I’m sure you understand.  Mum looked after me all those years and now it’s my turn to look after her.  
 She was my Mum by Jill Reidy
She was my mum
Many, many years ago I was inside that sagging belly My squirming and kicking Testament to the life within Those breasts, now flat against a caving chest Once a comfort, rounded and full,  Calling to my selfish baby lips  They nurtured and grew me The feeble arms, flesh loose  Had spent nights wrapping babies in their tight embrace Rested heavy in a tired lap Strong work-worn hands Gently wiped away my tears Now they flutter and shake Pick endlessly at imaginary fluff  Hold a plastic cup with lid and spout Just like mine when I was two   The swollen feet in cosy slippers  Once squeezed into stilettos and waltzed around the room  Ball gown wafting perfumed air  As I marvelled at the transformed beauty

Now she's my daughter
I guide the cup to thin, parched lips Wipe a whiskered chin Tuck in the sheet around her tiny form Stroke her cheek  Switch on the lamp she likes left on Small comfort in a confused and empty life Tomorrow I will brush her hair Braid it as she once did mine Bribe her to replace the dentures Wash her face and scrub her nails We'll fight over the incontinence pants  And putting on her tights I'll get her in the wheelchair Take her on the bus Let her have the ticket as I whisper in her ear  I'll walk her through the park Past the flowers whose names are now lost  In the tangled muddle of an old, old brain I'll look at the back of her neck Feel unbelievably sad And wipe away the tears that just won't stop.

Thanks for reading, Jill
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