By Lucy Wormald (she/her)
Lucy explores the ever evolving relationship with her mum as she enters adulthood.
My mum and I are close. As many mothers and daughters are. She oftentimes feels like an absolute blister. In other moments she is seraphic. I am forever unworthy of her unconditional softness and I’m awed by her attentiveness. We understand each other in a way that cuts through a lot of bullshit, seeing both the glory and the unloveliness of the other. And she has always been my greatest comforter.
My mum had a stroke in early January. It wasn’t an earth-shattering one. There was no collapse or ambulance, no sickening moment of a life hanging in the balance. It was a measured lapse of a stroke, like a slow motion landslide or falling asleep. She woke up one morning and could not work out how to put on her glasses. She went into the kitchen and dropped the coffee. She broke two mugs. Her hands would not listen to her brain.
She spent ten days in hospital after they did scans and found the bleeding in her brain. They pointed out the parts of her brain that had died and adorned them with results such as “left side neglect” and “vision loss” and it was suddenly as if I was looking at my mother through a very long telescope. I imagined her little bespectacled head popping out of the white sheets, her beautiful hands stalling and struggling. Her fragility crashed into me and I felt an unfamiliar protectiveness.
Her fragility crashed into me and I felt an unfamiliar protectiveness.
She told me how the patients around her were guarded by their children and she was met only by my dad. At this stage there had been no ease in travel restrictions and I was bound by a major lack of spare change and the risk of finding myself in a quarantine limbo.
Instead, I talked to her on the phone every day for hours. She was confused and optimistic and lonely and distressed. She needed soothing and reassuring, simple conversation and reminding. I began to feel a remove between the mother I was accustomed to, and the woman I was talking to. As the change in dynamic crystallised and cemented, my clarity on what this transition meant for our relationship was muddied by the technological medium in which it was playing out. The slow understanding of this shift was akin to the feeling of glimpsing someone you know on a passing train. The moment slows and you can just catch a shard of their face. There is a lurching recognition and then uncertainty as you are whipped away and your mind scrambles to confirm what you’ve seen. The distance between me and my mother meant I could not know the full change the stroke had brought, I could only pass by its silhouette again and again.
Early on there were days where I would often forget my mother’s stroke. Her tone would be authoritative and clear and there would be sharp exchanges of wit and organisation. I would forget my mother had been left with brain damage, when minor memory loss and fogs of confusion were the only identifiers. But while the stroke came as a small tremor, the emotional fallout was marked.
She would call me crying and distressed. She was grieving deeply for the self she had lost – her sense of autonomy and clarity of thought. She was deeply troubled by what she felt her ‘new self’ meant for the rest of us. I could see her navigating her sense she was now a burden to our family. I saw her embarrassed of her contracted capacity to deal with everyone’s emotional baggage and life problems. I saw her frustration that her mind would not work for her.
I saw her in her immense vulnerability and grief. And most startling to my still-child’s eyes was seeing her fear. On our video calls her eyes would become distant and distressed. She was afraid of the world around her and unsure of herself within it.
And so for the first time in utmost clarity, I see her humanity.
We often put our parents on a pedestal. If we are lucky it is not till our late teens or early adulthood that this mirage of perfection, of knowledge, of immortality is shattered by one means or another. During this new epoch I catch sight of what she may have felt in raising me – the disheartenment, the unexpected well of patience, and the burn of love.
Whereas she once was to me, I am now the cooling hand on her forehead, her comforter. She has cared for me for my entire life and now, in this strange and technological space, I can try and return that care as best as possible.
I have not seen her frailness or witnessed her arc through a day. I still do not know the full shape of how we will care for each other, as mother and daughter. And yet I am floored and moved when every day I hear an uninhibited and innate joy in her voice. A note of her true self amplified, ringing through her conversations like a single bell chime.