40 degrees and climbing. The beads of sweat pour down my forehead and the sun is only just rising. Our summers are always hot but it’s been a while since we experienced these temperatures. Last summer, August to be exact, Francis, my husband, and I, were strugglying up the last part of the hill to our daughter’s house in Germany, in 35 degrees, and I remember saying to myself that Malta was cooler at that time. Not today! It’s 22 degrees in her little town, with some rain here and there. I would not mind trudging up her hill at this very moment.
When I was a child, summer always meant swimming. Even today. I love the sea and feel my stress and troubles all wash away as my body enters the water and that beautiful rush of cold touches my skin. As I push myself under, that feeling of weightlessness is so calming, so relaxing.
My love of the sea is thanks to you, Mum. You took us to the swimming club every day without fail. I was a member for 45 years before I closed that chapter, and which I will eventually write about.
When dementia raised its head, it was our turn to take you swimming. Dad and I kept up our daily routine of turning up at the club gates just as they were opening. We were always first in and first into the large seawater pool or the sea. What a sensation! The whole pool to ourselves…what else can one ask for?! You loved the sea and, as the years wore on, as your smile faded away, the sea was the only place in the world where it would appear. The moment you touched the water, we would see that expression of delight!
We never allowed your dementia to take away this pleasure and no hurdle could stand in our way. This was always our priority..our prerogative.
There is one scene which I will never forget. Your dementia was worsening and you were losing the ability to swim alone. One quick decision and we moved to the children’s pool to ensure your safety. As your feet touched the bottom of the pool, your body automatically moved upwards into a little jump and you chuckled. We all laughed together and this became our game.
Not a child’s game though! You were not a child and no person living with dementia should be referred to as one. You were an adult, in your 70s too, and had just found something that made you laugh and that, in turn, made us laugh with you.
During one of these episodes, a young woman came to watch our little game. I remember her being tall, and in her early thirties perhaps? She was watching my mother with intense concentration, but, as I looked up at her, I saw this deep sadness in her eyes, tears trying to break through and run down her cheeks.
She turned to me and said how lucky I was to have my mum. At that moment, I felt mixed emotions. Lucky was not the word, not for me and not for mum. However, the young woman managed a few more words and told me that at least my mum was near me and I could touch her, I could feel her. She then walked away, leaving behind silence and sadness. Yes, her own mother must have passed away and she was devastated. My tears joined hers. Even now, they slowly trickle down my cheeks.
To this young woman, whom I never saw again, I empathise, I understand, I know how you feel.
For a mother gone leaves a void that no one can ever, ever fill.