Full circle

full circle

“I’ve always wanted a rag doll.”

“Sorry nan?”

“A doll. A rag doll. I’ve always wanted one. I never had a doll.”

“How come?”


My gran, my nan, said this to me when she was in her 80’s. This woman who I loved and held our family together, as much as she could, and had been through a fucking hard life, just wanted a doll at the end of it.

We talked a lot about this, and this is another story entirely but, the thing with nan is, and you’d love her if you’d met her, if you asked her a question, any question,  she’d look at you and give you an answer which would always make you smile. I remember a conversation between my mum and my gran, my mum’s mum.

‘Does my hair look good mum?’

‘I’m your mother not a miracle worker. You get the receding hairline from your father, but you look beautiful Patsy. You always do.’

My turn now.

‘Nanny. Shall we have pizza?’


‘Why not?’

‘Because it’s cheese and tomato on bread. So it’s silly. It’s posh cheese on toast. Also, you should never eat anything bigger than your own head, and it’s bigger than mine, so I can’t. For religious reasons. ‘

Gran fell into a fire at the age of 3, was admitted to hospital and her mum was told she wouldn’t survive, and shouldn’t have. Gran always said “Wheesht” when others relatives who flew out of the woodwork as I grew up said ‘Oh Molly you were dead and don’t say anything else.’ Gran’s mum went off to make her life because Gran, Molly, was very almost dead, but Molly survived. My gran grew up in a workhouse and then saved enough money to find her mum, and leave her life in Ireland and meet a man, have children, live a life and so, kinda, that’s why I’m here.

What if she’d not survived the fire?

You’d not be reading these words.

I’ve seen a lot of nursing homes for mum recently and something and some things have struck me. Aside from the frustrating paperwork and terrible communication from the agencies in charge of these matters, there are things that have made me sit and stop and think. And cry my optic juice out at moments when I’m alone. But one thing I saw, makes me cry as I type this.

She’s holding a doll.

I’m a dad to two children and I was a loving father before they were born. When I first held them, crying, shitting and pissing themselves, small and delicate, needing feeding and love and all that goes with that, I knew I could do that. That was easy. The shitey world of my world disappeared as I changed a nappy, or sat trying to spoon Weetabix into a mouth that moved left when I went right, and so on. I’m one of those pain in the arse parents who laughed as Weetabix sealed itself to the skirting board after it flew from a spoon, and smiled while being covered in reflux vomit. I’m lucky. Not everyone gets to be a parent. And it’s love innit. Unconditional. Always.

I’m also a son to a mother, and as I’ve mentioned before, mum has had such a grave turn of health that SHE is now screaming, crying, shitting and pissing herself, small and delicate, and needing feeding which she can’t do herself.  That’s managed by a PEG feed, which keeps her alive but the love that goes with that? Hmmm. Our relationship has been hard as I’ve said before. Not everyone gets to be a parent, but everyone is a child, and so it’s love, innit. Unconditional? Questionable.

No moaning. Just get on.

But I never signed up to this. Mum made her choices when she drank herself into this state. I just tried to stop it all. And so it is. It is what it is.

I’ve seen a lot of nursing homes recently and I’ve met the staff who manage them, and talked. In all cases but one, we’ve talked money. Not an overriding thought in my mind as mum being settled is the overriding thought, but when one nursing home manager meets you and says ‘Hello, let’s talk money’ and I shit you not, that’s how that opening gambit went, it’s there. Money. And it costs a lot. A nursing home we saw was £1500 a week, and for someone who could live for 5 years with good nursing care, that’s a lot of £1500’s per week.

She’s holding a doll.

I’ve been shown around rooms which will be suitable for mum. Her nursing needs will be addressed and cared for and would you like to see the lounge? Of course said me. HQ came with me. I was prepared for this, I’m not sure she was.

The smell of wee is unavoidable, sadly. Not from me this time. They all looked happy and one room looked like a small room, but that was because the residents had visitors. I waved, smiled and said hello. It felt right for mum, as much as it can.

Would you like to see the dining room? Not that that’s what your mum will be using a she’s on a PEG but it’s a sociable area where people can get together and we also use it for activities.

She was holding a doll.

I said something like mum isn’t sociable and if you try to get her to do an activity she’ll probably tell you to bugger off. It got a laugh. Thing is, that isn’t true. Mum would probably just sit there crying.

Things one needs to know about putting people into a nursing home. Costs, labelling of clothing, talking about their toilet needs and feeding needs. Discussing activities they do during the day.

I remember when Keela and Tiernan first started at playgroup. We talked costs, labelling of clothing, toilet needs, feeding, activities and what they would do during the day and it all goes full circle.

3 and 83. Same needs. But different.

We saw a nursing home for mum, which I didn’t like, and HQ and I pounced on the word ‘shit’ to describe it but I left with one overriding image, and this is the point of this ill-formed ramble. In the lounge there was a woman in her late 70’s, early 80’s perhaps, and she was holding this doll so tenderly. She was stroking this doll, and something cracked inside me, and I cried in the car when we left.

Full circle.

3 and 83. Same needs. But different.

This woman was like a wee girl. This woman I saw in this nursing home has lived a life. Been through school, had a job. Had children, grandchildren, great grandchildren perhaps. She could be a mother, grand mother, great grandmother. An aunt, a sister, a wife, a friend to many. Lives and a life. Label her clothes, toilet needs, what are the activities, does she have her doll? It’s very similar to what my daughter would be doing at the age of 3.

She was holding a doll.

Seeing a person in their later years holding a doll so tenderly, like a three year old would made me cry and I cannot ever be clever enough to find the words to explain why. If it was me? Stick a bag on my head FFS. Pillow over the face. I don’t want that.

I’m in this middle world. I once had a mum who I could go to for a chat if shite went shitey. Usually she got me drunk and it helped for a day. But I can’t do that now.

Parents sort out stuff don’t they? I’m only 41 and have no senior figure to ask for advise. Well, no-one who knows me anyhow.

I have to look up, and care for a generation above me, and down, to one which is… well. My children. One I will do gladly, because its unconditional. The other I have to do. And I feel shite for saying that. I feel like the worst person on earth for admitting that I would rather she was dead. She’d rather be dead than sit in an incontinence pad all day. Perhaps that’s a first. Mum and I agree on something.

And I’m 41 and I’m not grown up enough to deal with some of this and I have to be doing that thing of intergenerational parenting. And all I can think is that she’s holding a doll.

I don’t know of the cognitive state of this lady in the home, but if it was me. I wouldn’t want that. But it’s so easy looking out and thinking in.

Perhaps I got this wrong. Perhaps this lady was holding this doll because, no matter what her age or health, she wanted to care for it. So that’s good. .

Perhaps she’s like my gran.

Perhaps she always wanted a doll.

And she’s happy.

Thanks for reading.


18 responses to “Full circle

  1. I thought I’d seen most things in my job, but that lady with the doll is an image I’ll never forget. I’m glad I was able to be there with you. Know this Blue. Your nanny would be so proud of the man you’ve become. XXX

    • That comment about my nanny made me weep, so much I can barely see while I type, but thank you. I fucking hope so. And thank you for holding me together through all this hideous crap. I’ll never be able to thank you enough.

  2. This is hard to read so I can only imagine how hard it is to be living it. You’re being so much stronger than I could ever have been under these circumstances, Spencer.
    You and yours are in my thoughts. Take care of you. x

  3. I’m so sorry….even though I know those words are not good enough, it’s hard to find a sentence to say how sorry I am that you have to go through this.

    When my dad died within 3 weeks of his cancer diagnosis, I was relieved for him that he didn’t have to suffer for too long – it’s the worst thing in the world when you see someone you love suffering.

    You write so beautifully.

    Take good care of yourself.

    • Thank you. I’m sorry to hear about your father and what you all went through. The shitey thing for me is mum drank herself to this state while other people get the same level of care as sufferers from diseases they cannot control, and that, in itself, is another blog post I think.

      Thank you for your comment, and thank you for reading.

  4. This is how it goes. My mother, in her final days with cancer, wearing diapers and being shamed. Knowing my father, who I used to have as my authority figure to ask those questions you mention to, can’ remember that I’ve asked them. It is an overpowering emotion and screw those people who came at you about money first, but it is that – make her comfortable so you can be. It’s a hard road Spence. You’ll come out the other side with so much (you already have) to share with others. xx

  5. Yet again,Spencer, I am on the verge of tears as I read your blog …
    You’re not wrong to say you wish your mum was dead. When I saw my beloved Gran in hospital after a stroke, unable to speak, not knowing that I was even there until I moved into her line of sight, and yet when she did notice me, smiling because it was me, and because she was always delighted to see me even now she was lying in hospital with her left side and her power of speech shot to shit and couldn’t do anything, anything at all for herself, and very likely wouldn’t be able to if she survived, I went away from there hoping and praying that she would die.
    Not because I didn’t love her. I loved her more than anything. That’s exactly why I wanted her to die. Because I know she would have hated that diminished life, and I didn’t want her to suffer, and I didn’t want all those of us around her to watch her suffering.
    Life isn’t sacred. Or, yes it is, but only when it has meaning and quality.

  6. I want to say something but I don’t know what to say. You are so eloquent and so honest about all of this and the pain is raw and there for all to see. I wish there was something I could do to make it all a little better… but I can’t, and I am sorry for that, but you will be making it better for others who read this and are experiencing similar situations and feelings. Things do get better, I promise, and you have someone to hold your hand, who loves you, who is helping you through this and will help you to come through this. Take good care of each other xx

  7. Sorry Spen. Life really is handing you a fucking awful hand. I’m glad you have your lovely lady by your side to support you. You can only do your best and try to keep it together for the rest of the time your mum is around. Hope you’ll find peace with this soon x

  8. Hard. Sad. Poignant. Pathetic. Joyous. Transformative. Sad – but I said that already.

    The struggles and desires of an entire life distilled to just wanting a doll. I cried. Your words will stay with me for a long time, Spencer.

    My best, Mx

  9. I understand that if you want care you have to pay, but it is outrageous even here in Canada. My heart goes out for you Spencer, you have been an amazing son to her.

  10. This post makes me so grateful that my parents and my husband’s parents all died without needing this type of place and that is wrong.
    I hope you find the right place for your Mum.

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