“Hi Mom, how are you doing?”
“Who are you? Get away from me! Nurse? NURSE!”
The nurse came quickly over, stepped between Abigail and her mother. “It’s ok Mrs Green, it’s just Abigail. You remember Abi don’t you? Your lovely daughter?”
Mrs Green looked at Abi in confusion. “Abigail? Who’s Abigail! Where’s Simon? I need to talk to Simon.” She started twisting and turning in her seat, knitting falling to the floor as she started to panic.
Abi sighed. This was happening more often, despite the medication. She leaned forward, took her mother’s hand, held it gently between her own. “It’s ok, you’re safe.” She avoided calling her mother Mom, accepting that her role of daughter had changed now, would never be the same.
“Where’s Simon? Why isn’t he here?”
Abi and the nurse exchanged glances. “Dad’s dead,” said Abi quietly, “You buried him 14 years ago.”
As her mother subsided, memories perhaps trickling in, Abi leaned forward, gave her a hug. Mrs Green hugged her back, something Abi knew was instinctive, didn’t mean she’d remembered who she was hugging, or even why.
Something else was wrong though. Abi turned to the nurse, wondered how to phrase it, went with the simple approach. “She smells of wee. Is she getting…”
The nurse gestured to stop almost immediately, cutting Abi short. They moved away from Mrs Green, a chance for an adult conversation.
“She’s been having control issues,” said the nurse, “so we’ve had to start helping her with some protection.”
“Control issues?” asked Abi, “What sort…Oh!”
The nurse nodded. “It’s not nice, for her or for us, but we do keep her clean and comfortable. It’s about an hour since I last checked her, so it’s not really a surprise if she needs some freshening up. Would you like to help?”
Abi stared at the nurse in confusion. “Freshening up? I don’t know…but yes, of course I’ll help.”
They led Mrs Green back to her room, helped her onto her bed, a flowered throw seeming to glow in the sunlight coming through the window. The nurse drew Mrs Green’s skirt up to her waist, revealing a white undergarment, thin cotton distended by something beneath. Undoing three poppers, then a fourth, the nurse pulled that up too, and Abi saw the protection her mother had been given. It too had been white but the plastic exterior was now mottled, something beneath discolouring it between her mother’s legs.
“That’s a diaper!” exclaimed Abi in shock, then put her hand over her mouth.
A glare from the nurse was interrupted by Mrs Green. “A diaper? Abi doesn’t need diapers. She’s been potty trained for months now!”
The nurse looked back at Abi, seemed not to know whether to laugh or cry. Abi just blushed and, before she turned and left the room, mouthed, “I’m sorry.”
Her mother wouldn’t notice, wouldn’t realise that she was missing a daughter, that her daughter couldn’t handle seeing her in that state. Abi knew she’d come back, knew she’d have to. After she’d had time to recover, had a hug from her husband, talked things through over a bottle of wine with her best friend.
But today was too much, too quickly. It’s never a good day when you discover your mother in diapers.