I’m in Mum’s house of the past two months. Boxes still clutter the front room and clothes are in piles in the bedroom while cupboards sit empty. I know Mum isn’t very capable of organising her belongings – I found a box of alfoil on her bed and rice in the laundry – so I offer to help.
“Would you like me to help you put some of these clothes away for you?” I ask.
“What clothes?” she asks blankly. I gesture through the doorway towards the mounds on the suitcase, on the dressing table, the chest of drawers.
“It must be a lot of work. Do you want help putting it away?”
Mum purses her lips and shakes her head. “No, I’ll get onto it in the next couple of days.”
I leave it at that. After all, the bedroom is her personal space and I try to respect that.
She wanders off and potters around and I think of other ways I can attempt to get the house in order. I go to the front room and take the folded empty cartons to go in the back of my car. I move a chair so there is more space in the room. I look in a box of rubbish and take that out to the car, then come back to figure out what to do next. A box of towels and sheets is open and I know I can easily put those in a cupboard without being too intrusive.
Mum wanders back and I try to check with her. “Is it okay if I unpack some of these boxes?”
She shakes her head and walks back down the hall, muttering, “There’s too many people…”
I follow her and grab her arm. “Mum.” She stops and looks at me. For a moment I wonder if she recognises me, if she thinks I am a stranger invading her home.
“I just thought I could help unpack those boxes out the front – make it look a bit tidy.”
“If I had my way, I’d throw it all out,” she states.
“I’m getting out of here,” she says, and walks back out to the front room.
“Why? What’s going on?” I try to get some sense out of her. Her face is upset and I grab her arm again.
“Come here. Come sit down.” I guide her to a chair and I kneel at her feet. Mum’s eyes are welling with tears. “What’s going on?” I ask her.
“I’m getting out of here,” Mum says again. “I shouldn’t say, but I’m going to a friend’s place at Toowoomba tomorrow. We’re going up the coast.”
My mind whirls. I know Mum and her husband can’t leave tomorrow as their van isn’t fixed yet. I wonder if Mum thinks she is going for a visit, or if she plans to leave for good. But there isn’t much point trying to work out details… she is obviously upset and is not happy here.
I think of my own well-meaning efforts in getting Mum and her husband moved 3 500 km across Australia for ‘their own good’. I feel guilt and concern for Mum, uprooted from her home of the past 10 years. I know she is better off in terms of physical health but her emotional wellbeing is not the same.
“Mum.” My own voice strains and I try not to burst out crying. “I want you to be happy here. Aren’t you happy?”
“I want to go visit my friend.”
“I know you must be lonely here. I’m sorry, Mum.”
Mum looks away and presses her lips together. She stands up and is stuck in the middle of the room, not sure where she is headed.
“We want you to live here, so we can get to know you. So the kids can get to know their grandparents. You know, Jessie and Amarina. They want to know you.”
I feel like I have interfered too much and I wonder if they could just up and leave after all our efforts to find a safe place for them. I feel ashamed that I have been too busy with work and my immediate family to spend more time ensuring Mum feels loved and part of our family. Mum cries and I cry, and I pick up my gear and put it in the car. I buckle Jessie into her seat, and I come back to latch the gate.
Mum is watching me. “Are you going now?” She seems reluctant to see me leave.
“Yes, Mum. I have to get Jessie home for a nap.”
“Where do you live?” Mum asks.
I tell her, “Just 15 minutes down the road, Mum. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
She comes over to hug me and cries into my chest. I hug her in return. She steps back.
“I’d like to go visit Mrs Rickard one day,” she muses.
“It’s not far, Mum.” I see some glimmer of hope. “We can go for a drive, a day trip. We can go to Queen Mary Falls too and have lunch there. Would you like that? Do you want to go this week?”
“Oh, not this week, how about the weekend?”
“Yeah, sure, we can do that. We’ll all go for a drive to see Mrs Rickard.”
I stand at the gate and pat Mum on the shoulder.
“Mum – I love you.”
“What’s that?” she asks.
“I LOVE YOU,” I say again, loudly.
“Mmm,” she says, and looks away.
I sniff and smile. “I’ll come back tomorrow.”
“Why?” Mum asks. “Where do you live?”
“Just down the road; not far,” I reassure her.
“Do you want us to come and visit one day?” Mum asks me.
“Yeah, that’d be nice.” I get in the car. Mum stands beside the car and I talk to her through the window.
“I’ll drop in tomorrow.”
“Okay.” Mum nods and shrugs her shoulders up to keep out the cold air. She wanders back into the yard.
I drive out to the main gate and see Mum in my rear vision mirror, standing in the doorway of the house. I angle the car better so I can see her, and wave wide and big out of my window. She waves back and I drive away.