Authority dressing with limited mobility

Posted by: Margaret Harris, March 11, 2020



Mum was a stylish and glamorous woman. She was the epitome of a woman of another era, who cooked well, made our clothes, kept house and garden, played silly games, and had an aura of magic about her, which my children still miss. She was bright, lively and quick witted, and devoured books of all kinds. She could weave spells and make tiny gifts appear in all sorts of places (I would help her with her magic when my children were small; and she wove a different kind of magic as they grew up, and which they miss - now that they are young adults.

She wove spells on everyone she met: I remember how she drew admiring glances form men and women alike, they wanted to know her secrets, and she pretty much kept them to herself. Mum wore Chanel No 5 at all times, and looked glamorous even when she decorated.

I can remember when she put together a surprise party for my 18th, (she was single by then), and wore a silver-grey waistcoat and trousers which she’d sneaked from my 17 year old brother, who’d grown out of them. Naturally, she adapted them to fit her slim curvy frame. My friends thought she was cool and fun – she was!

She was also very naughty, and got away with all kinds of things! (So many secrets) She was stubborn, rule- breaking and mischievious. Yet loved by many. Mum was only 19 years older than me, and had a sister younger than me! Made for interesting family dynamics…..

Before she reached the age of 50, her health became very poor. Debilitated by RA and osteo arthritis, along with horrendous skin ulcers. Asthma, and poor organ condition also plagued her. The arthritis deformed her legs, ankles and hands, which made mobility a challenge. She had some devastating surgery to prevent amputation, but which meant that she became a permanent wheelchair user.

You can imagine that these changes to her were catastrophic. The stylish glamorous woman became invisible, depressed, and feature-less.

I would take her on a weekly basis to visit various health professionals for one condition or another.  These visits took a whole day each week out of my own schedule, which was a challenge with 3 school aged children, and a business to run! She was my Mum - so of course I was going to help!

What I found frustrating more than anything else though, was that these so-called health professionals talked to me about Mum, right in front of her, as if she were deaf and/or dumb. I’m not prone to anger, but this felt so wrong. “Does she take sugar?” sprang to mind, and I really felt that this needed addressing, both with the health workers and Mum. They would ask me questions about Mum – and I worked hard to get them to ask her directly - after all, I was only the chauffeur of the car and the wheelchair.

So what did I do about this? Each week as the day came around for the next hospital visit (which often took all day) I would turn up at her house dressed for business. The first time I did this, Mum took one look at me and got me to help her change. “Are you going somewhere important today?” she asked me. “Yes, I’m taking you to hospital – that’s important, Mum”.

It struck me as infinitely sad that all those people waiting in the hospital waiting room actually looked as if they were waiting in the funeral parlour. The healthcare professionals were there to help them! Mum and I arrived looking smart, elegant, quietly colourful. And guess what? The consultant, or the surgeon, or whoever we were visiting, spoke to Mum instead of me. Mum became more confident and hopeful. She sat up a little straighter, and I am convinced we added a few more years (quality years) to her life. Equally important, the health carers remembered her. To be fair, we were very regular visitors to 3 hospitals in particular, but Mum eventually looked forward to the interaction and options offered to her. The health professionals looked upon her more as a person, and – dare I say it – didn’t define her by her illness or condition.

When staying in hospital, (which was often for long periods of time) she would bring her Chanel perfume and her 'hospital' make up bag. Doctors, nurses and physios would stop by her bed for a quick chat, or quite often for some advice, especially on their love live! She did after all, look like a woman who still had a love life.

A particularly poignant fact is that when we held her funeral just prior to Xmas 2018, a large number of those health professionals came to pay their respects. Consultant, nurses, daily carers - they all wept for her. They recall the naughty, kind and generous glamorous woman, not her ailments. I know that by dressing well, she wasn’t just honouring and respecting herself, she was doing the same for the people she met and who cared for her, and they loved her for it.

Dressing well is a form of respect, and Mum stayed true to this with a little help from me – after all, I was just returning a favour, and the example she set me.