My Mother's Voice

Saoirse Maxwell

Do you remember the day, Mom?
Me standing before the television listening to the evening report.
Breaking news of priests abusing children.
I heard the horrors, the destroyed childhoods. The now adults trying to cope with decades of secrets, years of terrors.
Tentatively they continued to reach for trust. For hope. For justice.
I wept.
And you Mom, you worried.
"Don't be listening to that, Tessie," "it'll only upset you."
And then I explained I was feeling empathy, I was sharing their anguish.
My pains of decades ago no longer held the same caustic ache. I had cried my way to healing in the loving care of a surrogate mother. My therapist. My lifeline.

Then we talked Mom. Woman to woman. Mother to mother. Abused to abused.
We hugged. It was easier for you now. The ten children were all grown. The housework was no longer critical. Our differences had become similarities and we had moved on. We yapped over cups of tea, chatted for hours on International calls. Sometimes, I like to think we were making up for the lost years. Giggling like sisters. Exchanging tales of babies and motherhood.

Hubby and daughter wondered when our 20-minute good byes would lessen to maybe an American two, perhaps three. We just couldn't let go Mom. There were stories to be told. Memories to be shared. This time they were the fun ones. You peddling your way down Clonkeen Road, up to Foxrock Church and back. Well into your 70s! Tales of my Da, your husband, now weighing and sorting oranges and grapefruits for the jam. He no longer a stranger to the kitchen or sink.

When the cancer came with its 14% survival rate you braved the International skies. From Dublin to Heathrow to Boston to Maine, you at 70 strode through airports bigger than you'd ever seen in your lifetime.

We shared tea, a chat, while the chemo burned its way though veins, bones, and feet. You held my hand Mom and brushed my wig into place. Later I watched you read, in the peace of a New England autumn. You with nose in book while I dozed on the couch trembling, shivering, and aching from the treatment aftermath. In 38-years I couldn't ever recall you reading in the daytime. You devoured that book Mom and I realized in that moment that's where I too learned to read so swiftly. Now my daughter, your grandchild, reads like us too.

• • •

I returned home from America so we could continue those chats, Mom, those one-to-one moments. I brought your grandchild and my husband, so you, I, they could be more than voices at the end of a receiver. We could hold. Touch. Take walks on the beach. Bring you out and about. Do things you wanted to do. I planned to stop by for tea, to continue those chats for the few years left us.
It wasn't to be.
Suddenly your youngest son, my brother, was your sole caregiver. The phones and answering machine didn't work. We rarely chatted. Visits had to be prearranged. You didn't show up. He drove you elsewhere. He bundled you into cars. The stories told by siblings over the years of broken bones, calls to Gardai, hospital visits, bullying, abuse, were a sad reality.

These days I read your hospital notes, your community service notes and try to make sense of the past year, most especially the last few months of your life. A frail, elderly mother being isolated from her children, grandchildren, her only brother, and others who loved her. There are questionable financial transactions. Accounts no longer in your name. The family grave plot is now owned by your caregiver. There are forged letters. Phones and utilities disconnected long before your death.
Some have met with your youngest son's wrath and his forgery.
There are others who will.

• • •

Wednesday June 15 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
There are workshops to go to. Talks to be held. Advice given on where and who to ask for help.
But who helped you Mom?
"She never said anything," your doctor's office says.
"It's a civil matter," the Gardai maintain, ignoring the crimes against you and its own policy on Domestic Violence.
But most damning of all are my calls for help to HSE Elder Abuse, your Solicitor, Gardai, your Priest, and your GP – as recommended – an entire year before you died.

Only that you're dead do I now get to see your records. Those the HSE deems are not exempted from my sight. The information that hasn't been redacted. None of which urges it to seek an in-depth investigation.
Like: "HSE staff has monitored the situation but could not provide proof for the allegations yet."
"On admission the son under investigation has requested that no one gets access to his mother and the ward staff have dealt with that issue in the meantime."
"I received new vital information regarding this matter which was discussed at today's Vulnerable Adult Monitoring Team, Wexford Community Services. It was strongly recommended that Mrs Maxwell be discharged into a safe environment."

Your safety is now in Deansgrange Cemetery. Case closed, according to the HSE.

Now I get to watch my beloved husband of near 21 years as he trembles, cries, and wades through this tale of horror. It is difficult to explain the apathy to our 15-year-old but we do try. It is important for her to know you, her Granny, that you were an abused woman, further victimised by an archaic system, one afraid of the light and truth.
Together we search for justice for this mother. Daughter. Sister. Friend.
We ask that you remember Dolores Ann Maxwell, nee Murtagh, on Wednesday June 15, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
I surely will.


World Elder Abuse Awareness Day UN Declaration of Human Rights European Year for Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity Towards a Society for All Ages