Looking after Mum

Mary lay on her bed. It was all she could do to lift her head from the pillow to take a sip of water. She felt detached from her body which had let her down so badly. Her normally fit strong frame was now prone, limp, like a rag, all vitality and spark gone, yet her mind was clear and bright. She lay thinking about her life and what could have caused this terrible situation.

She had gone from being an extremely busy teacher with a family of two teenage girls and a husband to look after, to a helpless, lifeless body incapable of doing anything at all. This had happened so suddenly that her family were in a state of shock. The doctors said it might have been a virus. They had taken blood and performed numerous tests. Nothing had been found. Mary lay inert. She could not have lifted her arm up to reach the glass of water on the bedside table. It was worse than yesterday but in a strange way her mind was enjoying the rest. Suddenly other people were having to do the thinking and the doing. At first they had resisted it. ‘Mum’ had been doing everything for them. They watched a bit of TV and played on their computers. Mary’s husband expected his tea on the table when he came home. He was tired after a long day at the office and had no desire to cook or clean. Neither did the girls.

Now it was different. They were looking after their mum. They had no choice. Reality had suddenly set in. They began to realise exactly how much their mum had been doing for them. The house started to become dirty. Washing piled up. Dirty dishes filled the sink and the dish washer. No-one could find anything. Where did she keep the Hoover?

Food shopping was a nightmare. How much should they buy? What did they need? What would it cost? Gradually the girls and their father worked out a routine. It took them a month to fully understand what Mary had been doing for them over the past years. Meanwhile Mary drifted in and out of consciousness, unable to answer any of their questions. Martin her husband learnt how to use the cooker and the washing machine. He ruined a few garments, but not too many. He burnt a few meals. He began to wonder how Mary had managed to do everything that she had done for all those years, and she had worked full time too. Mary was a pleaser, he knew that. She was always anxious to keep others happy to the extent that she did not like to ask for help; she could not cope with the grumbling. That suited Martin and the girls. They were not pleasers, they were users, but they did not like to admit it.

The three of them sat by Mary’s bedside one evening holding her limp hands. Martin decided to tell them all what he had been thinking even if Mary could not hear or understand.

“I’m sorry, Mary,” he said. “I think we’ve worn you out. If you ever get better we’ll never go back to how it was, I promise. We will all do our share of the work.”

Tears were running down Martins face. He had at last realised how selfish they had all been.

That night Mary’s energy returned. She quietly got up and dressed herself. She took her keys and drove away.

Mary returned a fortnight later, rested and refreshed. She never had to wash another pan again. It had taken her near death experience to change to change the behaviour of her family and also her own behaviour. She had done enough pleasing. She realised that having a perfect home was not as important as looking after her own health. Enough was enough.


  1. Does this remind you of anything in your life?
  2. Why do you think the family changed after Mary went away?
  3. In your family how is the work shared out?
  4. Do you look after your own things and keep your room clean and tidy?
  5. Who puts your clothes for washing and who puts the clean clothes away?
  6. Who cooks the meals?
  7. What can you cook?
  8. How could you learn to cook?
  9. What more could you do to help out?