When my mum was in her early eighties, I went to visit her in the beautiful Western Cape village of Hermanus where she had moved to several years earlier. She had a lovely two bedroomed cottage and was only about a kilometre from the seafront. Whilst she was becoming dependent on a stick whenever she was out and about in town, she was okay in the house. I decided that I wanted to take her on a bit of an adventure and booked a trip out to a nearby seal sanctuary.
We arrived at the jetty and I’d made sure we had sturdy waterproof jackets on with hoods. The walk down the jetty to the boat was a steep decline and then we had to climb up metal rung steps and swing into the rear of the boat, which had large inflatable tanks on each side. The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm. Gulls screeched overhead as the group of paying customers gathered at the boat shop to pay their tickets. The air filled with the stench of seaweed and saltwater. My mother took one look at the metal rungs of the ladder, promptly turned around and began stomping up the road back to our car, her walking stick clicking on the cobble stones.
I could see in her eyes that she was actually quite terrified of the idea of trying to pull herself up those rungs and into the boat. She wasn’t having any of it. It didn’t make any difference to her that there were several able-bodied men milling about (as well as myself) who were prepared to carry her – if needs be – into the boat.
I stopped her and held on tight, giving her a big bear hug and telling her that she could do it and I was going to be right behind her to give her a good shove over the last rung. I reassured her I would not let her fall or look ridiculous. Sighing dramatically, she allowed me to lead her down to the steps and bully her up the ladder. With a little bit of pushing and shoving we were eventually sitting snug inside the boat, life jackets on, ready for the off.
Mum was quiet for a while, her mouth a firmly shut line. We headed out to sea and I worried that she was cross with me. It was only after we’d been home for an hour and were getting dinner organised that she came up and gave me a long cuddle.
‘I couldn’t have done today by myself, or with anyone else, you know.’ She said. There were tears in her eyes. ‘Thank you for making me take the chance and get in that boat. I’ll never forget it’
I was touched that I’d somehow made her see that with a bit of help she could do almost anything. And for a few days afterwards, I noticed she hardly used her stick at all.