Mum's stable. That's what I tell kindly, enquiring people who - like me, before - have usually heard only the good stories about stroke victims. The "After a few weeks he was up and about" and "When she's tired she walks with a slight limp" stories. After nearly a year visiting mum in the stroke unit, you almost get used to seeing the many younger and sicker stroke victims and their families. But outside, once these sufferers are back in their own homes, they are - of course - as invisible as they were before their strokes. This is one of the challenges for charities trying to raise awareness of this mysterious curse of a disease - the worse sufferers are behind closed doors, not in marathons or in celebrity magazines.
There are times when I wonder if my 'real' mother is simply on a long, long holiday. She'll be back soon, I hope. The lively wee chatterbox, always on her bicycle, nipping to the shops, has left behind this little, bloated and sleepy old person in her place - just to make us appreciate her more when she gets back home to us.
And then, at night as I stand by her bedside once the bustling carers have gone, she will fix me with the piercing gaze she has somehow developed since the stroke and we will speak about something intimate, something she has remembered from our past. Sometimes these conversations are deeper than anything we managed to find time for before. Now we are free from the workaday rituals of mother / daughter relations - sharing shopping, cooking, worrying - we have an odd, luxurious amount of time.
Sometimes I bring her a bit of chocolate in bed. The rules of our childhood have been unilaterally abolished by the stroke: There are no rules now - we can have sweets after bedtime, a CD on while she waits for the night carers; she's allowed to refuse to brush her teeth, yawn without covering her mouth and let the cat onto her bed.