A couple of months ago, one of my Little Piggies mothers suddenly dropped out, to everybody’s surprise. She was a founding member, extremely cheerful and popular and very active in social circles. But suddenly it seemed like she just disappeared and none of us could understand why.
A couple of weeks ago she contacted me and asked if I could give her private lessons in her home. Well, I’m very busy as you know, but somehow I managed to clear my schedule for one morning this month, and duly went to her house in west Kobe for a lesson. (Of course I went there because I wanted to see her again, but more than anything I was dying of curiosity!)
What I discovered very quickly when I got there was that this beautiful, smart 32-year-old mum is virtually housebound because of having to take care of a senile old woman: her own mother. (By the way, no-one openly talks about these things here. I only discovered this because her mother kept interrupting our lesson by barging in every few minutes and demanding that we make more tea. Then she stole my shoes. Really). My student is so housebound that she literally cannot leave her mother alone for more than five minutes at a time. Everywhere she goes, she has to take her mother. At home, she has to be permanently on guard to ensure that her mother hasn’t set the house on fire by accident, or wandered off in her nightgown, or chopped off the neighbours’ daffodils.
Paradoxically, although adult daycare services exist in Japan, her mother is not considered senile enough to qualify for any of them.
My student is a beautiful, clever, ambitious woman of 32, who is happily married to a very understanding man, and the loving mother of a small child. She should be at the peak of her happiness by now. But by an unfortunate twist of fate, she is also in charge of an elderly women in the throes of dementia, who could linger on for another decade or so.
Is this fair? Is life fair?