I resolve a tricky problem – with a little help from The Milkman.

For the last 5 years I have dreamed of sleeping in my own bed. It’s a nice bed, a small double with a good mattress and I bought it when I moved into the studio apartment I had in London. When I moved down here, there wasn’t room for it in the spare room where I had to sleep. That only had room for a single bed. So my bed had to be stored in the garage.

After my surgery last year, I couldn’t manage in a small bed, so I moved into what had been my parents’ bedroom and slept on my mum’s old bed. It wasn’t a bad bed in itself – the mattress was good quality but it had been badly stained. I covered it with layers of blankets and sheets before I put my own bedding on top of it. I dreamed of swapping the beds over but the logistics of how I’d ever be able to do that, defeated me.

First of all, I’d have to hire two men to carry mum’s double bed out of the house – and I’d have to co-ordinate that with the pick-up service from the council, who have to be booked in advance if you want them to collect large items. I’d also need time to clean where the bed had been, hoover and dust – before these men would be able to bring my bed in from the garage – which would mean they’d need to leave and return for a second time. I felt exhausted just thinking about how on earth I was going to manage the logistics.

I wrote last time about how I realised I had to make a start on clearing the house and how I did clear out mum’s wardrobe and also, the large storage drawers under her bed. After I’d packed everything up and piled it all in the garage ready for collection by the charity, in the same determined spirit I took all the stuff that had been stacked up on top of my bed base – just boxes and odd bags and things – so the bed could be moved easily if I ever did work out how to get it inside the house.

Two days later, The Milkman turned up. He also does gardening and grass cutting, and he reaches the back garden by bringing his lawn mower through the garage. I said: I’m sorry, I’ve been sorting out mum’s stuff. You’ll have to move all these bags. He knew mum well, so he was quite understanding. I put my hand on my bed base. I said: I don’t suppose you know a couple of guys who would help me swap my bed over. He said: I can do it. I can do it now, if you want. I laughed in disbelief: What by yourself? He said: I expect the double bed comes apart. Let’s have a look.

With that, he went into the house, took the bed apart and carried it outside. I said: I’d better ring the council to take it away. He said: I can take it in my truck. My eyes were round in wonder: Really???? Yes really, he said, but first I have to go and do another job for an hour. This was perfect. It gave me time to hoover and dust and move the furniture out of his way.

I couldn’t believe it was really happening. I cleaned up – under the bed had been pretty disgusting, as I’d suspected – then he came back and brought in the bed. I have to say, at one point it did seem as if The Milkman had underestimated the difficulties he would be faced with. As he was trying to manoeuvre the bed base through the doorway into the living room, it got jammed in the hallway. Then it got entangled on a low-hanging light fitting. I hate this light fitting but it’s wired in so I can’t remove it. Luckily, I am tall, so although I couldn’t help him by taking any weight, I was able to reach up and help extricate the bed base from the light. And then, somehow, miraculously it was done. Mum’s bed was gone and my bed was there instead. I left it to air for a couple of days, burned some cleansing essential oils and, at last, slept on my own bed again.

I said to The Milkman: you have no idea how horrible it’s been sleeping on my parents’ bed! And I do think it’s been unhealthy for me psychologically, but I just couldn’t work out how to organise the changeover. Since then, even on sleepless nights, I feel so relieved that I’ve finally resolved such a huge obstacle to my attempts at house clearance. Of course, I’m already thinking about the next task I’ll have to complete but, in the meantime, I’m giving myself a bit of breathing space.

And I have now finished emptying out all the things that belonged to my parents from drawers and cupboards and my mum’s desk. I’m not saying this stuff has all left the house! Much of it is in piles: stuff to be recycled; stuff to be shown to brother and/or grandchildren; stuff I may – or may not – wish to keep myself.  It’s a long sad task, emotionally taxing as well as physically demanding. I’m continually coming across items which take me down memory lane, or which contain an essence of mum or dad as human beings and bring me sorrow.

But, at least there’s no time pressure. And at the end of each stressful day, I am very happy to lie down on my own bed!

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I can’t seem to focus on anything.

It’s been a strange time. I don’t feel particularly sad or grief stricken, but my brain doesn’t seem to be functioning normally. I’ve had several ideas for writing the blog and every one of them slid sideways, out of the frame. It’s like my brain is fogged and I can only think about what’s in front of my eyes. And even that seems to involve some issues.

In the middle of August, I went to stay with old friends who’ve moved to a city where I’ve never been and now live in a house where I’ve never stayed. So it was the best of both worlds: a dear pal I could share my thoughts and feelings with – and a new environment that had no links with the past. I returned here feeling refreshed but – there was a strange problem: I was developing a stye in my eye. I’ve never had one of those in my life! But I knew that the psychological ‘tag’ for such things is that there’s something you’re ‘not looking at’ or ‘not seeing’.

I wrote this thought down in my journal. Then I stopped writing, raised my eyes and looked around with conscious intent. I saw that I was surrounded by stuff. Stuff that I need to sort out. Stuff that belonged to my parents. Stuff that is overwhelming me. Yet it is also Stuff that must be dealt with before I can even think about moving on from here. So. There was my answer. I’ve been sitting here reading fantasy novels and thinking about holidays – holidays I know very well I shall never book. But, if I do want to move forward, then I have to clear away all the Stuff.

I bathed my eye in warm water – I even rubbed it with a warmed gold ring – and after a few days the swelling and soreness went away. But I also began to work. It was a long weekend and the cricket was on the radio. I began the task of emptying out my mother’s clothes from the wardrobe, and from the remaining drawers of her dressing table. (I had of course already begun this task over the last months, but only in a desultory fashion). Now I packed the clothes into bags and arranged for a Charity to pick them up.

The cricket was exciting; the neighbours were making some dreadful racket in the garden, grinding paving stones for a patio so, although the weather was fine, I forced myself to carry on and empty the storage drawers under the bed. In some ways, this was more upsetting than packing up the clothes, for here were freshly laundered sheets, carefully washed and ironed and put away – which mum must have done when she was still able to do that sort of thing and before she reverted to just using the same easy wash and wear bed linen that she was using when I arrived. I got a sense of a house-proud, happy woman. But I gritted my teeth. I stashed it all into bags. And piled all the bags up in the garage.

When the guy came to collect the bags, I almost cried out to him: no! It’s a mistake, don’t take them! But I resisted. And now, they are gone. There is a sequel to all of this which I’ll write about next. Suffice it to say that I’ve made a start. Chores like this are not easy psychologically but, as my brain isn’t functioning normally, it probably is quite a good idea to try and complete these practical tasks. Even though my emotionally hardwired brain tells me ‘don’t do it!’ my rational brain knows very well that there’s no point in delaying: especially as, until it’s done I will have no choice but to continue to live here in a place where I don’t feel at home and which I don’t actually like very much. No one else is going to help me do it. My brother won’t. He wouldn’t mind if I spent the next 10 years helplessly sitting here surrounded by chaos.

By the way, I did finally manage to collect mum’s ashes. I brought them home on the bus, mainly because the bus was there, stopped right outside the funeral directors – but also because it saved me having to talk to a cab driver. ‘What have you got there?’ ‘Oh, just my mother’s ashes!’ I apologised to her for not carrying her home along the sea front like I did with dad, but I did put her on the bus seat beside me so she could look out of the window (!?!). When I got back here, I said: well, you’re home, as you wished to be. And it’s not as upsetting to have them here as I feared it would be. So I no longer feel under pressure to find a suitable place to scatter them as soon as possible. I am happy to take time to find the right place.

Some photos I found:

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1953 Coronation Day Party. I’m the little girl at the side with her drink of juice!

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At Bracklesham Bay which isn’t that far along the coast from where I am now, but the charming farm and duck pond are long gone.

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Mum would have been pleased with her funeral.

Nothing will be as bad as the day of the funeral. It’s a huge responsibility and you only get one shot at it. So many things could go wrong, which would be upsetting, not only for me, but also for the others who had come to mourn.

In the weeks between the mum’s death and the funeral, I was driven by nervous energy. I couldn’t stop cleaning. I couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes. But, once the day was over, the nervous energy disappeared and I collapsed. Brother and his partner stayed overnight. As soon as they left and I was on my own, I felt so tired I didn’t know what to do with myself, as they say. In the end I went to bed and read and slept and that lasted the whole weekend. And I still do feel very tired, although not as much as I did.

But. I do think mum would’ve been pleased with her funeral. She was so old that many of her friends and relatives have died, but even so there was a sizeable crowd at the service. I didn’t realise how many had come until I stood up to give my ‘eulogy’. I looked back down the chapel and saw that, although it wasn’t full – it holds about 100 people – it didn’t feel empty either. Not only family came, but friends of mine came down from London and people came from her Care Home. In the end, only a couple of people were unable to make it.

The flowers were all lovely and there was a good display. The celebrant was a pleasant chap – he didn’t have the same presence as the woman who presided over dad’s service and who has sadly left the district – but he was good hearted and had a gentle sense of humour. Mum loved poetry so we had to have a poem! My nephew read the one we had chosen; it wasn’t too mawkish or sentimental and we thought it summed mum up quite well. Nephew got a bit choked up but got through the reading ok.

I knew I’d be ok reading out the piece I’d written, because I always can do it if I have to. It made people laugh, as I’d intended, gentle laughter at mum’s idiosyncrasies. I’m going to add it onto the end of this post. It wasn’t easy to write as mum and I didn’t have the smoothest of relationships but I think in the end it struck the right note. Certainly, people mentioned that they’d enjoyed it.

Finally, we went back to a pub restaurant for The Wake. The place was recommended to me by a woman in the bank when I went to close mum’s accounts. A complete stranger, she mentioned she’d had her own father’s Wake there. It turned out to be a perfect recommendation. Just the right private space for us to gather together, talk and laugh, have a drink and something to eat. The evening before, while I was writing my speech, Brother had made a montage of old photos, which unfortunately we didn’t take a photo of, while his partner created an album of photos of mum and dad having fun at fancy dress parties or in their costumes for the shows and pantomimes they performed in. People seemed to enjoy looking at them all. Everyone said that, although it was sad occasion, it was also the celebration of a long life, well-lived. So yes. I think mum would have been pleased.

Here’s my little speech:

Mum made it to 98 and a half! It’s a shame she didn’t get her telegramme from the Queen. However, looking through her papers I found she had received a letter from Buckingham Palace only a few years ago. Before I read it out, I’ll just remind you that mum and dad’s wedding anniversary was 29th April – the same date that Will and Kate chose for their wedding… It is actually signed by a lady in waiting, not the Queen herself!…….

The Queen wishes me to write and thank you for your letter in which you say that you and your husband were married on the 29th April 1944. Her Majesty was very sorry to learn of the recent death of your husband and sends you her sincere sympathy at this sad time.

The Queen was particularly touched by your kind message of good wishes for the wedding of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton and much appreciated your thought for the young couple.

I hope that you will be comforted by many happy memories as you recall your own wedding day on 29th April, and I am to thank you again for your thoughtfulness in writing as you did.

It would have been Mum’s own idea to write this letter to the Queen. As they say in Australia, she wasn’t backwards in coming forwards. I’m not sure if she was hoping for an invite to the wedding but as many of us know, she did manage to get to the wedding of Harry and Meghan. For those of you who don’t know, I’ll tell you what happened….

Even though mum hadn’t been able to go anywhere by herself for years, she went out of the Care Home and there was a bus. The bus took her to the church. There were loads of people around but the security guards let her go in although, she assured me, she did sit right at the back!

I quizzed her about it several times, but she seemed so convinced of the truth of her story that in the end, I could only say ‘what a lovely memory for you’, and she agreed that it was.

But the memory she returned to again and again was the night she met dad and then their first date the following evening. Her life could be pretty much divided into before and after that. Not that they were an obvious couple. Dad was a practical sort of guy – a man of few words as he liked to say – whereas Mum was very verbal. She liked words; she was proud of her ability to spell very well; she enjoyed puns and liked playing scrabble and doing crosswords.

She was also proud of her skills as a shorthand typist. Once when we were watching an episode of Foyle’s Law on TV, the main characters were in one of the war ministries, and they passed a young woman walking along a corridor. Mum said proudly: that was me! I had security clearance. I could take individual dictation, not just stay in the typing pool. Like many women of her age, if she’d had the same chances that became normal for later generations, I’m sure she might have gone onto something more than typing, like teaching for example – or even some kind of performing, acting or singing. She always liked the fact that her mother’s family were ‘theatrical’. And she never liked Vera Lynn – said she was nothing special, and had just been lucky. The implication being that, if mum had had the same contacts, it might have been her who ended up as a big star. And who knows? After all, she managed to make it to Harry and Meghan’s wedding.

While we were growing up, money was tight, dad worked long hours and mum worked too, as a shorthand typist. They almost never went out. But as soon as the kids were off their hands, then they were out dancing nearly every night and once they retired down here, there was no stopping them. They got really involved with the community at the Laburnum Centre. They performed in shows – ‘for the old people’, they went to fancy dress nights and away on holiday abroad. They really had a lot of fun until the arthritis that affected her mobility and her hands too, took over.

When we were kids, we always did have a holiday, usually in a caravan or self-catering apartment, and always visiting different parts of England – except for one memorable year when we went to Scotland. Mum had Scottish blood and also Cornish ancestry. She was proud of them both and liked the fact that she came from each end of the British Isles. But she always felt disappointed that she knew very little about her family, especially her father’s family who don’t seem to have kept in touch. Her mother had anecdotes about her Cornish forebears and I did discover the farm where mum’s great-grandmother was born. Some friends of mine (who sadly can’t be here today) visited the farm. They cheekily drove straight down the entrance drive and spoke to the current farmer. Mum was thrilled when I told her.

The last few years, I spent quite a bit of time with mum. I got to hear quite a few anecdotes which she might not have shared with me when I was younger – it was like she began to chat to me more like she used to chat to her sisters. Sometimes I felt like saying: too much information! But I did get to see another side of her; I got to know the lively, adventurous young woman she must have been before she began the serious business of bringing up her family – or then the cheerful, smiling woman who had lots of fun down here with dad. And that has been a real gift for me.

I also know that although she did miss dad, her final years weren’t unhappy. She was lucky with lots of care and support from friends and carers who became friends. As she reached such a venerable age, she finally couldn’t manage to stay at home alone and then, when I couldn’t manage to look after her, even with help, we were very lucky to find a home from home in Arun Lodge, where I know she charmed everyone with her continual jokes and comical phrases and puns.

I hope she’s still smiling and happy, I’m sure she’s dancing with dad once again.

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Mum passes through the veil

Mum died a few days ago. Her death was peaceful, she was not on her own. And she was able to stay in the Care Home where she felt safe and comfortable, where they knew her and cared about her, until the very end. I arrived a couple of hours after she’d actually passed and they had dressed her and given her a flower and her favourite soft toy. She looked at peace. In fact, she looked like she was asleep. I kept staring at her thinking that if I called her, she might indeed wake up. But of course, she wasn’t breathing. Her heart, which had been fluttering fast, was still.

The fact that she has actually died is hard to take in. We expected her to die several times in the past and she bounced back. But this time it’s actually happened.

We had been warned that her life could be over in a matter of days – or possibly weeks. It was clear that she had reached the end of her days, that it really was just a question of time. But given her past track record of surprizing us all when she seemed to be on her death-bed, I did think she would live for another week or two. Brother sadly arrived a few hours too late. An old friend who was very close to Mum, had arranged to come two days later. It didn’t occur to me that they would miss saying goodbye to her. Indeed, when I left her, it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t see her again.

The last time I saw her, she was still conscious, still talking – although her mind was obviously wandering. Her last words to me were: Where are you going? Shopping, I told her, but I’ll be back tomorrow. Well, I was back tomorrow but it was not as I’d expected. But I do know that she was tired; she was worn out. It was her time. She officially died of Old Age – not many people manage that!

And now, there’s so much to do! That’s good because otherwise I might lie on the couch like a slug. Even though it was expected and she was very old, it’s still a shock on a deep emotional level. To have your mother die is archetypal in ways I haven’t yet thought through. I have to wait for the process to be completed. And although this is going to make a difference to my life, at the moment I can’t really think about that. I’m focused on giving her a good send-off. I want the funeral to be as good as possible because you don’t get a second chance at it. Brother has been back here and has been a great help. It’s a pity he wasn’t more help when she was still alive. He is very upset – as I knew he would be – and keen for the funeral to go well. I’ve been taken aback by just how involved he wants to be in the planning – and of course, I have appreciated being able to share the burden of decision-making with him.

During the last few years, to stop myself falling into despair over the limitations of my life down here, I had to keep a tight control of my emotions. I had to mentally prepare for the possibility that she might live to be 100. (In the end she missed that milestone by 18 months which, on some level, I do think is a shame.) But at the moment I can’t really unravel my thoughts. All I want to do is clean. Luckily there’s quite a bit of cleaning to do!

Mum was always convinced Dad would find her when she passed across. Perhaps he came to her and called her and she went with him happily. I also hope that she’s left behind the arthritis that crippled her and made her house-bound and unable to do much – and also blighted my Dad’s life as it brought to an end their socialising, their dancing and fancy-dress parties and holidays which they enjoyed so much. Everyone has their own beliefs but I believe mum has passed peacefully through the veil between the worlds, that’s she’s found my Dad and that they are dancing together once again.

RIP MUM 1920-2019

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Mum has been in Quarantine

Last week I came back from a great trip visiting various dear friends in Scotland and London. As usual after a holiday, I came home feeling tired and happy. But I knew that, instead of being able to take advantage of the customary post-holiday glow – and the renewed energy that resulted from it, I’d have to immediately factor in a visit to mum.

I came home on the Friday, after visiting the fab Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A in London. While I was there, I got a text from Liz the Carer who told me she was sitting with mum and reading my postcard from Scotland. So, on Saturday morning I decided to spend the day shopping for food, catching up with the washing and generally chilling out before I went in to visit her – even though, as it was a long weekend, there would be hardly any buses on the Sunday or Monday so I’d probably need to walk home. As it turned out this was lucky as on Saturday morning, they decided to close to the Care Home to outside visitors. They had an outbreak of a virus – vomiting, diarrhoea (apparently there’s a lot of it about) and the correct procedure as laid done by the health authorities is to put the Home in quarantine for at least 48 hours. They rang me to say that mum had had some sickness but was recovering.

Initially I thought: Great! I can use the time to get myself straight, do a bit of gardening and some of the other things I never get around to.

After a couple of days, I hadn’t heard from the Home so I rang back. They said they expected to be open by the end of the week. And that mum wasn’t too bad, just sitting in her room. All the residents were confined to their rooms. A year or so ago mum would have found this difficult but now she’s so away with the fairies I thought she’d be ok.

I used my time off well. I finished a short story I’ve been trying to write for months and I submitted it to a competition on the very last day for entries. I didn’t do this because I expect to win – although I do like my story – but because it meant I was doing something for myself, which felt good. However, as I’d still not heard from the Care Home, at the end of the week I rang them again.

They said they were still off limits, as they had to give the home a proper clean to ensure no trace of the virus remained. They also said the Doctor had been in to see mum that morning as she wasn’t too good. The Doc said she’d been drained by having the virus. They told me she was lying on her bed, not eating much (which is unusual for her!) and dopey. So, I wanted to go in and see her. I have been caring for her, watching over her and keeping her company through so many crises over the last few years. Indeed, over the last ten years my life has been completely disrupted by demands that I drop everything and rush to a bedside etc not only for mum but before that, for my father. So, it did seem strange being forbidden to visit.

However, we all agreed – mum was capable of perking up. She’s already amazed everybody by recovering from what seemed like a terminal state three times in the last six months! But how many more times will she be able to do that?

As I was writing this post, I had a call from the Care Home. They were reopening the next day. However, they said if I wanted to go in that afternoon, I could. It was clear that they expected me to go in. And I understood from their coded references that mum had taken a turn for the worst. It seems that yesterday, she’d another collapse and she’s not really expected to recover. The medic came while I was there. I know home from the local surgery. He warned me that mum has reached the end of her life: it could be weeks – but it could also be days. Of course, she could rally and surprise us all yet again. But somehow, I don’t think that’s going to happen this time.

 

I realise how much I’ve given up!

I don’t mean to be self-pitying, I do try to be positive. But recently on a brief trip to London I happened to take a bus ride through an area I hadn’t been to in ages. In fact, I haven’t been there since I moved down here. It was a lovely sunny spring day and everything looked fresh. We passed a nice old traditional pub that had recently been given a smart coat of paint. It looked particularly appealing next to the bright spring green leaves of the trees in an adjoining inner-city square. I read the name of the pub and did a double take. The Calthorpe Arms! It was a place I’d known well. Upstairs, once a month, it hosts a Cuban film night that I used to go to. I went not only because of my fond memories of a holiday in Cuba but also because at that point I was learning Spanish. I hadn’t recognised the pub because I used to approach it from the opposite direction, plus the meetings were in the evening so I usually came here in the dark.

If I had realised where I was, perhaps I would have unconsciously prepared myself. But with the unexpected shock of recognition, I was overwhelmed by a visceral sense of what I’d given up. I used to have A Life, I used to do Interesting Things, meet Interesting People – and I’d abandoned it all. Of course, I only did that because I was at my wits’ end. 5 years ago, it had become impossible to juggle mum’s needs and my own life. I often had to drop everything and just get on the next train down here – or, once here, I ended up staying for much longer than expected. When I did get back home, my life had been so disrupted, I’d be so tired and so behind with things, that it would take days to get myself straight again. And then… the same thing would happen again. My brother was still working full-time so it all fell onto my shoulders.

In the end, I couldn’t see any alternative: I had to move down here full-time. Of course, I never dreamt that, 5 years later, mum would still be alive. And, I have to admit, I didn’t realise just how full-on it was going to be. I had plans to write a novel, to do all kinds of things, but as soon as I arrived mum gave up doing anything. She expected me to do it all – just like my father had. She tired him out and I said, well she won’t tire me out because I’m still relatively young – but in fact, she did exhaust me. And I’ve developed my own health problems – not something I foresaw! Plus, I’m not getting any younger myself. I’m beginning to wonder whether I’ll ever be able to do any of the things I’d hoped to do ‘in the future’.

Even though I no longer have to look after mum 24/7, I still have to plan my week around visiting her. I had to go in over the long Easter holiday and I had to walk back – as buses are scarce on Sundays and public holidays. But I can’t not go and see her just because it’s inconvenient, especially not now she seems to be fading. By the time I got home, my hips had begun to ache. Even though my walking is improving, I must still be careful if I want to recover – ( and I need to recover: not being able to walk any distance is driving me crazy!) When I’m not visiting mum, I can’t relax. I’m faced with the task of cleaning and sorting and de-cluttering the house which is no small task. Then there’s the garden. I’ve asked my brother for more help but so far none has been forthcoming.

Brother did ask me what my plans were. I said, I can’t have any plans because I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. The only way I can cope is to not think about this sort of stuff, not think about the future. I try to just get up and get through each day. I try to be mindful, to be in the moment. On the whole, I’m successful but, passing that pub made my tightly controlled equilibrium slip and has triggered a sense of despair. It brought me face-to-face with the truth that I’m here living this straightened existence without any of the things I care about: museums, galleries, films, intellectual discourse with like-minded people. I go out one evening a month when a woman I met, who does seem nice, offers me a lift to the Local History Society. And I go because I am making an attempt to be positive about a place where I feel like a fish out of water but where I’ve been living unhappily for nearly 5 years. Well, it’s by the sea. I suppose that’s something.

Anyway, I am getting my equilibrium back – slowly. There’s no alternative after all.

 

Mum is worn out.

Recently I went to Cornwall to look after a cat that belongs to some friends.  I thought it would be a pleasant break but it turned out to be a proper holiday. The weather wasn’t wonderful but the cat sat on my lap and let herself be stroked – mind you, in payment she wanted to be treated like an empress. And indeed, I did obey her every command! But as well as offering pet-therapy, my friends’ house is in a beautiful setting, right on the cliffs just north of Land’s End. I could sit on the couch with the cat on my lap and watch the weather sweeping in over the sea straight from the wild Atlantic Ocean – and it’s true quite a lot of wind, mist and rain did sweep in. But the house was full of interesting books – and the bus stopped right outside so I was able to visit St Ives and Penzance, and even made a 6 hour round trip – which was very scenic, of course – to Truro, where I got a lot of help from the Cornish Family History Society for my research into mum’s family.

Half-way through my visit, I received a text from Liz the Carer, who went into see mum while I was away. She said all was well and they were sitting together, looking at the Postcard of Cornwall that I’d sent to mum. Unfortunately, only a couple of hours later, mum collapsed at the dining table while she was eating lunch. They were helping her walk into the lounge when she collapsed again and fell. The Doctor was called. In fact, by the time I got back the following week, the Doctor had been several times.

When I got back and went in to see her, for the first time ever, she wasn’t sitting in the communal lounge but was still in her room. And she didn’t seem to be interested in my visit. She seemed happy enough, and quite peaceful. Said she was enjoying just sitting and thinking. She talked about me when I was a little girl, but didn’t seem to quite understand that I was that same person, now somewhat older. Sometimes she seemed to think she was talking to her sister and it’s true, I do look like my aunt. But, for me, the main issue was that her energy was very low. And indeed, she told me that she felt ‘worn out’.

A couple of days later it was Mothers’ Day, and so my brother made the effort to come. I didn’t say anything to him but when he returned from visiting her, he was quite down in the mouth. She wasn’t like mum, he said. She seems to have lost her ‘bounce’. I agreed.

Next time I went into the Care Home, the boss took me to one side. The Doctor had said there was nothing specifically wrong with mum that could be treated. Basically, mum has reached the last few months of her life. She is, literally, worn out. But while she doesn’t seem to be completely aware of her surroundings, she does seem calm and happy enough to sit and day dream and drift off to sleep. And she doesn’t think she’s stuck in the Home. No! Some of those day-dreams involve going out to the shops or down to the sea. Which can only be a good thing.

She is very tough old bird, as they say. When I went in yesterday, I was amazed to find her dressed and sitting up in her chair. She thought she still lived in Brixton, in the house where she lived during the war, but otherwise she was bright and very chatty. She was still in her room, but they told me she’d been downstairs to the lounge the day before. So, although she does seem to have gone downhill, this new phase could go on for several moons yet!

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The edge of England! And the view from my friends’ cottage.

20190317_114205The cat naturally wanted to sit in the middle of the map when I was trying to find my great-great-great grandparents’ farm!

The mysterious St Michael’s Mount from Penzance and St Ives from the bus station!20190320_142042

If you ever visit St Ives, don’t miss the wonderful Barbara Hepworth Sculpture garden!

Mum lives two realities at once.

First of all, thanks for all the helpful advice re the dilemma I had a few weeks ago over dad’s love letters. In the end, I did tell mum I’d found them. She seemed to be having a good day and was quite like her old self so I told her I’d been sorting things out and had come across a box of letters from dad.

Immediately, her face lit up. ‘I kept them!’ she said, so she knew exactly what I meant. I asked if she’d like to have them with her and she said she would. But when I took them in, she wasn’t having a good day. When I showed them to her, she didn’t know what they were. She didn’t recognise the box and the letters didn’t seem to have any resonance for her at all, even when I pointed out her old address and the war-time postage stamps.  When I showed her my baby photo she asked, ‘Who’s that? It looks familiar.’

Luckily, I found her lack of recognition amusing. I have after all changed quite a bit over the years.

It seems the only babies mum cares about these days are my brother’s children. Ever since her first fall she’s been living in a time warp of nearly 35 years ago at a time when brother’s first wife tragically died and, for a while, his young, motherless children were cared for by their grandparents. And so Mum asks continually if the children are ok? They’re upstairs, she says, but they haven’t made any noise. I did ask if ‘the children’ were me and my brother, but no, it seems she does mean her grandchildren.

It’s obvious she’s returned to an event which must have been deeply concerning for her. So, I reassure her that the children are fine. They are in their own home. Then I add: they are grown-up now with children of their own. In fact, the babies who come to see you are not my brother’s children but his grandchildren!

Last week, my niece turned 40. I got mum to sign her birthday card. Mum shook her head in wonderment. ‘40! Granddaughter is 40!’ Then she said, ‘The mind is a strange thing. It’s like I am living two different times at the same time and they get muddled up and meld together.’

I found this an incredibly lucid comment. And a possible window into what it’s like to have dementia.

I told her: you’re like someone time-travelling with Dr Who in the Tardis. Sometimes being in the present while simultaneously, being in the past. As she’s a fan of Dr Who, this made her smile.

These days, as I live alone and am somewhat isolated, I often think about the past even if it’s simply on the level of: how on earth did I get myself into this situation? And I’ve found certain memories isolate themselves and continually reoccur – apparently, they’re still very much alive in my subconscious. However, I do know that they are memories. Similarly, when I see a photo taken 40 years ago, I know it’s a photo of me yet at the same time, it’s a photo of someone who’s not me anymore.

For mum, it’s not simply that she’s lost her short-term memory. Her memories, especially ones that are particularly meaningful, seem to have pushed themselves into the centre of her reality and are replaying themselves as if they are happening now. And she can’t separate the past from the present.

But it was interesting she could grasp the concept of a dual universe; of the fact that she’s living in concurrent realities. But of course, the next time the subject comes up she’ll have forgotten all about our conversation and will ask me once again whether I’ve seen my father or if the children are all right?

 

I have issues with the hospital

.IMG-20190131-WA0000When mum had her fall in December, the hospital sent her neck scan to a major orthopaedic unit at a hospital about 30 miles away. The results had been inconclusive – they couldn’t tell whether it was an old neck fracture or a new one, so they decided she’d better wear a neck brace for between 2 and 6 weeks with a review after 2 weeks. As that would fall within the Xmas holiday period, I didn’t think much about it when they didn’t contact us, but as it drew near to 6 weeks, I asked the Care Home staff if they’d heard anything.

Mum is incredibly uncomfortable with the brace: she can’t sleep properly, she can’t eat properly, she needs a straw to drink. It rubs on her chest and under her chin. With the result, said the Care Home, that she keeps trying to take it off.

They assured me they’d been phoning the hospital but had not yet got any answers. When we were into the 7th week, they said the Doctor’s secretary had rung to say he would be looking at the case. But it had nothing to do with any doctor! The physios had put it on, following the orders of the main hospital. This Doctor wouldn’t know anything about it. I decided I was going to take matters into my own hands and put it in writing to the hospital that, if they did not respond soon, we were going to take the brace off anyway.

At this point the paramedic from the local GP’s surgery got involved. I know him, he came to the house a few times when mum was still living at home. He said, leave it with him, he’d sort it out and indeed, he rang me back the next day. He had got in touch with the physio. She’d been on holiday, was shocked to hear nothing had been done and would quickly check and get back to him.

That was on the Wednesday morning. On Wednesday night, mum fell out of bed again and smashed her head again. Apparently, she was rolling over, trying to take off the neck brace and rolled off the bed. I had a call on Thursday morning, had to drop everything and go off to the hospital. Mum had an x-ray, then a scan. It’s an ill wind, everyone said, because then maybe we can get this problem with the brace sorted out. But really mum should not have had this second fall. She bashed her face again to the extent that one of her eyes was completely swollen up, hurt her back again and for the first few days had to have an oxygen mask. She’s 98 – she doesn’t need this and quite frankly neither do I!

The first day, I spent 7 hours at the hospital. At that point it had started to snow, so I phoned a cab and got home just before the snow became heavy. I know we don’t have a lot of snow compared to many places, but by the same token, we aren’t equipped for it. The next morning was below freezing and I got a cab into town as it was too slippery and dangerous to walk to the bus stop – by the evening, the snow had thankfully cleared although it was still bitterly cold.

I can’t afford to take a taxi every time I go, so my other journeys to and from the hospital have been on the bus and they have been horrendous. It can take between 1 ½ hours and 2 hours each way, depending on the connections. Most of the time it’s been raining, with a bitterly cold wind. I’ve managed to grab a bit of shopping in between waiting for the bus – but add the travelling to spending several hours in the hospital – and it’s a pretty long day. That’s what bureaucrats forget. Even though I’m no longer mum’s official carer I’m still expected to drop everything, cancel appointments, whatever and head off to the hospital. (And I have to say, there are always quite a few other adult daughters sitting with their aged parent in the geriatric ward and they all have something to say about the lack of support from their other siblings).

Anyway – back to mum. The first couple of days they classed her as having a spinal injury and made her lie flat – which is very uncomfortable for her. As they’ve agreed it’s an old injury and she’s therefore been walking around with it for a least a couple of years – I asked if she could sit up in a chair- while wearing the brace, naturally! And they did finally agree to that. Today the Care Home are going into to assess whether they’ll accept her back. I hope they will as she’s happy there and also, if they don’t – well, I’ll cross that bridge if I have to. And it will be me who has to sort things out. After one text on Friday afternoon I had no word from my brother until a brief text on Tuesday evening. As you can imagine, I could hardly be bothered to reply to him

But the fact remains, if the hospital had only got back to us when they said they would, mum might never have had this second fall.

 

I find Dad’s love letters

When I saw mum in the hospital and she looked like she was at death’s door, a lot of thoughts flashed through my mind. As, amazingly, she now seems to be on the road to recovery, I’ve been unpicking those thoughts. The first one was: She can’t die yet! I haven’t cleared out the house. It’s too untidy for me to invite people for a funeral!

When I moved down here, my stuff was stored in the garage. When mum moved into the Care Home, I moved my things out of the garage but I couldn’t put them away. To do that, I needed to make space, which meant clearing out mum’s drawers and cupboards. But I didn’t feel I could do that while there was any possibility she might return to live in the house. And of course, I had my surgery, developed the problems with walking etc etc so I didn’t have the energy, the physical strength – or the sense of psychological permission to get on with clearing out the place.

However, things have changed and one of my new year resolutions was to make a start on this task of de-clutterng. I began with mum’s bedside cabinet. The top drawer was full of documents: some from banks, some from hospitals, some possibly important, some probably not. Some went into a pending pile, some in the bin. The second drawer was full of scarves – most of which will go to the charity shop. The lower drawer had a load of old nail varnish (in the bin), old hair rollers (in the bin), some quite nice hair slides which I don’t remember mum ever using but which I might use (in the pile that will be kept) and then, right at the very back of the bottom drawer: a mysterious box, quite old but with a rather nice design on the lid.

I peeked inside: it was full of old letters. I needed my reading glasses before I could explore further so I put them to one side. When I did sit down with them, I saw the envelopes were addressed to my mum in her family name, that is to say – before she was married. My heart skipped a beat. Mum had a fiancé who was lost in the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940. Had she kept his letters secretly all these years? I opened the first one and saw it had been sent from an army camp in Yorkshire. My dad had been stationed in an army camp in Yorkshire. Indeed, he had proposed to mum while they were walking round the roman walls that encircle York. I relaxed. The letters were from Dad.

I skim read a couple, not really wanting to pry and yet curious. I was a little surprised because Dad always said he wasn’t much good at writing. I wondered whether he had asked someone else to write these letters but they seemed too personal, very passionate declarations of love so I thought it unlikely he’d dictated them to someone else. I also realised I’d never really heard his voice. Dad never talked a lot, was a self-professed ‘man of few words’. When I was younger, he and I never really communicated. We tended to have rows about politics – or other things he didn’t agree with concerning the way I was leading my life. It was only in later years we really had anything that could pass as a conversation. I’d certainly never heard him speak like this: fluently, ardently. I looked deeper in the pile. Here the letters were now addressed to my mother as a married woman: his darling wife.

They got married just before the Normandy Landings in 1944. Dad was part of the D-Day force; he had made his way through France, across the bridge at Arnhem and into Belgium. There were no letters from his billet in Brussels – when he stayed with a family with whom we kept in touch with for many years. In fact, I had dinner with them on a visit to Belgium in 1969. And they had told me, my Dad never went out, he only wanted to write letters to his beloved wife. The last letter in the box is from an army camp in England saying he was about to be de-mobbed. That he would be coming home and that this was the last time they would ever be separated.

I got an insight into their relationship. I’ve always known their marriage was a love match but I wasn’t quite prepared for my dad’s ardent outpourings (all very chaste and romantic I’m pleased to add, so I didn’t feel I’d uncovered anything too embarrassing).

But one thing does make me feel uncomfortable: apart from the letters, there was one other thing in the box – a photo of me as a baby. I was the outcome of this outpouring of love! That does feel weird, although I haven’t yet worked out why.

I obviously can’t throw these letters away but how would mum react if I took them to show her? Would she be pleased to see them or cross that I had found them? I haven’t yet made up my mind about that.

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The letters

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Mum and dad on their wedding day.

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Me in my pram!