I walk like an Egyptian

I had a marvellous holiday in Egypt. So many people warned me not to go, said it would be dangerous, but I never felt afraid or threatened at any time. I felt for the local people who are struggling financially because tourism’s been so severely affected – But because there are so few tourists, the temples and sites weren’t swamped with huge gangs of people and there were hardly any other ships to spoil our peaceful passage down the Nile. Not only were there few cruise ships, the one I was on was practically empty. On the way down to Aswan there were about 20 passengers – half Egyptian, half British. On the way back there was only the nine – yes, nine – people who were on my tour. I was so lucky they didn’t cancel it.

The Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. the Valley of the Kings, the temple of Isis at Philae, the Aswan Dam, Luxor, Karnak, Abu Simbil, the experience of the Nile itself, watching life on the river banks that can’t have changed much for centuries: it was all more fantastic then I had imagined it would be. But I’d also imagined I’d spend my evenings alone in my cabin reading and writing in my journal – but I was wrong!

All kinds of activities were arranged for us: an Egyptian night, when we all got dressed up in Ghelabayas and looked quite unlike Egyptians; a Nubian night – which was a lot of laughs; a visit from a belly dancer. Because there was so few of us, I couldn’t take my usual back seat but had to be a good sport and participate in party games, or attempt to do local dances (!). In short, I was forced to have fun.  Before the trip, I had wondered who I would sit with during meals. I’d thought ‘there’s always someone to pal up with or who will invite me to join them’ – but as we were so few, we all sat together round one large table. I felt integrated into one happy group. Dropped my carer’s persona all together.

At home I keep my comments simple, if not monosyllabic because I often have to repeat them over and over again. I’d forgotten I can be cheerful, chatty, witty, cultured – even opinionated! So on some level, the trip has helped to give me back to myself.

But what’s even better is that mum also really enjoyed her respite break. Since we got back she’s been talking about it non-stop. ‘In the home’ this, ‘in the home’ that. She asked me – why didn’t you leave me there longer? As she usually complains that I’ve left her there too long I was pleasantly surprised. I asked her – would you like to go there more often, not just when I go away?  And the upshot is, she’s going back to spend a few days there at the end of the month which means I can go to London for a couple of nights to spend time with friends. Fingers crossed this continues…

 

Year of the Monkey!

Mum was born in the Chinese Year of the Monkey, which makes her a very venerable Monkey indeed. Checking out her horoscope for the coming year I saw there will be quite a few obstacles in her path. The trick, apparently, will be to deal with these obstacles with patience and optimism. What one must not do is attack them with impatient negativity.

Unfortunately, even at her advanced age, mum has never really learnt how to approach issues with patience and optimism! She’s a half-empty rather than a half-full sort of person. And to switch zoological metaphors, I’m afraid a leopard can’t change its spots – which points to a rather trying year ahead for me if mum gets frustrated and cross.

On a more positive note, the Year of the Monkey is going to be a good year for me – as long as I take advantage of the opportunities that will arrive. Ok, I look forward to doing that. But – I must look after my health. The best way to rest, says the horoscope, is to maintain a good work/life balance. This could be a bit tricky. As any carer knows this is not like a normal job. It can be 24/7, there are no days off, no going home and leaving your work behind. Mum needs a lot more care than she did a year ago, both physically (incontinence etc) and mentally. So I must make sure my boundaries are firmly set, and I have time for myself.

In preparation for this, we’re about to have a respite break. Mum will go to the normal care home and I, fingers crossed, am going to visit the Pyramids and spend a week cruising on the Nile. This is my reward for the hard work of the last 18 months – and will hopefully set me up for the coming year!!

Abundance and Good Health to everyone.

We discuss euthanasia

Every morning when I take mum her cup of tea I move her pillows so she can sit up. I always ask ‘do you want to sit up?’ This morning she said, ‘no, I want to die.’

We discussed the potential ramifications of this. ‘I could just close the door and leave you lying here, but after a while you’d get bored, you’d get hungry, you’d need clean pads. I think in the end you’d get up and carry on as normal.’ She agreed just staying in bed till she died was not a good option.

Then I remembered the murder mystery we’d seen the evening before. The victim had been a chap in bad health; everyone had assumed his death was of natural causes – until they discovered he’d been smothered with a pillow! I made smothering movements with my hands ‘I could get a pillow like on TV last night! No one would question it; everyone would think it was natural causes.’

Mum nodded. I swear she looked a little hopeful. ‘No one would query it,’ she agreed.

‘But,’ I continued, ‘in the end the TV murderer was brought to justice. What if they did discover I had done away with you? Then I’d be sent to prison. That would be horrid. Sorry mum, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.’

So mum hauled herself up against the pillows, drank her cup of tea and we heard no more about it.

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BTW: I have my New Fence!! And I also have my New Laptop. Now just have to get used to Windows 10.

It never rains but it pours

In December, I applied to the Carers Well-Being Fund for a grant to help to buy a new laptop. The one I’m using has given me sterling service but it’s getting very old. At New Year I learned they’ve granted me this money and only ask for me to get back to them as soon as possible with proof I’ve made the purchase. But the crazy thing is – I haven’t had a chance! It’s mad I know but it’s going to end up being at least a fortnight before I can apply myself properly to what will be a really important purchase which I can’t just rush into. As they say, it never rains but it pours….. and it’s literally been pouring without cease for days.

Normally we lead a very quiet life, the calendar more or less blank. But since New Year it’s been a different matter. We’ve been spared the dreadful flooding that some people have suffered but with the torrential rain, hail and gale force winds, the back fence has practically collapsed. The one we have is old, but I was hoping we wouldn’t need to replace it just yet. To my horror, I discovered it keeling over, large chunks out of it. I found every piece of wood I could to prop it up, hammering them in to the ground with a mallet. It felt quite good actually: action woman!

The house backs onto a road, so we need a proper, strong fence without delay. But I had no idea where to start. I began to research the merits of ‘waney’ vs. ‘feather edge’ panels; cement posts vs. wooden posts. Neighbours recommended fencing firms; so did the hairdresser. I set up appointments so they could quote. Then I had to decide who to choose. Now I’m hoping I made the right choice!!

In the middle of all this, the Falls Prevention Team came to see mum. They came back and put up several new grab rails to help stop mum losing her balance and falling over. The week after they’ll return to check on how it’s going. That’s three days of appointments.

On Monday, I took mum to the doctor and today we went to the hospital because we’ve finally got the pre-op appointment for the minor surgery they’ve suggested for her. I have a whole list of necessary errands to run and I arranged weeks ago to go to London overnight next week, which will take up two days there and back. This is not to mention arranging a time for the fence to be fixed.

Fingers crossed, I’ll have time to buy my new laptop in another week or so!!

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I get into the Xmas spirit.

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I’m getting on well with Father Christmas!

The 12 days of Christmas are upon us. This time of year can get pretty claustrophobic. The days are short. It doesn’t really get light until nearly 8 am and its dark soon after 4 pm. It isn’t as cold as it should be – which is worrying in global terms but does make going outside a bit easier. The shops opened again on Boxing Day but without public transport (there are some buses between Xmas and New Year, but on a limited service) that won’t make much difference to me.

There isn’t much to do except batten down the hatches and embrace the traditional way of dealing with this time after the winter solstice: stay at home and eat! Or, in a more modern tradition: watch TV. Living in the same house as mum, who’s a TV addict and hard of hearing to boot, it’s impossible for me to beat it. So, even I, who has only owned one TV in my whole life, am studying the Radio Times to check the schedules. If I can’t beat them, I might as well join’em.

And actually I always do try to make this time as nice as possible. For several years now I’ve thought ‘this might be mum’s last Xmas’. This year, for the first time, she wondered that herself.

Anyway, I knew I’d never get through the exhausting run up to Xmas and survive the holidays and the period of hibernation that follows, without first having a respite break to recharge my batteries. At the beginning of December, I got the train to Paris and stayed with some friends who live there. I saw exhibitions, went to the movies (for the first time in over a year!) and had interesting conversations, which I didn’t have to repeat ad nauseum! On my way back through London I managed a couple of get-togethers with old friends and by the time I returned here I felt quite like my old self. Mum also returned from her stay in the care home in very good spirits.

So, the Xmas tree is up, the candles are lit, the TV is on. And I have a novel and a bottle of scotch tucked away. Hopefully, mum and I will manage to survive this Huis-Clos type holiday period without any major flare ups!

And I wish all of you who read this, a happy and peaceful 2016!

 

Mum turns 95

This week was Mum’s 95 birthday. Two days before, she met her great-granddaughter for the first time. This has lifted her spirits no end.

She’s been saying recently that she just wants to see The Baby and then she wants to ‘go’. Indeed, one morning she was so blue, she said she didn’t even care about  seeing baby! She asked me several times if dad died at Xmas. He died just after New Year, but this is the first time she’s brought the subject up in the five years since his death. She wondered if she would die at the same time of year as he had?

My grandmother had a stroke on the anniversary of my grandfather’s death and died shortly afterwards. So I began to be a bit concerned. But since mum’s seen The Baby, there’s been no more of such talk.

The birthday celebrations went on for several days, starting with a visit from my cousins bearing gifts from their side of the family. Since then, there’s been a steady stream of visitors: my brother, his kids and their partners – and The Baby of course; neighbours etc. At the last count, mum had received 19 birthday cards. She even got greetings via Face Book. All this has improved her mood immensely.

Mum has always been a gregarious person who enjoys chatting and laughing. I can’t really provide that sort of companionship. I could do, if there were two of me: one to do all the work and one to sit and chat and watch tv. The carers, who are here for an hour, the cleaners, the hair dresser, all cheer her up briefly, but mainly, she misses my father.

She told me, ‘I just want to see my Frank. Do you think he will find me when I die?’ I don’t know the answer to that one. I imagined the afterlife like a very crowded wartime railway station with refugees pouring off packed trains. I said ‘Well, thousands and thousands of people die every day. It might not be so easy for him to find you.’ She smiled and shook her head. ‘You don’t know my Frank. If there’s a way, he’ll find it.’

Well, of course, I hope she’s right. But for now, The Baby seems to have provided some sort of compensation for being forced to stay in this boring world. She has the child’s photo by her chair and speaks to it a lot. And she does seem to be much happier. I guess she really was, quite simply, depressed.

 

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Mum gets a kiss from dad.

Most mornings it’s hard to wake mum up. Sometimes when I go into her room, I think she may have died. Then I notice a fluttering of the eyelids, a bit of a gasp and she’s struggling back across the border lands to consciousness. Often, you get the impression she doesn’t like what she sees.

But the other morning it was different, she was alert and happy. She told me, in the night, dad had leant over the bed and given her a kiss. Dad’s been dead for 4 ½ years and in that time mum’s been disappointed that she hasn’t felt his presence around her. Now, finally he had come. He had leaned across and given her a kiss and told her he was worried about something. Worried about what? She did not know.

She often asks me, do you think I’ll see your father again? Well, I tell her, that’s a question no one can answer. But I thought, on odds, there was a 50/50 chance. Either there’s nothing and our consciousness dissolves, or we remain conscious but in a new dimension – in which case, I told her, it was possible they would find each other. She feels sure dad will meet her. ‘If there’s a way, he’ll find it.’

Perhaps her hope to see dad is a way through a dark place. Mum has a lot of pain. She cries a lot and says she’s had enough and wants to die. Still, it must be scary, stepping into that unknown beyond. Perhaps the idea that dad is waiting for her gives her strength to face it.

Perhaps he came to tell her he would be waiting to give her a hand across.

Mum sees a Golden Squirrel

Last week Mum saw a golden squirrel in the garden. She said it looked beautiful, gambolling around on the lawn. She says she called me to come and see but I didn’t hear her. A pity, because I would have liked to have seen this fabulous creature. I did wonder if she had been seeing things but there are often squirrels in the garden. I thought perhaps it had been a genetic mutation and reserved my judgement. ‘If it’s living around here,’ I said, ‘I expect we’ll see it again.’

The next day she cried out, ‘There’s a donkey in the garden!’ This time I was there to see that the garden was empty, but I knew there was no donkey. Of course there wasn’t! However mum saw it walk through the fence on one side, across the garden and through the fence on the other side.

Later she said ‘it wasn’t a donkey but a Shetland pony, golden with black, brown and white markings. It was lovely.’ That evening there happened to be a Shetland pony on TV. Mum told me ‘that one is the same as the creature I saw in the garden, except the one I saw had more markings.’ She described the markings to me quite clearly. This is someone who has no short term memory, but she can clearly see this horse in her mind’s eye.

Hallucinations can be a symptom of urine infections and mum is just recovering from one. When the District Nurse came she remarked on how much brighter mum seemed. I agreed but I had to mention that mum had seen two golden creatures in the garden. The nurse ran some more tests but so far everything seems clear. And in a way I’m pleased because seeing these two creatures has made mum feel quite blissful. It’s as if she’s had an epiphany.

When she speaks of the two sightings her face glows. ‘They were lovely. The little horse, it came from there, it went there, it was beautiful.’ I said, ‘Mum you do know it wasn’t real, don’t you?’ ‘What do you mean? It’s real to me; I can see it in my mind.’ ‘Okay, what I mean is – you do know there wasn’t really a pony in the garden?’

Mum assures me that she does know, but it’s quite clear that, on some level, she feels that it was real. In fact these hallucinations/ waking dreams/ visions/ whatever/ seem to have been the best things that have happened to her for a long time. They have made her feel quite blessed.

I embrace my inner bag lady.

The carers get my mother up and dressed. By the time she sits in her chair, her hair’s combed and her cardigan neatly buttoned. But I’m often still in my pyjamas. I don’t sleep in them: I put them on in the morning because they’re comfortable and easy to wash. I don’t want to spoil my nice clothes crawling around wiping up mess, cooking, cleaning etc.

Besides, I can’t be bothered; no one’s going to see me. A couple of times there’s been an unexpected caller and then it’s been embarrassing, but most of the time who’s to know if I’m still wearing my PJs and some old t-shirt at 5pm. I’ve checked out the neighbours. They wear tracksuits, comfy slippers and polyester slacks. None of these are my bag.

A few months before I moved in with mum, I was talking to an old school friend about how to look stylish at 60. We wanted to wear what we’ve always worn and we also wanted to keep our hair long, but this made us look a bit like ageing rock chicks. Recently I rang my friend to see how she was. She said she’d had flu and was feeling like a cross between a rock chick and a bag lady. After some hesitation I admitted that, these days, I am pretty much a full time bag lady.

When I was young, there was a film called ‘Woman in a Dressing Gown’. The phrase held a rather seedy glamour. The implication was that a woman who didn’t get dressed till the afternoon must have rather dubious morals. ‘Woman in her Pyjamas’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. But the idea of just sinking into a sort of lazy slothful abandon is strangely alluring. I mean, I’m hardly a sloth. Full- time caring is not a slothful activity but I do know, not only will I not see anyone at home, it’s very unlikely I’m going to bump into anyone interesting as I trudge to the post office, the chemist, the local supermarket. And then trudge back, lugging a load of shopping, no doubt with a rather harassed expression on my face.

When I lived in the city, I wouldn’t consider leaving the house without lipstick, earrings and perfume. But round here, I think you stand out if you make an attempt at glamour. So, when I go to the local shops, I don’t bother to put on lipstick, I just pull on a pair of jeans and put a coat over an old t-shirt and cardigan. (Of course, during the winter that was okay as a coat can cover a multitude of sins, now it’s spring I’ll have to think again.).

I’ve always said it doesn’t take any more effort to be nicely turned out then to look like a right mess. I still believe that but I’ve ceased to care so much. My inner bag lady – who I realise has always been there lurking in the wings – whispers seductively in my ear. Why bother to make that tiny bit of effort? Who will care? And those blue fluffy slippers are so warm and comfy.

I guess I should just relax and give into it. As long as, if needs be, I can still turn myself into an aging rock chick without too much trouble!2015-03-20 16.30.27

Mum has a fall

When I moved in with mum, it was agreed I could go away every now and then, while she would enter into respite care – but we had not yet found a place where she felt happy to go and stay. Last week, I went to visit a friend for a few days and mum went into a care home. It was recommended by someone we know and trust, so I was confident it would be a good, safe place. When we visited, it seemed comfortable and cosy – that’s what mum looks for, not luxury, or elegant furnishings. The other residents seemed friendly; greeting us not sitting drugged in front of the tele. I was really hopeful. The whole time I was away I kept all my fingers crossed and all my toes. Mum was indeed very comfortable there. She liked the place and the people – and the people liked her. When I phoned her, she sounded cheerful and happy, in no particular rush to go home. But on her last night there, just walking back to her room, she had a heavy fall. It was such a shame. All the benefit of her ‘holiday’ was lost. She’s shaken up; her face is a picture of black and yellow. She has bruises down her side and ribs, and on her feet. She obviously went down with an almighty thump. The miracle was, she didn’t break anything – although the side arm of her glasses had to be repaired. The home took her to A&E, sat with her there for hours. The doctor dressed the wound where she had scraped her face and the District Nurse has been to check on the dressing. They gave me a pamphlet about head injuries, warned against confusion and sleepiness – but that’s normal for mum! The nurse asked was there any nausea or diarrhoea? No. She’s tired, feels achy and under the weather, but the wound should heal in a few days and the effects pass away. The worst thing is, she’s lost her confidence. Apparently, the danger after a fall is, even if there’s no injury, the ‘faller’ will become afraid to move around and their health suffers. I hope, as she begins to feel better, mum will go back to doing things for herself. I hope she won’t associate this cosy, friendly care home with the fall, and will be happy to return there for another stay. I’m also relieved that the fall happened when she was with other people. It looks like she’s been beaten up. I wouldn’t want anyone to think it had been me! Featured image