Mum leaves home

I’ve been waiting for a permanent room to come up at the Care Home mum likes. Essentially, I’ve been waiting for someone to die, which is a bit weird, but it was the only thing to do. About a month ago, the owner of the Care Home – or the Missus, as mum calls her – told me a resident had been taken ill and wasn’t expected to survive. But that old lady proved to be tougher than everyone expected, and she regained her health. Then another resident was taken into hospital but, as I said to Brother – I’m about to go on holiday. I can’t risk being stuck with nowhere for mum to go.  What if this second old lady also proves tougher than they thought? And indeed, I didn’t want to wish her ill just for my convenience.

And so, I found a respite room for mum at an alternative Care Home. But the truth is, mum’s needs have become such that I’d been counting on her moving permanently into the Home before I went away. Now I took a deep breath and came to terms with the fact that it wasn’t going to happen. I really did not know how I would cope. Mum is getting so frail, it’s terrifying each time she stands up and goes to the bathroom. I can no longer get her in and out of the house without a second able-bodied person to help – and I’ve recently lost both of the main carers who I relied on to support me, let alone mum! Plus, I have a hospital appointment to start my treatment in early November so I really did need to find a place for mum during October. I consoled myself that by then there might be a place at the favourite Home. But the fact is, I was beginning to despair.

At this point, I had a call from a woman on the Carer’s Support Team. She’d come round to see me a few weeks previously and had ended up giving me an hour’s counselling session, which she must have thought I needed. And perhaps I did. Anyway, she rang to check on my mental health. I admitted I was pretty down. I’d so hoped to get mum settled before my holiday. Now I was faced with finding a place for her before the hospital appointment. She offered to help me do that, which I really appreciated. So different from the bureaucrat I spoke to before. None of this ‘oh you can manage with extra help from the Care Agency’. No. She agreed. ‘You need to find a safe place for your mum as soon as possible.’ So that was a load off my mind.

Then, at the eleventh hour the Missus rang. There was a permanent room for mum after all. It would be ready the day before I needed to leave. I didn’t even feel excited, I felt numb, I didn’t dare allow myself to relax or I’d have to admit just how hard and dreadful it’s been the last few months. I understand it’s a sad thing for mum to leave home. I expect there’ll be some hiccups. I’ve had several serious conversations with her about how things can’t carry on as they are, but then she forgets what I told her. However. Last week, she moved. I was in such a state myself, I had to go back twice with things she needs but I’d forgotten to pack. The next day I went to London to stay with friends, and then on to see some more friends in Paris, and I forgot to do all sorts of things before I left. I did one thing in particular that was so dumb I can’t believe I actually did it. However, it seems that I did.

I guess I’ll slowly unwind and come to my senses. I still can’t believe it has really happened, keep worrying things will go wrong. I do so hope mum will settle happily in the Home because I’m really worn out. On the plus side, I’m going On Holiday tomorrow! I hope it’ll be fun. I really do need to recuperate!

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Mum has a holiday

Mum really wanted to visit my brother’s new home in Somerset. Because it would probably be the last holiday she ever had, we discussed how it could be arranged. The first hurdle was the 2 ½ hour drive to where my niece lives. Mum made the journey last year for niece’s wedding, and stayed quite happily in a Care Home round the corner from niece’s home. Now mum is a year older and much frailer – but, keeping my fingers crossed, I booked a car and a driver and we made it that far. Mum then spent two days resting. She was visited by my niece, who’s heavily pregnant with her second baby, and Great-Granddaughter – who really is the only person mum cares about these days.

Niece and her hubby put me up, which was very kind of them because, what with the advanced pregnancy and the demanding two-year-old, this young couple already have quite a lot on their plate. But I did need to be nearby. Mum had a bit of a meltdown the first evening. The Home rang me and I had to walk round and reassure her, but basically all went well.

Brother lives another hour’s drive to the north. Saturday morning, he came and picked us up. He’d found a very nice Care Home close to his house, with a view of the sea from the garden. It seemed a nice place, lots of ladies to chat to in the lounge and mum settled in happily enough. Brother also arranged to borrow a wheelchair – which made things much easier for moving mum around.

On the Sunday, mum was taken to visit my brother’s new place. Originally, he’d said she would not be able to get over the threshold, but eventually he worked out she could enter through the garage, in the wheelchair. My niece, her hubby – and Great-Granddaughter obviously – and my nephew with his wife who’s 7 months pregnant – all arrived for lunch. It’s unlikely mum will see either of these expected babies for a while, so at least she’s met them in utero as it were.  And we had what may well be one of the last family gatherings. Then, on Monday, Brother gave me a lift to Glastonbury where I spent 3 days on my own, thinking things through while he and his partner took mum round to various places she wanted to visit along the north Somerset coast. She was particularly keen to go to Weston-Super-Mare. We think she went there with my dad when he was in the army, but we’re not completely sure.

Then he drove mum back to the Care Home around the corner from my niece. I got back there the next day. Mum seemed fine. My niece had been to visit her that morning with Great-Granddaughter, and we would be going home the next day. We were just sitting down to dinner when my mobile rang. Mum was freaking out, as only she can. Where was I? She was waiting for someone to come and look after her! No one was looking after her! She’d been abandoned! She was disgusted! Disgusted! Etc. Etc.

I trudged back up to the Care Home. The carer was very upset by mum’s outburst. I think the problem was there was no one to chat to in the tv lounge so mum felt lonely and bereft. She wanted to come back to my niece’s house. But that was impossible. It really is not old-lady-proof. There’s nowhere she could sit; the entrance is narrow with high steps. And there was no wheelchair available. And no one to push it if there were.

They are looking after You! Look how upset they are! You need to rest, before the long journey tomorrow! And you saw Great-Granddaughter this morning! And anyway, She’s already been put to bed!

Eventually, I got mum settled and we had our dinner. After this outburst, I was dreading the final drive home but it went ok. The traffic was heavy, as it was a Friday afternoon in the summer holiday period and the journey took longer than usual, but the driver dealt with mum well. To avoid the traffic, he took us on a roundabout route through some lovely landscape, and quaint little villages. This scenic drive has really stayed in mum’s mind. And, although Mum has been tired and fractious since we got back, she does seem to have enjoyed her holiday – and to have remembered most of it! Which is the main thing. Now, I’m just counting the days till my own holiday. I just hope I can last out till then!!

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Mum has a bacon sandwich and I have a narrow escape

Mum really enjoyed the visit from my brother and his partner. She enjoyed having different people to talk to.  But then, two fresh, temporary carers have to be better than one grumpy, monosyllabic daughter.

She also enjoyed a change of diet. She had bacon sandwiches – which she likes very much, but which she never gets from me because I don’t eat bacon and won’t cook it; she had sausage and mash – which she also likes. But although I will cook her sausages (in a different pan from my veggie ones!) I get bored mashing the potatoes. Mum complained so much about how my mash was so lumpy that I now refuse to do it; and she also had take-away fish and chips – which I do eat, but can’t provide as I don’t have a car to go and fetch them.

For my brother and his partner it was a novelty; after two nights, they could leave and go back to their own lives. And as brother admitted, they did not have to deal with any messy ‘events’. Well, good, I’ve already booked them in for a second visit.

Just being able to walk away from the house, knowing mum would be 100% looked after, made a huge difference. To be able to hand over the responsibility of mum’s care to my brother and head off to the station, felt like I’d laid down a burden. And even though my break lasted little more than 48 hours I felt much better for it, with more energy to carry on with what is an increasingly heavy task of sheer drudgery.

I spent my free time in London. I stayed with my South London pals, one of whom I’ve known since school.  It was so civilised not having to get up at the crack of dawn, get mum changed and then make a dash for the station, praying the train would be running. It was so relaxing to be plied with delicious food and sensible conversation the evening before. Then, the next morning, to eat a leisurely breakfast and get a bus over the river. We were meeting up with two other old school friends at the Tate Gallery. We planned to see the new retrospective exhibition of David Hockney. When I walked into the exhibition, I almost burst into tears. I felt as if I’d found my identity once more; that I was again a person I recognised, the sort of person who goes to art galleries. And I’ll say in brackets that the next morning, before I returned here, we went to see another exhibition, this time of Vanessa Bell, which was equally wonderful, although in a very different way.

But back to our rendezvous at the Tate. After lunch, we couldn’t decide what to do next. One of us wanted to check out a nearby boutique that sells individual, crafted jewellery; then someone else suggested we went to a cafe she’d discovered that was just round the corner. But the cafe had closed down. We dithered, trying to decide what to do next.

We discussed getting a bus over to the South Bank. If we’d done that, we’d have gone round Parliament Square and crossed Westminster Bridge sometime around 2.30pm. When we talked about it later, we couldn’t remember why we’d suddenly changed our minds. But out of the blue, we decided to return to the Tate and have coffee there. Just after 2.30pm, a mad man drove his car into a crowd of innocent bystanders on Westminster Bridge. He killed a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament and was then killed himself. If we’d got that bus, we might well have been caught up in the mayhem. As it was, the Gallery was just outside the locked-down, cordoned off area and we all managed to get home safely.

I don’t know whether I believe in Guardian Angels, but I certainly feel like I had a narrow escape!

By the way, I apologise for not posting sooner but I had some IT issues and I just didn’t have the mental energy to sort them out…until now!

Mum loses a tooth

Mum still has most of her teeth – which is pretty good for someone of 96. (I hope my teeth last as long!) But for the last few months, she’s been complaining of a loose tooth in the front – and worrying she’d lose that tooth and have a big gap in her smile.

The other evening she called me: I’ve found something in my mouth! She extended her palm. Look, it’s all brown. Her tooth had finally fallen out, painlessly and without any fuss. However, it wasn’t the most attractive looking thing. We both agreed it wasn’t worth putting under her pillow. The tooth fairy would not want it! And although mum does now have a gap, it doesn’t look that bad.

As for the gap left in my life by the death of my old friend, well, that’s still very painful. Thanks to all of you who sent me messages, either through the blog or by other means. I’ve been feeling very downcast, incapable of action but the last few days I’ve begun to feel a renewed sense of hope. This could be because of the time of year – recently we’ve seen both the Chinese New Year and the early spring festival celebrated here since ancient times.

Travelling to the funeral was dreadful but it turned out to be a half-full rather than a half-empty experience. It was a relief  to be with other people, to speak about Brian’s life, to share memories and also to receive some TLC and support from my friends – rather than having to exhaust myself looking after mum and then to sit alone and sad. Last week, I went round to his flat to collect a couple of treasures that had been set aside for me. The brothers had already started to pack up his things. Needs must, I know. Nevertheless, it was very upsetting to see.

I knew so many stories attached to the things in the flat – more than the family did. I was heartbroken to see everything being handled as if it were just stuff that needed to be got rid of. But, at the end of the day, it is only stuff. I still have my memories of a dear friend. And it was closure of a sort. I can no longer fool myself that he’s really sitting on his balcony in Palma, gazing out over the Mediterranean that he loved so much.

That’s how it is. But it’s made me start to think of my own mortality. I know I’m depressed at the moment but I’m beginning to wonder just how much longer I can spend looking after mum. I really don’t want to just bundle her off to a Home but I’ve decided that, in spite of the cost, I’m going to place mum in the care home for a week to give me a chance to recover, to recharge my batteries and try and work through the back log of chores I can’t accomplish at the moment because I am so tired. And then, maybe, I’ll be able to think straight and make some decisions.

I have existential nausea

It’s three weeks since I got back from my respite break – and for most of that time I’ve been trying to write a blog post but haven’t been able to complete one. I’ve been sunk into a slough of despond, I only want to sit around and read the paper. Thank god I had planned a few meetings with friends and they helped to lift me out of the depression.

I had a very nice time away: too nice, actually. I paid a visit to the village where I lived when I was a student; then drove up to Ely in Cambridgeshire with some old friends from Sydney. I’d never been there and it is quite lovely, very historic. After that I spent a few days with friends in London. Finally, I had a couple of days back here on my own, mainly clearing out mum’s bedroom – a task I can’t complete while she’s here.

The weekend I spent by myself made me realise just how much time and energy it takes to look after mum. I could get up when I wanted, I didn’t have to fit around mum’s timetable and the carer’s schedule. I could go to bed when I like, I didn’t have to wait until I could get mum settled.

And in between my chores, I could actually relax – read or watch a DVD. When she’s here, I can’t relax. I might think I’ve got a chance to get on with some project of my own – but then she calls me: she’s having a disaster, she’s spilt tea down herself and needs to be changed; she’s wet her trousers and needs to be changed; she’s constipated, stuck on the loo and needs to be talked to…. Then there’s the continual barrage of repetitive questions, which she just shouts out, no matter if I’m far away, in the middle of cooking, in the garden – or indeed in the loo! And there’s the sudden taking offence at some innocent remark I’ve made. All of this drains my energy.

Also, while I was alone, I could listen to the radio. This made me feel I was in touch with the world, gaining information and learning something new while I worked away. I can’t listen to the radio when she’s here because it annoys her – ‘too much talking’ – (although I have to spend hours trying to block out the noise of the TV which she always has on very loudly.)

Anyway, when she got home, I couldn’t get back into the swing of things. I resented the situation and felt like a drudge, an unpaid skivvy who is working my arse off while she just has everything to her advantage and there’s nothing to mine. I saw clearly how limiting this life is for me and how precious my time is, as I’m not so young anymore either. How many healthy years do I have left myself? I seriously considered the alternatives. Could I put mum permanently into the care home? Eventually the answer came back:  Not Yet.

I don’t know how much longer I will be able to stand it. I said originally I could do it for 2 years, or 3 at the most, so in October I will reassess the situation. And who knows how things will be by then.

In the words of Samuel Beckett: I can’t go on, I’ll go on. For now.

 

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…