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!
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!
Last week I went away for a couple of nights (I know, I’m lucky to be able to get away, many carers can’t) but when I came back, absolutely replete with good conversation and good food – I really didn’t want to be here.
I felt I’d expanded back into my old persona. I didn’t feel like fitting myself into that diminished outline of myself I have to inhabit as a carer – that’s to say, a person who has to put someone else’s needs first. I sulked, I disappeared into my room and started texting, I put on my headphones and plugged myself into some music. I didn’t want to drop everything and answer when I was called. I didn’t want to serve up a meal when I wasn’t hungry, or abandon my emails to answer the same question for the tenth time.
I’d had some hassles on the return trip: bad transport connections, having to lug my bag around in the cold. I got back here rather tired and frazzled. I wanted some acknowledgement that I’d had a rather demanding day and a long chilly journey. I didn’t want to be nice to someone who ignored how I was feeling; who just sat there and expected me to wait on them hand on foot. I didn’t want to help them, even though I knew they were old and achy and finding it hard to walk, pick up things or undo buttons. I didn’t care!! No, I didn’t!!
Of course, you can’t be cruel to the one you look after, so, I gritted my teeth and mended my ways. But for a couple of days, I was sulky and begrudging and surly, just going through the motions. Because there’s history, isn’t there, between parents and children, between mothers and daughters? Sometimes it takes a supreme effort for me to overcome that powerful urge to shift back into the old game-playing, power battle that defined our relationship for many years.
I’m not asking for sympathy, it was my choice to move in with mum but – I’m not a selfless saint. Sometimes I’m just a sulky teen, resenting the fact I’ve been ordered to do the washing up.
I don’t usually talk to strangers. I think of myself as shy, although I’ve been told I look superior and intimidating.
Anyway, on Saturday, I went to buy a paper and started chatting to the woman in the shop. ‘What are they building over the road? A new supermarket! Goodness! And how will that affect you? Oh dear, that’s terrible.’ On my way home I passed a guy with a cute little dog and I started chatting to him. ‘Oh she’s so pretty! What type of dog is she? What’s her name?’
Is this loneliness? I’m happy in my own company, as they say, and I’m used to living on my own but then I had a social life. Now, I spend most of my time with someone who can’t really have a conversation. Mum and I do have chats, although I know she’ll forget them soon enough. Sometimes, when I’ve been out and seen something interesting, I just can’t stop myself telling her about it, even though I know it will probably make things worse because she won’t understand what I’ve said, and I’ll have to repeat myself and explain it over and over again.
In the same way, I always regret making a casual comment – about a news item, for example: thinking aloud, you might call it. Because mum’s a bit deaf, she doesn’t catch what I’ve said, so she wants to know what it was, but she won’t understand why I’ve said it. And in the meantime, the news item has changed so I have to explain it was the item before last but she’s forgotten what that was; or it’s a drama and I lose the thread of the plot while I tell her why I made some minor, off-the-cuff remark. In the end, it’s simpler to try and say nothing at all.
I’ve been reading that isolation is a big problem among carers. I have the phone and emails to keep in touch with friends, but it is bizarre to be with someone and feel unable to communicate. Perhaps this is how au pairs must feel? They’re not by themselves, but they’re cut off from their companions by lack of language. I’m not by myself, but it feels like it’s more trouble than it’s worth to express my thoughts. And that does make me feel solitary in a way that living alone never did.