I have placed this entry under Nostalgia.
The nostalgia I feel is for my life, as I have become a carer and my life is no longer my own.
I have experience of the role of a carer; twenty five years ago I was an alternate carer for my mother-in-law, who developed early-onset Alzheimers in her late forties and died from it in her early fifties. By the time I married it was apparent that something was wrong with my mother-in-law, so I never knew her as she really was before I was looking after her every other long weekend to give my father-in-law a break.
Break is a word easily associated with any caring role. The other person in the triangle of carers was my mother-in-law’s big sister who did the alternate weekends. I think the five years of caring nearly broke all three of us. I ended up £16,000 in debt, with cancer. My father-in-law developed diabetes and turned up on the doorstep with a diet sheet saying I had to look after him and feed him and if I got it wrong and he died it would all be my fault.
Caring can be like that. It can get you to the end of your tether and, when you fall off, you have to get up and keep going, knowing, all the time, that there can only be one ending.
What helps immensely is if the person for whom you are caring has a nice cheerful personality to begin with. My mother-in-law, luckily for everyone concerned, was a lovely person. When she reached the difficult parts of her illness we knew that the cantankerous and accusatory phases were just that and that she would revert to her default position of sunny, in time, and she always did. My father-in-law was endlessly cheerful too, which was a great help because as I was only in my twenties and had little life experience to call on, to be doing impossible things was easier with someone basically happy. He made a joke of everything, like the time he was washing her under the shower and she was running up and down the bath to try to get out of the rain.
Such good examples of finding the silver lining or choosing to laugh instead of cry are standing me in good stead now. No matter how often you rehearse the wise saying that you cannot control what happens to you, you can only control your reaction to it, it is still immensely helpful to have an example to follow.
So much is out of my control. Finances, for example, are a huge worry. We already had a grown up boomerang son living off my husband’s inadequate pension. Additionally my business has gone down the Swannee. How can I earn money if it takes two days to photograph a few new things for the shop, another day to do the computer programme and a third to find and package them, never mind the time to make them, if I only have a three day turn around here, most of which is spent washing and cleaning? Add to the less-money mix, two men shopping for themselves with great sympathy for their need to have best steak to cheer themselves up because they’ve not only got to cook it for themselves, they have to wash up afterwards too. Not to mention the two cats here and the one there, who I weaned off the most dreadful dried cat food in one easy go, at my own expense, like everything else. In a 200 mile round trip each visit the car depreciates as the fuel bill soars. On the plus side I am living frugally off fresh air and have lost a stone.
I’m losing fitness too. There simply isn’t time to work out properly. A twenty minute run in the park makes me sleep well but it’s hardly a muscle builder, although it is doing something. Last week, short of time, I shopped frantically in Leamington and then ran the length of the Parade, whistling the theme tune to Chariots of Fire, to get back to the car parking spot before the ticket ran out, and wasn’t even slightly out of breath.
My mother keeps telling me I ought to be living with my husband and son. I agree wholeheartedly but see no practical way of doing that. I still haven’t reached the end of all the letters I have to send to the people who have to be notified of my father’s death. I only have one death certificate to work with as the executors took the rest and gave them all to the solicitors they engaged, who haven’t even applied for probate yet. On the most simple level my mother needs companionship, having only slept alone in a house for the first time in her life a few weeks ago. She was a difficult person to begin with and, surprisingly, this has helped her. Having been inclined to set her teeth and battle through when there was nothing amiss at all, I do know when I’m not there that she isn’t going to collapse in a heap if things go wrong, in fact, if she isn’t in the house when I return I could probably find her by following the trail of flattened car park attendants and squashed shop keepers.
A bit of feisty is a positive blessing in old age, though I think the most useful thing is to be in practice with everything.
It is so easy when you are half of a couple, to divide the responsibilities so that each has their own task and never touches the other’s. I knew before we began this slide into debt and misery that apart from my lack of practice with long distance driving and my husband’s gut-wrenching fear of bank managers, we were fairly interchangeable. However, three weeks ago I received a phone call preceded by the kind of deep sigh that makes your heart sink at the thought of what miracles you may be called upon to perform at a distance of fifty miles.
‘Oh,’ sighed my husband, ‘it’s dreadful.’
‘What is?’ (? the bank, a disease, the cats etc.)
(??) ‘What about them?’
‘They’ve stopped drying.’
‘Could they possibly be dirty?’
‘How long have they been out?’
‘I think they’re the ones you put out last week. We’ve both been getting washed.’
‘Put new ones out.’
‘I would but the laundry basket is full.’
‘Wash the towels.’
‘I don’t know how to wash towels, you never showed me.’
I reported the conversation to my mother. Even she laughed. And we both laughed two hours later when he rang in triumph to say the towels were on the washing line.
So, top advice to all couples in good health and advancing age is to not just show each other how to do it but write down the instructions and practice. It’s surprising when you have reached the end of your patience how the smallest things going wrong can sap your spirit if you don’t know how to deal with them.
For my mother it was the mouse.
Her cat Benji is elderly but ambitious, so he brings in mice and then forgets about them. The mouse stole his dried food and left a line of it hidden under the hostess trolley on its way to the kitchen drawers where it ate the edges of the tea towels, the piping off the tea cosies, the bags from the rubber gloves, pastry cloths, dish cloths and doilies. In return it left droppings, lots of them.
It took a whole afternoon to clear out the drawers. The task was depressing and, also, heartening. It’s nice to know that people who can afford to stockpile rubber gloves still have drawers full of junk, with a layer of inexplicable biscuit crumbs at the bottom. For days I pursued the mouse as it stole the cat’s food. Occasionally the cat joined in the search, until he forgot and wandered off to sleep in his dining room basket beside the radiator. I looked everywhere, even getting his other basket from the top of the kitchen wall cupboard to see if he’d perhaps left a tail. In the end I had to go home without having found the mouse. It took half a day before my mother was on the phone with a wavering voice and a worry. She had had to go in the drawers to retrieve a clean tea towel and found lots of new mouse droppings. I cursed myself, silently, I should have thought to leave out a tea towel and a tea cosy. So I sped back early, bringing a trap which I baited with peanut butter with great success. The next morning I retrieved the trap from underneath the drawers, closed, with an occupant. I ran (quite easily) out to the park accompanied by a squirrel running along a fence and by the stream I released a fat, pretty dun mouse with a white stomach. It went running off down to the water. Back at the house the rubbish cat suddenly got interested and climbed into the space I’d made when I removed the bottom drawer and had to be tempted out.
So for my mother it was a mouse. For me it was the back door. We have had it off the hinges and I have held it in mid air, twice, while my husband planed it. We have borrowed sash clamps to stick the panels together and I have painted it. In fact there’s scarcely been a week in the last twelve where we haven’t been doing some thing with the sticking door. At the weekend I pulled the handle right off. I was not thrilled to find my father had applied a liberal coating of hard yellow glue inside of it before replacing the screws, nor was I delighted to see the problem of the short screws had been caused by placing the screw holes over the internal lock mechanism so there was a depth (if you can call it that) of about 2mm of wood for the screws to bite into.
I tried every screw in the garage. In the end I did two good ones in the bottom, into the wood and I had to screw two long ones into the top and then cramp them over with a hammer. It’s the sort of bodge job I would never do on a dolls’ house and I am so cross with myself for doing it, even though it works, because I wouldn’t do that in my own house, I’d go to a proper hardware shop with men in brown overalls and get advice and, probably, fixings designed for the job. But there’s a limit to what you can achieve in a posh town, with no useful shops in walking distance in half an hour before someone is worrying about where you’ve gone.
At home, of course, I’d also be able to use the Internet to find out what to do. And then, when I couldn’t, I’d read something like this and laugh about it.
So if you are reading this because you’re caring and you need a five minute break to try and restore what’s left of your sanity, I really do know where you’re coming from. Once again I am coming from the same hard place.
The question is: where is it all going to?
JaneLaverick.com – challenged.