New Beginnings

…as anyone who has cared for elderly relatives knows, there is no status quo. Everything changes on a daily basis, and sometimes things are only as good as last night’s rest. Nowadays, I am one of my mother’s primary carers, and, as anyone who has filled a similar role knows, it’s not easy.

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Xmas Dogs Sweeties s rr
Dogs of yesteryear awaiting Christmas treats

It has been a difficult time recently, but today is New Year’s Day, and it occurred to me – lying awake in the dark watches of the night – that this is the perfect time to make a new start. I have been feeling the need to somehow log this era of my life, record it in some way, and to have an outlet for my feelings and emotions as I help care for my elderly parents, but up ’til now I haven’t found a way. And then it struck me that I have had this blog page for years, sitting idle. Now is the time to put it to use.

So I shall start. It is New Year’s Day. I spoke to my mother this morning. She is well, had a good night, and for once sounded rested. She doesn’t often sound rested these days. so it was good to hear her voice sounding light, to talk about the day that’s in it, to tell her of our early walk with the dogs and go on to chat about all the animals, dogs and cats, she has had, and loved, and misses. I suppose it is largely because of my mother that I have felt unable to write about this anywhere else. My other blog, Writing from the Edge, has been a part of my life for years, but my mother has been a regular reader from the start, so naturally I haven’t felt free to say what’s on my mind.

blog Granny & G in garden Suffolk 10 c rr
My parents in their garden, Summer 2010

My mother is 84, and although she doesn’t – apparently – have Alzheimers, she is certainly suffering from exhaustion-related forgetfulness, which amounts to dementia, whether it has a recognisable name or not. She is my 94 year old father’s primary carer, and is doing an amazing job. But – but – as anyone who has cared for elderly relatives knows, there is no status quo. Everything changes on a daily basis, and sometimes things are only as good as last night’s rest. Nowadays, I am one of my mother’s primary carers, and, as anyone who has filled a similar role knows, it’s not easy.

One major problem is that I live in a different country, so it is an hour’s drive, a flight, a two hour wait, an hour and a half’s bus journey and then a half hour taxi or lift to reach her. I’m lucky, she isn’t on the other side of the world. She lives on the East Anglian coast of the UK, while I live on the west coast of Ireland. It is perfectly do-able, just not instantaneous. My sister, on the other hand, lives 15 minutes down the road from our parents, and has, for years, filled all the gaps. But, however much you love your relatives, it is arduous and ever-increasing work to care for them in old age. It is also work that, however lovingly given and however much appreciated, can easily be taken for granted, not just by the primary recipients, but by the rest of the family.

They are lucky, my parents. They are fundamentally very fit and still live together in their own home, in the centre of a beautiful village. But nearly three years ago the inevitable happened: my mother had a fall and the slow but inexorable downward spiral began. That was when my periodic visits became a bi-monthly fortnight to give my sister a break, and my mother some respite-care. Looking back, that was when my life bisected and I stopped writing about half of it on my blog.

blog office pic c r
One of the ‘annual photos’ my father kept on his office desk (mid 60s)

 

On my last visit, in early December, things had moved another notch south, so to speak. It’s hard to institute changes that might benefit everyone, when two members of the party won’t remember the new regime within five minutes. ‘Don’t try to move the bins, I’ve arranged that the Council will come in and collect them’ my sister told them. A simple way to improve life and keep them safer, but despite a reminder phone call and a note in mum’s diary – her Essential aide-memoire, my sister arrived to find them trying to haul heavy wheelie bins out of their habitual resting places, through the gate and onto the lane. It resulted – unbeknownst to anyone – in my father pulling a muscle, so when I arrived a few days later, it was to find him practically immobile, my mother beyond tired, my sister worn to a frazzle. Yet they are of that generation who rarely seek help. When, a day or two later, I rang their surgery to ask for a visit to see why my father could suddenly barely walk, the Receptionist asked uncertainly if my parents were patients of theirs, as she didn’t immediately recognise their names.

In one way, it was all a good thing, as it spurred me on to make lots of changes that we siblings have wanted, but which our parents were resisting. I took them to the neighbouring town where the three of us tried, tested and bought Dad a riser/recliner chair that deposits him onto his zimmer frame in a semi-upright position. ‘Hurrah!’ I thought. But neither he nor my mother seem to be getting the hang of the push-button mechanism, so it’s usefulness has (to date) been limited, and by the time I left Dad was often to be seen perched precariously on the up-risen seat. Definitely not something to bring me peace of mind in absentia. It would be funny if it wasn’t for real.

So now I find myself carrying them with me constantly, and it is exhausting, especially as there is nothing I can do. If I ask my mother about such things as their grasp of the chair, it might as easily elicit a ‘don’t treat me like a child’ response, as a straightforward (if depressing) ‘nothing doing’. Somehow I have to find a way of switching in and out, of distancing myself mentally and emotionally, concentrating on the things I can do for them, but ‘putting them down’ and focusing on the things I have to do for the people who need me at home. It’s very hard, and to be honest, I’m not coping very well yet.

But it was good to talk to my mother this morning, and hear her sounding bright and cheerful. Most of all I think she enjoyed reminiscing about her beloved pets of long ago.

 

Besh Chase rr
Chase, my mother’s dog, curled up with my lurcher. Both were Rescues

 

Author: writeovertheedge

I am a writer, a gardener, an animal-lover, the mother of two grown up sons, and the wife of an artist. We live on the west coast of Ireland, where we love the scenery and the people and hate the rain. I have another blog, Writing from the Edge, but am starting to use this blog to record a new and more difficult part of my life - helping to care for my elderly parents

12 thoughts on “New Beginnings”

  1. Your description of the chair brought back a lot of memories. We had one for my mother which we eventually unplugged as she forgot how to move it from the reclining position and would simply slide off it. Nightmare.
    This is a tough phase for elderly parents and grown up children alike. I am glad your sister is close by. Do your parents have a cleaner? My aunt’s cleaner is now a dear friend, her primary carer, and the best thing that ever happened in her third age.
    Would they accept carers coming in? I know the latter can be a double edged sword, because poor carers are worse than nothing.
    Look after yourself too. Remember the aircraft instructions about putting your own oxygen mask on before trying to help others,
    Animals. Wonderful animals.

    1. Thank you for your interest, Isobel. It’s taking me awhile to ‘learn’ WordPress – it’s very different to Blogger! The point you make about oxygen masks is – oddly enough – one I think of often, in many different circumstances! It is extremely valid! Yes, they have a cleaner and now also have a ‘Help’ coming in – more anon – so it’s coming together, but every change is another mountain to climb.

  2. Hi, I tried to post before but am not sure it got through so am trying again.

    Love and prayers to your parents (and you).

    Yes, it’s hard when one is far away. Mum will very soon be 93, and is still in Tenerife. She’s coped very well to be on her own in her flat this long – she does have some help cleaning once a week, and some ‘yard’ help once a month or so. She’s always said she will go into a home rather than ‘make’ me go out there on a (semi) permanent basis. This last time we went to a hoe we first went to 2 years ago, to have another talk with the director and get some up-to-date figures, etc. She’s increasingly ready to move out of her flat, and at this point I’m planning to go again late Feb or early March.

    Pam, her neighbour and friend who spends part of each year in Tenerife will be there again in Feb, which is great – but I don’t want to abuse her kindness or ‘use’ her as some sort on unpaid carer. We were in touch with the Canary Islands Carer Services while I was there, and have arranged for the one who came to see us to come in once a week starting on 12th Jan. We both liked her, so I’m trusting that will prove to be a good decision.

    Mum is now getting a bit more forgetful too, and I can identify with the ‘I don’t know how to use this’ syndrome. Her mobile died shortly before I went out there in December, and she’s really meant to wear it round the flat in case of a fall or whatever. I got her a new ‘easy to use’ one designed for elderly people and gave it to her more-or-less as soon as I arrived. She was very grateful, bless her, but I think a bit afraid of it and (as I’d anticipated) I had to spend ages going through things with her again and again – she’d then forget… However, I think perseverance and patience (and determination on her part) have paid off. Definitely not easy.

    Isobel is right – take care of yourself too.

    I keep asking the Lord for wisdom and the right timing for everything – also to know exactly what my own role should be.

    1. Hi Laura – thank you so much for your comment, and yes, of course, you must be in a similar position. I’m glad that your mother is still so well, but can so identify with everything you say – not wanting to take advantage of friends (and, in my case, my sister) but also the fear of anything new. I got my mother a new mobile – she’d ceased to use the old one years ago – The one I bought was probably the identical one you got, as it is specifically for elderly people, easy to use etc. I spent hours upon hours going through it with her, but it just made her panic and she hasn’t touched it this last two years. We have now, finally, cancelled the provider. It is all a nightmare really. I so understand how difficult it is for you, being even further away than I am. I hope you continue to find solutions as you go along, and ditto Isobel’s advice! You, too, take care of yourself. x

  3. Your blog brought tears to my eyes as anyone who has cared for parents understands how you are feeling. I helped my mother nurse my father when he was diagnosed with Parkinsons at the tender age of 49. He died aged 64. A few years later and it was my turn to be my mother’s primary carer as she had ovarian cancer. It was an amazingly precious, wonderful, painful, lonely time as I became her lioness. I was very sad to lose her when I was relatively young and especially, as adults, we were each others closest friend and confidante. Now I have come to terms with the loss and I see my friends cope with elderly parents I am grateful I dealt with it when I was that much younger. Whenever frailty happens it is always hard to see our parents get older and more dependent but helping them through this time will help you come to terms with loss in the future…..and remembering to look after yourself is vital.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Helen, and for visiting Write Over The Edge! I don’t know how old you were when your father was diagnosed, but that seems like quite a young age for you to have been dealing with very difficult emotional things, only to have your mother fall ill afterwards. As you so rightly say, it is a real upheaval to see your parents, who were, let’s face it, the grown-ups, becoming so dependent and in many ways, childlike. I am glad that I can be there for them, but I have to admit to times of great frustration and tongue-chomping. As Naomi would say, I often come away with my tongue just a bloody stump, I’ve bitten it so hard! I am planning to have a much much calmer year this year – the last 15 months were manic – but I do need to take much more time and pace myself a bit. Lx

  4. I read your second post first, and thought it beautiful. I didn’t realise from reading your other blog that you were coping with that burden.
    I lost my father in September, we had been estranged for a good few years butt entities contact resumed to be quickly followed by full time nursing of what we all know was terminal pancreatic cancer.
    He wanted to die at home, none of us had fully appreciated what that would involve. Nor how long and exhausting the process. Even with the local hospices help it was exhausting….not least for him. Without my eldest doctor daughter who gave up almost all her holidays to nurse him the last few weeks his trial would have been even worse.
    His greatest wish was to be at her wedding and he hung out for that for 8 months beyond anyone’s expectations….when he realised he wasn’t going to make it he broke down….in every way.
    I was so glad I had been there, privileged to labour through to his death with him.
    Astonished at his humor and resolve.

    1. Thank you for leaving that comment, Karen. What a tough thing to go through. Your phrase ‘labour through to death’ really resonated. It says everything, just as at the other end of the spectrum one ‘labours through to life’. How really sad that he didn’t make it to Harriet’s wedding, but how wonderful that she was able to care for him in such a meaningful way before he died. What a difference it must have made to him. He died of the same cancer that took my mother in law. Her daughter, a nurse, looked after her at home in the latter stages as well. I have always thought it must have been very difficult for her. It is wonderful that you feel it was a privilege to help him.

  5. I sympathise. Watching parents grow old and become vulnerable is not easy. My own parents died 14 and 20 years ago so I was only in my 40s at the time. Mum was ill, but Dad developed dementia and became a totally different person. I found that hard. My husband’s mother has just turned 92 and lives on her own. She thinks she manages well, but in reality it is the support system we have put in place that keeps her in her own home, and we have put our lives on hold since 2011 which is also hard as we are not getting any younger ourselves. My M-i-L is quite manipulative though and my poor OH swings from feeling guilty to feeling angry. This is not quite how I had imagined us spending our retirement.

    1. Hi Jude. My husbands parents died at similar times to yours, so we are – conversely – in the same boat. I do agree that it is very hard seeing your parents change. We don’t know exactly what my mother has, but dementia seems possible, although she is much better when she isn’t so tired. Your m-i-l’s story sounds ominously familiar! We are just at the that stage, and YES, I feel as if my life has gone on hold too, and I am finding that hard to cope with. I too swing from guilt to anger and it’s not good. I think, when we are all trying so hard, it is probably important NOT to allow the guilt to creep in, but that is easy to say…

  6. Our parents are really precious, and as they come into old age, can be such a worry to their children. My darling mom became very frail after a bad bout of pneumonia, and her dementia really worsened after that. She was in a care home for two years before she passed away at age ninety, My dad had died of cancer, ten years previously. My sister lived close by, and I was so far away, living in Florida for part of the year. It was very stressful for both of us. I can really empathize with you and what you are going through. It can be agonizing.

  7. You are so right, and we will miss them so much when they are gone, but it is a tricky time, caring for parents, there’s no doubt. I noticed my mother’s memory went over the edge of a cliff after she had a fall three years ago, and it’s all been downhill since then. And yes, isn’t it hard, being far away? And it’s hard on our sisters, being so close! Whichever way you look at it, nothing is ideal. Thank you so much for your comment – it really helps to hear other people’s stories and how they cope.

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