Return To Go

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Pretty Suffolk

I’m back in Suffolk at my parents’ house again. It hardly seems any time since I was here last, just a month ago in fact. Lots of things have changed, but some are very much the same.

Happily my father is hugely better than on my last visit, when he had, almost overnight, become immobile. I’d wondered at the time if he’d had a mini stroke, but it turned out to be just a pulled muscle, and rest and painkillers have done the trick. While he isn’t  gambolling like a spring lamb, he is at least more like his old self. I even managed to get him out for a walk this morning, a small but significant triumph as he no longer wants to go anywhere and on my last visit could barely cross a room.

My mother doesn’t seem quite so tired as she was, but now she is limping. It’s hard to know how bad things really are with her, as she will limp but say nothing. Then when I ask what’s wrong, she says it’s her back, or her hip. Her back is an ongoing problem. But if I urge her to rest she won’t, she rarely agrees to take painkillers, and when I ask if she has been doing the exercises the osteopath gave her, she says she hasn’t. Worse, I am here to do everything for her for ten days, but she is unable to sit back and let me get on with it it. I discuss this at length, often, with my siblings. We are all at our wits’ end because she is so difficult to help. At mealtimes, she is up and down like a yo-yo, ‘I’ll get it… I’ll do it… I’ll wash up… I’ll clear the table…’ I am fed up with saying: ‘That’s why I’m here.’ I’m fed up with trying to coax her. ‘You’ll be back on parade again next week,’ I say. I might as well talk to the wall.

‘She is frightened of losing control,’ my brother said.

My son laughed. ‘Just let her do it.’ he said. ‘She’s probably just glad to have you chat to her while she does stuff.’ Twenty years ago – ten years ago even, I’d have agreed. Now I know that, at 84 and looking after my father, she is bone tired, and her tiredness is causing endless extra worry and work for my sister who lives down the road. It seems to me that I can best help by doing as many chores as possible while I am here.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe my son is right. I should let her carry on and just be here. Chatting. Brightly.

I wish I could find a half-way house between the two, and heaven knows, I try, but I’m not succeeding.

Perhaps the most tiring thing of all is her forgetfulness and the endless, meaningless repetition that forgetfulness generates and requires. She doesn’t, according to her doctor, have Alzheimers, ‘she is just old’. And tired. But she uses so much energy on mindless un-necessaries that it’s hard not to get exasperated. She doesn’t treat any of us – her children – as adults who can walk, talk and chew gum. She has just come downstairs for the fourth time since going to bed, this time to check that the fire has been turned off, even though she knows I haven’t yet retired for the night. Since 2013 I have spent nearly three months of every year in this house, but she tells me where each light switch is every night before she goes to bed. And that’s just the light switches. I don’t really know how to cope with it. If I were a decent, reasonable human being I would just say, ‘Right, thanks.’ Every night.

Why do I find that so difficult?

It’s worse than Groundhog Day. It’s like being locked into a perpetual Monopoly game where I move from ‘Return to Go’ on to ‘Return to Go’.








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

19 thoughts on “Return To Go”

  1. That does sound very frustrating indeed for you. I’m glad your father seems to have improved, which must be a relief. I think your mom is a creature of habit and even though you’re there to see to things, she just can’t help herself from carrying on as she normally would. As you say, she must be bone weary. Maybe she needs a mild tranquiliser. I really feel for you.
    P.S. ( You might want to change your “Since1913” to a more realistic date, as this makes you older than either of your parents.) 😉

    1. HaHa! That made me laugh! Thanks for pointing out my date lapse! i wonder what Freud would have made of that? Thank you too for your comment. I think you are absolutely right in all you say. A mild sedative sounds an interesting idea…if she were a drinker I could give her an extra strong G&T, but alas…

    1. Thanks Connie. Yes, you are right. All I need to do is be here. The rest is really about what I want to do for her, not necessarily what she wants from me. And although we’ve got to the stage where I now know better than she does what is best for her, sometimes I should just be prepared to let that go. Thank you for your reassuring and kind comment, which cheered me up a lot. I will remember Therese and her very sound and sage approach to everything. x

    1. I hope she will. I think when you feel your grip on things slackening, that’s when you start holding on by your fingernails. We have good days and not such good days. I’m hoping the former will continue to predominate.

  2. Is that Lavenham in Suffolk in your picture?Meanwhile from your piece ,you shd assume your mum is a normal person. Take the time to point out that she points out the light switches every night and this is unnecessary as you have already been fully advised of their location. And then keep doing it til she stops if she continues. You appear to have procrastinated in getting around to it. And one can get frustrated when stuff builds up that you are not getting done. Getting everything done lets you clear your decks. The alternative is to treat your mum as a sort of idiot that is incapable of gathering what you shd be telling her. You will feel a lot better and less frustrated by gently not putting up with anything ressembling idiotic behaviour,allowing the person to catch themselves and buck up to being normal.

    1. Hi Hartley. Yes, it is indeed Lavenham, which isn’t far from where they live. A beautiful place, as you obviously know. Well recognised! I have for years now – and indeed continue on a nightly basis – to point out that I know her house as well as she does, including the location of each and every light switch, door lock, electric fire et al, and that, furthermore, I am a responsible adult and someone who can be trusted to behave sensibly even when she is not present to supervise! However, I think that for my mother, being a natural worry-er has now crashed into old-age forgetfulness/dementia and what was said yesterday is often a bird long flown… I’m not sure what one can therefore expect ‘normal’ to be? Thank you for dropping by and for commenting. It has cheered me up a lot to read peoples’ thoughts.

  3. In my experience, there is a very delicate balance to try to achieve when helping elderly parents. On the one hand, you want to be able to take some of the physical hard work from them to enable them to rest and have a break. On the other hand, they are still, in their minds, fully functioning adults responsible for their own lives. I think your friend, Connie, is right. Just be there for them and you will find that gradually you will find yourself being more useful. We never imagined when we were teenagers together that we would be sharing problems like these!

    1. Thanks Izzy. Delicate is right, and sometimes I feel like a bull in a china shop. The problem is I can only be here for short, concentrated bursts, and – as much for my sister’s sake as anyone else’s, I need to make those visits ‘count’ in terms of giving everyone a break. You are right – can you imagine what our faces would have looked like back then if we could have glimpsed ourselves now!

  4. Oh Lorely this makes me cry. Its such a difficult time for you and to see a parent continuously fretting and fussing about such trivial things is exasperating As we said about our own wonderful mother, she could glide from one chaotic situation to the next with the greatest of ease! There is nothing you can do but to be there. Try to let it go because your mother wont, maybe its what keeps her going everyday. If you can continue the walks with your Dad and just be there for your mother it will be a positive outcome. Lots of love M xxxxxxx

    1. Thank you for your sweet message Margaret! It really does help to hear other peoples’ experiences. I think you make a valid point, keeping going is what keeps my mother going, and I need to allow space for that. There’s wisdom from the mouths of babes etc – ie, my son was on the right lines! Thanks for the love and hugs. x

  5. “been in this house since 1913” Blimey my dear you are doing marvellously for 103. And Rob really is your toy boy. Having had a Ma with dementia you simply turn off. You must not let it get to you. Not much advice but in essence the only advice one can give

    1. Thanks Andy! You made me laugh! Truth to tell, I FEEL 103 at the moment! I shall pass your comment on to himself. I didn’t know your Ma had dementia. I think it is seriously easier for a man to ‘turn off’ than a woman, however. I will try… Thanks for your comment. It’s nice to know that even if I’m talking to a wall with my Ma, I’m not talking to one here!

  6. Lorely – you wrote about this so well and as I read it, I thought to myself that it could be Paschal and me. 12 years ago after my mom passed away we moved back to Iowa where I was born to be closer to my dad and stepmom. They are 87 and 85 respectively. Each year it gets tougher, but we love them and want to be there for them. Like you, we will hang in there – — and be glad we did.

    1. Hi Nancy – thank you so much for visiting, and leaving a comment. I didn’t know you were also caring for your elderly father and stepmother. Goodness, there is strength in numbers, isn’t there! It’s kind of what I hoped for in starting this ‘alternative’ blog! Yes, how right you are, it gets tougher all the time, but yes, we hang in there, and will always be happy that we had this time together.

  7. Keep going, Big Sis. You’re doing a grand job! It’s so hard remembering Mum is operating on autopilot, and even more difficult to remember that she really doesn’t mean to be so banal, but is locked into trying to be helpful. Thinking about making life easier for other people has become her sole reason for existence because she has spent so little time thinking about herself she has lost the mechanism. If only we could find something she enjoys that wouldn’t involve leaving Dad for five minutes. Take care of yourself meanwhile though, because I wouldn’t want the next blog to be coming from WritingFromRightOverThe Edge!! LxO

  8. This brings back lots of memories and mixed feelings, and not just because Long Melford, close to Lavenham but not so popular, was one of Mother’s favourite destinations. Having just read your more recent post, I can recommend the Bull Inn there for coffee on cold days. Unless it has changed, the service is tortoise slow, allowing for luxurious stretching of legs by a real fire while reading the newspapers.
    Keeping the balance between helping your mother and doing things for her is. I think, the key. The elderly often feel useless because younger relatives and carers can do things more quickly and efficiently and the elderly find themselves cyphers in their own lives. So doing chores together, enjoying the camaraderie of working as a team, may make her happier about this, and I am sure you can subtly take on the greatest part of each task, while asking her advice and deferring to her greater experience.

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