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’.