Framlingham, of course!

The Crown Framlingham c r website

 

We have good days and not such good days, but mostly things are going well. I am only too aware that it is up to me to make it go well, my stay here in Suffolk. On the face of it, that should be easy enough, but somehow it never is.

Yesterday was cold and wet and horrible. Rain turned to sleet – briefly to snow – then back to sleet again, and the sharp wind of the morning became a chilly gale by mid afternoon. It was Thursday, and Thursday is the one day of the week my mother ‘escapes’. My father doesn’t like going out himself, but no longer likes her going out, and sadly she has gradually given in to this over the years, so now he panics if she’s not close by. It’s probably too late to change that, but it makes me both sad and cross that my once busy mother is essentially incarcerated within her property.

However, on Thursdays their cleaner comes in the morning so while she is in the house, Ma nips down to meet her friends at a church coffee morning that she herself instituted some years ago. She only goes for half an hour or so, but then, later in the morning, she goes up the road to get her hair done – another all-too-brief half hour. Two tiny windows in her week.

‘Why don’t you go down for coffee?’ I suggested chirpily at breakfast. ‘And don’t rush back – stay and eat all the biscuits.’ My father grunted in the manner he reserves for plans he doesn’t like, but I ignored him and bundled her off. I have far more steel about me than my mother. While she was gone I unloaded the freezer to defrost it and surveyed the shed roof with their marvellous handyman who popped in specially. He will fix it asap, but while he was there I got him to fit an extra light in the kitchen. Later I cut my father’s fingernails, as he can no longer do them for himself and in the afternoon, while Papa ‘zizzed’ by the fire,  Ma and I played Scrabble. I think my brother rooted the game out in the hope of exercising her brain – a clever idea. Once, she used to beat us all at Scrabble, but yesterday I had to remind her how it was played. Still, no matter, we got there.

Today we had planned to go into Ipswich on the bus. They panic at the idea of driving in to such a large town, as larger towns are complicated and involve finding  somewhere to park. I drive them, of course, as they both ceased driving a few years ago, but I don’t think my father really believes women can do anything much (outside the kitchen), especially drive. The day dawned cloudless and beautiful, crisp and cold, the gales and sleet a distant memory. Over breakfast Papa announced that he wasn’t up to going into Ipswich. No surprise there, but I had a secret plan. Feigning resignation, I reluctantly agreed to let the Ipswich trip go, but suggested we compensate Ma by taking her somewhere nice for lunch instead. He was in a bit of a corner and couldn’t wriggle out, so somewhat later we set off for Framlingham. I have never been to Framlingham. Some rather hoity neighbours only every shopped in ‘Framlingham, of course’ which rather set my parents against the place. But today I chose the destination, and off we went.

Needless to say, no sooner had we set off than Papa asked me to slow down. As usual. I was doing under 30mph/50kph, and pointed out that I’d stall if we went any slower. (I often pull in to let frustrated motorists overtake.) I just have to keep reminding myself that he has forgotten I’ve been driving for well over 40 years (in Central London for 20 of those). At least, that’s what I try to think. Sometimes it helps.

Framlingham was lovely – of course! We didn’t walk around the town or the castle, we just went straight into The Crown, a coaching inn dating from around 1750, settled ourselves beside a roaring fire, admired the dog lying under the sofa next to us and ordered a slap up lunch. It was perfect, but then, what else would you expect, in Framlingham?

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Return To Go

Blog Suffolk c r
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’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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