Almost five years ago we made a decision that was to change our lives completely. We suggested to my then 96 year old mother that she comes to live with us. There were sound reasons behind our decision as she was not looking after herself very well and was looking very weak and wobbly. We also felt that her relationship with us was good and vice versa and we would make this work. We really had no idea what we were doing; what we were taking on or how it would affect us.
The LSO and I finally have made a much needed visit to a Care Home near us. It has a five star rating and is spotlessly clean. Rooms are bright and clean, all with an en-suite and the meals do look pretty good and the menu is varied. Staff are thoroughly pleasant and the atmosphere is upbeat and all kinds of activities are arranged from light gardening, musical evenings and more as well as weekend outings for the most mobile of the residents. There is also a hairdresser who visits once a week and all situations are catered for but the cost for the AP would be £1050.00 per week. There are no grants available and she will have to fund this herself. It really is an eye opener as we, if we live long enough, will be entering the same rip off zone. Thank you Margaret Thatcher who introduced the whole idea of the ordinary man in the street buying his home to fund old age care. Indeed I have no doubt there are cheaper homes but I am also equally certain that the less you pay the less you get in every way. This particular home did not smell of mince and urine and indeed, there was no mince on the menu for that day.
It saddens me when I hear people complaining that the elderly are taking too much out of the NHS, that they are bed blockers in the hospital. Maybe in some instances this is true but it certainly isn’t true of the AP who has taken little out of the system and nor have we and all of us have worked throughout our lives up until retirement.
After our little excursion I felt a real sense of despondency because at the end of the day our visit was not successful. Yes, lovely Care Home in many ways but it was the sitting room that made us realise that we actually couldn’t put the AP there, not unless we were genuinely unable to cope with her living with us and not just fed up with her continual shadow hanging over our lives. Out of about thirty residents three maybe, exhibited a spark of life, it truly was God’s waiting room and I have no doubt they are all the same because the situation is just what it is.
The AP is now back from Scotland and my sense of gloom has not lifted, in fact if anything it is probably worse because I just feel there is nothing to look forward to, no light on the horizon and just a deteriorating situation that can only get worse. The fact that the LSO and myself have been fighting a strange virus hasn’t helped either. We have both had aches and pains that have moved around our bodies causing stress and discomfort and the AP, well she just continues to sail on like a galleon totally self orientated and unaware of anything but herself, making up stories and inventing situations that never happened. Visitors come and go and everyone remarks about how wonderful she is as she busks her way to glory until of course the visitors have left and we are left feeling empty and drained of emotion. She is a remarkably fit, very old woman due to the excellent and continual care she receives from us, and that is despite the moments of spleen and stupidity that we witness at intervals. The AP has made it abundantly clear that she does not want to go into a home and has agreed to accept help with her shower and personal care. So we are looking and hopefully will find some help out there that might just take some pressure off us too.
Few ever witness the true situation and no-one really has a clue how we have truly lost five years of our lives. They think she must be such a joy to look after but nothing could be further from the truth.
Maybe I feel like this more than I realise these days. We are almost a week into our twenty-eight day break from the AP and it has been a glorious relief to be free from the tensions and the manipulation.
Then just as we are truly beginning to relax and enjoy our space and our time together we get a call from my cousin to say the AP has had to visit the hospital because her leg has swollen up. An ultrasound has revealed a clot in her groin and that her kidneys aren’t too good but at almost one hundred and one years old its to be expected. But she isn’t so ill that they needed to keep her in overnight and she returns for further tests on Wednesday.
But none of this is what has left me feeling the way I do. No, it was the conversation I had with my cousin that left me reeling a little. Apparently the AP who has resisted all attempts to even look at a care home just for emergency purposes down with us has been hinting that she could go into one in Scotland near them. I also heard from a friend down here that she had told them that her nephew wanted her to live with them but I didn’t want that. News to me!
So how has this left me feeling? Hurt that we have lost five years coping with this difficult and selfish old woman, who at a manipulative whim thinks she can just up sticks and depart? Sad that she obviously feels that all our efforts have been a total waste of time and have been utterly unappreciated? Angry that she is so devious and controlling? Well, I guess all of these things.
But at the end of the day anything can be arranged. I can handle all of her affairs from here and my cousin and his wife can visit her in a home up there. If it all comes to pass it will probably be the last I will see of her. The drive up there is only something to be done once or twice a year. Would I be happy with that? If it’s what the AP wants I have to be, sad, but at the end of the day what does any of it matter. I don’t really know what I feel about any of this and cannot understand why she feels the need to play these games with everyone’s emotions. Maybe it is all just part of being so old, so out of control of your own life and in need of finding a way to simply feel wanted. But in truth if that is the case all she had to do when she came to live with us five years ago was accept what we had to offer and to relax and enjoy life.
In the meanwhile we are visiting a Care Home near us later next week.
In the mornings the LSO always brings me a cup of tea in bed and has done so since we both retired thirteen years ago. It’s a real treat, having worked all my life I make the most of the peace and quiet usually indulging in a few games of Gin Rummy on my phone. How decadent is that!
But during a moment of contemplation, having lost more games than I had won I realised just how like a game of cards our life has become. The AP is a general pain in the neck being some of the time aggressive and difficult, making up stories to justify things and those moments represent the games lost, those are the losing days. Other times she can be pleasant, amenable and cooperative and those are the winning days but are seldom experienced unfortunately.
She announced the other day that the LSO and I had no idea how poorly she has been since stumbling at Keep Fit and sitting on her bottom. We do have her living with us so are well aware of her state of health and she has seen a doctor, been taken to the hospital and had x-rays that proved no damage had been done, so I asked when had she been so poorly? Then the LSO asked her to define what ‘poorly’ means to her and this did cause a bit of a rumpus as she truthfully has not been ill and in fact is extremely fit and well given her great age. Truth be told she would rather not go to Scotland and was hoping to get out of the month away. She really doesn’t see why the LSO and myself need a break from her and in fact doesn’t care that we need some time on our own, we are there just for her it would seem.
It was pointed out to her that if she was that ill she needed professional care something we as amateurs are unable to offer and indeed, are not prepared to do anyway. We would need to get her assessed and then decide what the best course of action would be and ultimately it could be a Care Home and this statement elicited a very nasty response which was “Well, you’ve finally got your own way”. Nether of us had any idea why she should think this or what she meant, if it was the case she wouldn’t have been living with us for the last five years. It just made us feel once more that we have lost five years of our freedom at an age when we should have been enjoying our lives as much as possible.
The end result of all this was that she was told in no uncertain terms that she would be going away and when back we would discuss the options available to her. We are now enjoying a short winning streak.
Her suitcases are down from the loft and we have fourteen days to go.
There is no doubt that looking after the AP is a thankless task. Having her living with us means living life on an emotional rollercoaster. I recently read an article about using kindness to deal with recalcitrant old people and decided to change tactics with her. I thought I was strong enough to rise above all the emotional blackmail and was determined that she would not get to me. For a little while it worked and the LSO and I relaxed. That was a mistake. We then decided to take her with us on a flying visit to our daughter thinking this would make her pleasanter to have around. How wrong could we be. She obviously saw our different approach as a weakness to be exploited and before very long we were witnessing the return of a vindictive, jealous and thoroughly manipulative and controlling old woman. That evening whilst two of our friends were around she decided she would snipe at us thinking there would be no comeback with others there. Why she feels the need to do this is beyond me when all she has to do is pretend to be a sweet old lady but inevitably it backfired on her.
Needless to say this incident did not have a happy ending. When she tried to set us up and make us look bad, enough was enough and to cut a rather boring and long story short she was told that she was out of order and to depart to her room. The AP didn’t like this but nor did I because to do it I was angry, really angry and that left me dealing with a huge rush of adrenaline and cortisol. There is no doubt that she knows what she is doing because the next day she is all sweetness and light and gushingly pleasant which usually makes me want to rush to a bucket and be sick. Previous to this episode she announced to the LSO’s financial adviser who visited us that she had no family left, her son was dead her husband, her siblings and this went on with the LSO and myself standing there. Our visitor was hugely embarrassed and actually said ‘what about us’ to which there was a silence and then the AP said, ‘Oh, of course!’ Heaven knows what that meant and if it wasn’t so insulting it would be laughable, a dear, sweet old lady she definitely is not.
So what now? I guess it is back to living with all our mental barriers in place ready to fend off the next attack. The AP hates the fact that we are uncooperative and rather reticent with her, she cannot cope with it but we have found that it is the only way to deal with her. Certainly the only way to keep our sanity. This is no way to exist in our own home and there must be another solution to our problem other than the inevitable or a care home but what that is I really don’t know. I have come to dislike this woman that we have to look after.
We have twenty days to go to our few weeks of freedom and they can’t come soon enough.
Although today I really have felt close to tears. The lovely sunny weather has only emphasised how our home has become our prison. I really must find a way of removing this feeling of being trapped and by someone I no longer know, who tells lies and makes up stories. We have a lovely home but the ever present shadow of the AP is sucking the light out of the place and we don’t feel the pleasure we initially had at living here.
Today, a friend came to visit the AP to ask if she would like to go out with her for a day and during the rather rambling conversation the AP announced that she was a hundred and six years old. God forbid because that would make the LSO and myself seventy eight and we would have lost ten years of our lives not a mere five and with more to go. Oh Horror! There is no way the LSO and I would be able to sustain a level of care at that age and if the AP is still in this life then she will have to be in a Care Home.
But there is a light appearing at the end of the tunnel. My lovely cousin and his wife in Scotland are indeed having the AP for a month and she leaves four weeks today. Am I counting the days? I certainly am and although I mustn’t wish my life away it will be lovely to have our home back, our lives back and some spontaneity back even if only for four weeks. She is trying to find excuses for not going and was secretly hoping she would be having an appointment at the hospital for the removal of the rodent ulcer. That will not be the case as the lead time is at least two months to just see the consultant, then a further two to three months before the actual event.
We no longer have our farmer friend coming to eat every evening because he has made a wonderful recovery after his double bypass. I should now be able to get to grips with the weight loss. Today’s weigh-in was a bit disappointing because although I haven’t put any weight on, I haven’t lost any either. On top of that I have developed another stye, this time on the bottom part of the same eye as last time. I am feeling a bit sorry for myself and the eye is swollen, painful, itchy and it kept me awake last night so no doubt part of how I feel is down to lack of sleep. Pathetic, I know but it all adds to the feeling of unhappiness and general malaise. I do think that once the weight starts going down again I will feel more buoyant and more able to cope with life in general, hopefully next week …
I really should change the title of my blog to Shrunken Horizons because if I stood still long enough I would go in reverse. Looking after an AP requires a mindset that accepts that no matter what you try to do it will be forever at the pace of the oldest member of the household. This, of course, in our case is living life in the slow lane with a one hundred year old woman who is soon to be one hundred and one years of age.
I have discovered that I am not good at slowing down so much. It means I become almost dormant, struggling to just deal with the simplest of household tasks. Suddenly even changing a bed is something I will put off until tomorrow. I have called this my ‘mañana syndrome’ and am finding it encompassing our whole existence because existence it is.
I still spend a great deal of time cooking and because of the RMR diet it is an essential to make meals from scratch and fortunately the pleasure is still there once I get started. It is motivating myself in this rarified and stagnant zone that is so exhausting but do it I must. I get enormous pleasure at just seeing the colours of peppers, chillies, onions and celery sautéing in a pan, smelling the addition of the herbs and spices that add such depth of flavour. I still avidly peruse recipes like others read magazines or books, that is when I manage to drag myself away from Gin Rummy or WordScape on my phone. That’s another issue that has come from combatting boredom, I spend too much time on these games. I do have my knitting but it isn’t easy to do it with two Jack Russell Terriers sitting on me so I have to choose my time carefully.
Our lives in the slow lane are a continual mental challenge and we are constantly fighting to find ways to not let life slip by unnoticed or unfulfilled. The LSO does his printmaking, although he too finds it hard at times to be self-motivated and he does love his pike fishing but this season it has been very sporadic due in part to the weather conditions.
At least there are signs that Spring is around the corner. It really is a time to feel renewed and invigorated and that is something the LSO and myself definitely need in our lives. We do need a break from the AP and hopefully that will still happen too with her having a month in the wilds of Scotland with my cousin and his wife but we are not sure just when.
I am beginning to lose the will to do anything constructive. Between looking after the AP and trying to diet I find myself between a rock and a hard place. I know I must pull out of this slide into apathy but am finding that life holds no pleasure as each day blends almost seamlessly into the next. There is so little reason to do anything as our lives are mostly spent in this house. We do have the occasional foray to get supplies and sometimes I get a couple of hours of swimming in a week and the LSO has managed a couple of fishing expeditions but generally we are stuck here with the walls closing in on us and this isn’t good. The AP is utterly oblivious, thinking only of herself. She never suggests that the LSO and I should go out together without her because we need some time on our own. No, it is always the royal ‘we’. We have actually made a couple of attempts at going out without her but there seems little point because there is always a backlash to be suffered the next day.
Then just when I think there is a light on the horizon and the AP will be going to the first of her twice yearly visits to Scotland in April, we get a letter to say she has to attend a hospital appointment to deal with what looks like another rodent ulcer on her nose. She had the same problem on the other side of her nose about 8 years ago and I just know it will delay her visit because of further appointments and the final removal of it. I should feel sorry for her but sadly I don’t, just utterly resigned to the situation we find ourselves in.
My attitude is not good I know but almost five years of dealing with her controlling nature, her vindictiveness, selfishness and ridiculous vanity have left little room in my heart for feeling anything but dislike for her. I am aware that this feeling is destructive for me and that somehow I must try to find an element of kindness within myself because I am not like her in any way. She has done her very best to try and destroy the LSO and myself but fortunately has failed so far but the AP must not have the last laugh, that really would be the final irony. We have put our lives on hold for her and have received no real thanks for any of it but we must survive all this.