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The Start

This is the post excerpt.

Over 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.

Who will she be today?

I wake up most mornings now and wonder just who the AP will be today. Will she be a waspish old harridan, will she be feeling off colour, will she be complaining about the cold, the heat, the damp, the greyness or will she be a little ray of sunshine and full of bonhomie. Don’t be silly that behaviour is saved for others, certainly not the LSO and myself; we are the servants, the below stairs staff, the chief cooks and bottle washers, the bed changers and cleaners. We are frequently referred to as ‘he’ or ‘she’ rather than by name. One example of this was when I had washed a very expensive shirt that the AP had managed to drop tartar sauce on during a lunch out with us. The shirt had been a present to her from the LSO and myself and I didn’t want it to be wrecked. When the LSO returned it to her all he got was ‘oh good, SHE has washed it’ no name and no thank you.

Yesterday the AP was taken out for a few hours by a carer we have employed, who will also be helping her with the weekly shower as from next week. Her first words to her on arrival were that she has had a couple of bad days. My first reaction was one of surprise and I explained to our visitor what the problem has been. Lately the AP has complained that her left leg feels cold with sometimes a pain in the calf which appears to possibly be a pulled muscle but is most likely, simply the result of lack of activity and a slowing circulation. Inevitable at one hundred and one years old. Sadly we do make a meal of the least little thing trying to be the centre of attention and apparently wanting to be ill. The AP has no idea what a bad day really is, in health terms she has led a charmed life with very few illnesses and nothing hugely serious.

These small irritations do build up especially when the carer brings the AP back and we are told how marvellous and gracious she is and what a conversationalist. Really! Yes, I know it is to be expected, how could they possibly know the true situation but sometimes I just wish I could put these people in our shoes for a month or two for them to discover just how two-faced and hypocritical she can be. They see her for a few hours, we have her the rest of the time and she makes little effort with us. We are relieved when there is snooker or tennis on as she can only see the television screen in her room and we don’t have her sitting downstairs staring into space. We have heard the same stories over and over again which I suppose to anyone not seeing much of her must sound convincing. But the truth is most are now elaborated on or mixed up and often untrue, just made up to fill a gap in the memory.

During her time out she pretends to be in control and even eats things that she would never touch with us. Yesterday it was a brie and cranberry panini with salad, a panini, a crust with a little bread! Salad is usually looked at with horror and pushed around the plate. She won’t eat anything with us that she considers too chewy, crusts have to be cut off bread, vegetables mashed, she often won’t use her cutlery, picking her food up with her fingers and holds her head in one hand as if it is all too difficult to cope with especially if she has to chew a little. She also hides food in her napkin and rushes to the bin with it after the meal. I am sure she doesn’t do any of this when out with the carer and her husband and thus they have a completely false image of who the AP really is and although they will never know what she is really like it is very galling for us. We just get the rubbish.

Looking on the bright side.

Things are certainly changing for all of us. The AP is becoming dottier by the day and seems to be retreating into her own little world. We have had her getting ready to go to appointments on days when there are none, mixing up times and places and then making up stories to fill the gaps in her memory. Lately she has started to eat her food with her fingers and holds her head in one hand as if it is too much effort to lift it up all of which infuriates the LSO but she only does it with us. If we have visitors or are out for a meal she uses her knife and fork.

Yesterday she announced that Serena Williams was Venus Williams mother and further more it must be true because they showed pictures on the TV to prove it. We explained they were sisters and far too young to have grown up children but what do we know! I guess all of this is normal in someone of such a great age in fact we are lucky it isn’t worse. Although it is quite difficult to be wholly positive when trapped in this alternative reality both the LSO and myself fight not to become too down or despondent as time slides by at a snail’s pace.

It isn’t all doom and gloom though, the plants in the greenhouses are flourishing and I am making cucumber relish for the first time. Years ago we used to buy a Dutch version of this relish then it just vanished never to be found again so I am hoping that this homemade version will be a good replacement. The warm and sunny weather has encouraged good growth and this year our fig tree is bearing many fruits and those will be a joy to eat. At this point the LSO points out that the lawns and hedges are also growing at speed, but I guess, looking on the bright side, we do have some good things to look forward to.

The importance of gin.

In my youth it was Blue Nun that was considered the height of sophistication and if feeling really extravagant it was a bottle of Vinho Verdi or Chianti in a straw casing that people loved making into table lamps all bought from an Off Licence. Thankfully things have changed in more ways than one and in most cases for the better.

After the LSO has given the dogs their afternoon walk when, weather permitting, I occasionally walk as well, it becomes gin o’clock with the LSO as the ‘Gin Jockey’. I have only recently discovered the huge variety of gins available for the discerning and that was thanks to a cousin who lives on Vancouver Island B.C. On a visit over a year ago she brought me a present of a bottle of Rhubarb and Ginger Gin and it was a revelation. I have not looked back since and look forward to the evening when I will enjoy a delicious Bramley Apple and Rhubarb Gin, with ice and just a hint of tonic.

A slippery slope you may say! Most likely but a much needed anaesthetic to cope with the incessant burbling of the AP whilst we have a visitor staying. In fact I am writing this listening to a constant stream of rubbish, mixed up, made up and generally wrong with a smattering of truth. She’s just announced that she could go back to live in Newcastle if her tenant wasn’t there. At 101 years old, blind, doddery and unable to do anything for herself, she can’t even lift a kettle now and needs help showering and she still thinks she is capable of looking after herself. I find her attitude so utterly insulting, the LSO and I have just given up nearly six years of our lives looking after her and she is so utterly ungrateful and graceless. Will the AP ever accept her limitations, no I guess not but we are going to have to limit the amount of people staying otherwise I will become an alcoholic. It’s not even midday and my mind is thinking gin.

But in the meanwhile I am endeavouring to turn my mind off and keep calm in order to contain my frustration and irritation. We made the choice to have the AP live with us and we must survive the consequences. It is just such a pity that she has never appreciated what we had to offer. I heard her make a comment to our visitor about walking on eggshells but as I hadn’t heard the rest of the conversation I couldn’t be sure of what was meant. If she meant with the LSO and myself she should have thought twice about pushing us around because we stupidly put up with her behaviour for several years unable to comprehend her attitude but not anymore. This has resulted in a very unnatural state of affairs because we have come to dislike her and she feels we don’t want her here, but had she been the person we thought she was, enjoyed life with us, hadn’t tried to dominate and control us, it would have been a very different situation.

Wavering resolve.

Oh dear, my ability to stick to a dieting regime is severely compromised at the moment. I must stop wavering and prevaricating and get on with it. I am sure this must sound familiar to many people who like me, struggle with their weight.

Our trip to Essex was a delight and so was the meal at the restaurant but I am sure it broke all the rules of my diet. Also and much to my surprise the AP was on her best behaviour which was a surprise after the week before but then she has always managed to con this particular grandson and would not want to spoil his belief in his dear, sweet grandmother. Is he conned by her? I really don’t know but my daughter-in-law has few illusions but maybe that is because she is female and more astute. It’s a curious set-up really but one I find myself watching with interest.

Our next onslaught of visitors is this coming week and it is only one ex-colleague of the AP’s coming from Australia who actually married the AP’s boss. She is a particularly pleasant person but those high up in the world of academe have always brought the true snobbery out in the AP and this particular visitor is a Professor Emeritus.

Fortunately the LSO and I really like her and find her pleasant company so we don’t find the ‘below stairs’ activity too onerous but we will only have one lunch out to break up a day of burbling from the AP. I am still feeling a bit bruised and battered from her behaviour during our last set of visitors so have decided to cook. At least it gives me an excuse to be in the kitchen and I would like to think I will have more control over the food I consume. Did I say that? I spend most of my waking day in there, that is, when I’m not writing another blog!

Anyway I shall endeavour to stick to a low carb regime and try to resist the new potatoes grown and harvested daily by a neighbouring farmer although I feel my resolve will waver when I see them coated in a dollop of fresh butter, some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Hanging in there.

Am I managing to harness those emotions as mentioned in the previous blog? Well maybe not as well as I had hoped but I’m certainly trying hard. The AP was particularly argumentative this morning which stretched my good resolve somewhat. Later when I was about to ferry her to a hair appointment I said I would bring the car up to the door to which she sharply replied that it was already there. No, that was the postman in his little red van I replied. But equally why would I say I would get the car if it was already there? It is a continual battering of stupid little things as if she just wants to prove us wrong all the time. She just doesn’t seem to be able to stop sniping at us. I think truthfully that this is her real personality and that she has always been like that and we had never realised the true situation.

I guess many people are in the same boat as far as knowing their parents. Once we leave home, get married, have children, live our lives independently, our parents become just family we see occasionally. It certainly was in our case because we moved away from our birthplaces, nearly four hundred miles away in fact.

But I am not giving up my resolve. We have an afternoon of freedom from the AP today which, come to think of it is probably why she is being so unpleasant. She does seem to deeply resent the LSO and myself having any time to ourselves which I find very odd and it is apparently irrelevant to her that she enjoys going out with Sarah. It is just another part of the strangeness that is the AP.

Then tomorrow we are taking a trip to Essex to have a lunch out with our son, his wife and their delightful baby son. The AP will be coming with us so it will be interesting to see what happens later after an afternoon of gushing and pretence. Anyway I shall keep hanging in there, breathing deeply whilst following a low carb diet with intermittent fasting.

I am also refusing to be drawn into any kind of confrontation with the AP but I am just hoping the smile doesn’t look like a rictus.

The number four.

Today is our daughter’s forty-fourth birthday. It is a stark reminder that time is slipping rapidly by and where have those years gone? We both remember the great joy we felt when she arrived and that feeling has remained constant to this very day.

Four is the number of stability and it just happens to be my life number. Pythagoras called the number four the Tetrad and believed it created perfect harmony so our lovely daughter has a double dose of stability and harmony this year.

It set me thinking about what we have to be grateful for in our lives and I would say our two children, their partners and our three grandchildren are pretty well top of the list but there are also other things that have made our lives good together. The LSO and I are lucky to be in this lovely home, we have good friends and although life has not always been a bed of roses we have survived almost fifty years of marriage and fifty-five years of friendship, in fact it will be our Golden Wedding next year.

I found myself breathing in slowly and deeply whilst contemplating all this, letting go of the stress and finding that we have much to be positive about and somehow, instead of moaning about how stressful everything is I need to find a way to harness these current emotions and to stop being a reflection of the depression that can sweep over us both. It would be going too far to suddenly become hugely compassionate because the five years of criticism and manipulation have left an indelible mark but I do not want our situation with the AP to define who I am or in fact who we are. Life is just too short for that.

Now back to the diet and hopefully my determination to succeed will not be ambushed the minute the sun sets over the yard arm.

On the edge of reason.

This last astonishing session with the AP has taken an emotional toll both on the LSO and myself. I have just spent a day with my own thoughts because the LSO has had a rare few hours away fishing with a friend, something he doesn’t do enough of these days.

There was a time pre AP time when we were both hugely busy and happily doing things and it isn’t important what these ‘things’ were, it was just the sheer pleasure of being retired and finally after a lifetime of working being able to use the time available to do what we wanted. In reality we still have that time but the constant battling with the selfishness, changeability and malevolence of the AP has taken away the joy we both had in life itself.

We feel trapped in our lovely home and have to battle with ourselves to do anything at all. I found myself today struggling to just prepare lunch. I used to love cooking and experimenting with lots of flavours, baking and bread making, pickling and jam making were a regular occurrence but now the will is vanishing and instead is being replaced with a sense of futility and frustration. The AP’s constant wittering has ground us down both physically and emotionally. I teeter on the edge of reason most days.

This whole situation is having a devastating effect on my need to lose weight and in fact I have put some pounds back on and am trying desperately to find a way back to my former determination. I cannot afford to go back to being diabetic but that will happen if I cannot reverse this situation. Another rather frightening aspect of this stress, because it certainly is very stressful looking after the AP, is that the LSO and myself use alcohol as an anaesthetic. We don’t drink to excess but do tend to drink each evening to soften the feeling of emotional distress we are permanently in and of course, that is another reason for the steady weight gain.

It is a fact that when you lose the will to live and you merely exist, you lose the will to overcome obstacles. It is simpler to have another glass of wine and relax; simpler but extremely dangerous and we need to pull back from this particular precipice sooner rather than later.

On than very serious note I will take another sip of my rhubarb and apple gin and contemplate starting a new regime tomorrow. It’s bit like giving up any addiction, you just have to keep on giving up not giving in.