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.
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.
In the last post I had vaguely wondered how long it would be before the AP could no longer pretend to be a dear old lady whilst we have had our farmer friend eating with us every evening. Not much longer it would appear, as inevitably we experienced a dose of her unreasonable behaviour only a few days ago. She had a hair appointment and was given the time it was occurring and the time of departure and as usual she didn’t listen because she was utterly focussed on herself. Nothing new there but it resulted in her getting everything mixed up, trying to leave an hour earlier than was said and we were to blame for her getting it all wrong. She stamped her feet, screwed the face up and stomped back into the living room to sit for a further hour with her handbag on her knee. It really is like dealing with a recalcitrant child but at least with the child you can explain how the display of bad temper is unnecessary. The AP is not suffering from dementia and is more than capable of being surprisingly normal with a little effort even given her great age but this makes it more difficult to accept. It’s a minor occurrence but because we have put up with so many it is definitely irritating. These displays are seldom seen by others and most think of her as a bit of a sweetie. They couldn’t be further from the truth!
But since I refuse to be irritated for long and I have adopted the laid back approach, withdrawing mentally and physically from any given situation, she has to stop behaving badly. It’s good that something works in our favour for a change.
Weight-wise I am still on a plateau but I am not worrying about it for the time being. It is so cold and frosty at the moment and some days so desperately grey that although I am continuing to keep as much as possible to the diet I do slip a little. My main weakness has been potatoes and that has surprised me but I guess when I am cooking warming dishes such as Caribbean Lamb Shanks it just cries out for a creamy mashed potato to mop up the delicious gravy. I know I should consider a creamy cauliflower mash instead but somehow that doesn’t have the same appeal. Even the thought is hard to resist and occasionally I just don’t and sneak a small spoonful of mash onto my plate. Chips cooked in duck fat have a similar effect, oh dear, maybe I should do new potatoes with everything as they don’t worry me as much!
I am also aware that more exercise would be beneficial but life seems packed with tasks that are not allowing me time for myself. I know things will finally change just as inevitably Spring will arrive and with it a fresh approach to everything. So for now I am paddling along and not being too bad or hard on myself when I just have a tiny slip here and there.
Its strange how things happen in life and although I would like to think there is a purpose to everything I realise as I get older that often most happenings are random events. It is best not to read too much into any occurrence or from what people say or what they do.
Many, many times over the last four and a half years I have woken in the night and wondered why we made the decision to have the AP to live with us. What possessed us to take someone who is so domineering, who can be so utterly unpleasant and who has become a stranger to us, into our home and our lives?
The more I dwell on it the less I know so after a great deal of thought I have made the momentous decision not to question our act of sheer stupidity anymore. I am going to look at each day that comes as a step forward and I am not going to look back. As it is, I have now developed strategies to prevent the AP controlling, bully or irritating me which has made a huge difference to my health and well being. Although in the midst of saying all this, part of me will never come to terms that my own mother would try to subjugate me and destroy my marriage. Why would you want to do that to your daughter? It’s unbelievable that every now and then she still tries to gain some control over both of us and in particular, me. In one respect because we are stuck here having to be her carers, she actually does have the ultimate control. We have no freedom, no personal space and no privacy. You would have thought all that would be enough!
Indeed on that rather sad note I realise that the LSO and I need to get some pleasure out of the life we have together, to experience joy in living however small, even given the restrictions of having to look after the AP. We are both remarkably fit for our age and need to give thanks for that because compared to many we are lucky. It’s just finding ways to do it.
I also really do need to find some space to do the right things to move my diet forward too. At the moment I am still on a plateau moving neither up nor down which in itself is a reflection of our lives. I know that things can’t go on forever, that situations are always changing even if sometimes only slightly. We have visitors coming to stay at the weekend which will bring on a load of gushing and pretence from the AP but after that I must do some serious planning.
This part of the year can be a bit depressing being generally cold and often grey and gloomy so it is even more important to be strong, go with the flow and keep moving in the right direction in every aspect of our lives.