A song from Pink Floyd The Wall (1979). That was the year our son was born and it all seems such a long time ago, another world, another lifetime. Even photographs of us then look like different people, it’s uncanny and a bit spooky. Did we really change so much?
I have come to the conclusion that as we grow older our lives divide and alter. The years the children were small passed in a blur as we were so busy but now I find myself wishing the time away which was something I vowed never to do. When I woke up to my 50th birthday I was struck by the realisation that I had probably lived longer than I had left. In the beginning the first 7 years of retirement were a joy but that changed with the arrival of my mother. It was not supposed to be like this and now 21 years on from that turning 50 revelation I need to look carefully at everything and find a way of coping with the frustration of having no freedom, no peace of mind, no personal space and little relief from this relentless misery that life is becoming. If I don’t sort out my weight problem I doubt I will live to 99 years of age so I need to make some life changing decisions soon.
It is impossible to talk to my mother to try and discuss a situation, she doesn’t seem to know how to listen, gets everything wrong and talks over us. She will never admit she is wrong and spends her time asking inane questions about nothing relevant. If she doesn’t know something she makes up something to fill the space. She has become self centred, rude and graceless with us but will gush embarrassingly over visitors, trying to play the dear sweet little old lady. This is so hypocritical that we feel revolted by the charade. I keep making a mental note to not become like this but maybe if we were to live to such a grand age we would also be the same.
It would be easier if my mother was not so aggressive and defensive. Her presence is that of a spectre and both my husband and I are becoming resentful of this rather unpleasant person living in our home. Her ‘I know’ attitude is a pain especially when she blatantly doesn’t know.
If anybody out there has any viable solutions I would love to hear them.
Well a week on and various attempts to try harder have failed miserably; not failed because anything was arranged badly just unforeseen situations that have caused some distress. Still I decided that I must persevere with lightening the atmosphere despite being under the weather and on antibiotics. It was a little like a suicide mission! I am now accused of speaking a different language to my difficult ageing parent who being deaf often gets things wrong and that was the result of an attempt to have a conversation.
Yesterday she has decided that vanity to the fore, (denied of course) that she needs to lose weight and that means smaller meals. I should add at this point that she is not even vaguely fat, that territory is mine and mine alone. My weight also causes problems because she is not allowed to talk about it but constantly finds sneaky ways of mentioning it. I am quite aware that I have a weight problem and part of that is caused by the stress of looking after her but that is another issue to be discussed later. Her meals are already small but apparently these cause bloat. I explained that it would be better to look at food content as that is more likely to cause bloat than the small quantities consumed. I was told that was nonsense. Unsuspecting and long suffering husband comes into the conversation by agreeing that food is usually the culprit. The response to this was an astonishing attack that “she was not going to speak to him as he always sides with her.” I mention the small quantity of carefully considered meals prepared at home that over the last 3 years have helped to keep her fit, well and active and now pre-diabetic and not diabetic because when we go out the meal of choice is nearly always fish in batter with chips. This doesn’t apparently cause bloat or put weight on. The conversation did not end well.
Well the atmosphere is not at all lightened and I am trying hard not to wish my life away.
My special space, little used at the moment but in the spirit of this post’s title ……….soon.Having had one good day and then one bad day since my last post I decided my new mantra must be to try harder despite feelings of frustration and at times anger. Emotionally life with a 99 year old is like riding a roller coaster. It was apparently suggested, not to me I may add, that my lovely garden studio could be an ironing room with the board left up permanently. My mother bought me this lovely shed some years ago as a present and before she came to live with us I had time to paint, a much loved hobby but since her arrival and the demands made upon us I haven’t had the time to make use of my special space. Unfortunately the shrinking of our horizons to those of hers over the three years have taken their toll and I feel little inclination to even try now. My husband struggles as well to find enthusiasm to do things. We have discussed this and recognise that the problem is ours but we are unable to find a working solution at the moment. If my mother even suggested we go out on our own it might help but all we get is the royal ‘we’ and there is no suggestion or thought that we might like to go out alone. When we have said we are going out on our own (twice in three years) we are made to feel guilty which rather takes the edge of any enjoyment. I know we must stop being wimps about this but we also can’t just go out now for any length of time without leaving someone with her, any semblance of common sense seems to have flown out the window. Although still fairly mobile she is partially sighted, deaf and becoming increasingly frail. My mother, at 99 years of age, will not accept her limitations which is admirable in some ways but can result in real danger in other ways.
We are fortunate to be able to arrange for her to spend an occasional day with a friend although this cannot be spontaneous. But in the spirit of ‘trying harder’ I must arrange more of these in the future. The next month is a busy one with lots of visitors and the grandchildren staying so much bed changing and meals to be cooked. I will have little time to moan about our shrinking horizons which has to be an improvement.
Perhaps we are at fault. We don’t understand this person living with us who has developed an intermittent butterfly brain which along with an inherent stubbornness makes life for us very hard at times. Just explaining the simplest of facts becomes a minefield that can often end up with a screwed up face and a refusal to grasp even the simplest of situations. I have no doubt that this is a universal problem with the elderly who revert to childish behaviour at the first sign of anything they don’t want to understand. Listening has definitely become a problem and any explanations are talked over so no understanding can be reached or we just don’t listen and look blank. I have discovered that the best defence for me is in silence initially then to change the subject to a more comfortable one.
Today has been a particularly trying one with us being told among other things how to deal with our dogs! We have also been accused of not giving her information, information that was patiently given to her the day before. Maybe the wind is bothering her or could it be the approaching storm. It is particularly frustrating when on phone calls to others mother is coherent and bright; conversations are punctuated with my daughter and son-in-law are lovely, followed by a pause and then ‘really’ which rather begs the question. I think I have already said in a previous blog that short term everything is hunky-dory but the real long term situation is very different. My poor long suffering husband seldom is thanked for his efforts even though every morning he runs the gamut of the hairnet to take her a cup of tea!
We have asked ourselves this question on numerous occasions but there are no easy answers. Given the same set of circumstances we would have made the same decision even with the value of hindsight. We don’t always help ourselves either. It always seems too much to organise some time out with our charge and as for my mother, any happening is a big event that has to be carefully planned for and of course, dressed up for! This can involve getting up at the crack of dawn in order to be ready in time so any spontaneity is firmly out the window. She is remarkably physically fit for her age but is mentally quite different. Being deaf doesn’t help, nor does the blindness caused by ARMD and we frequently make up stories about people and situations that are often just plain wrong. Her main hobbies after retirement were crossword puzzles and reading now the former are almost impossible and reading involves a series of magnifiers and the largest type on her Kindle. This means reading a long sentence is difficult and my mother often loses the thread of the story ending up with a different result at the conclusion. It certainly makes books cheap as they can be read several times over!
Woke up to a beautiful sunny day determined to be more proactive and positive about this situation we are in. It must be possible to regain some of the interest, drive and energy I had three years ago.
Weighed in, (that’s another issue) it being a Monday to find I have lost a measly quarter of a pound, still it’s half a pack of butter. Big tick for positive thinking! Perhaps I need a chart to show positive progress. Managed five minutes on the bike and did feel marginally better, then sat down to think about meals for the day. That reminded me of the relentlessness of our regime and I felt a cloud come over. I love cooking but not the everyday mundane meals. Cottage pie, shepherds pie, plain roasts with veg do not inspire me and meals with gloopy sauces and gravies are abhorred by the other half. It’s just another part of everything we hadn’t understood nearly four years ago. Decision made, we will have a smoked salmon pate, toast for them and ryvita for me and a salad with cucumber, olives and the lovely fresh tomatoes from the greenhouse. Tonight will be fritters made with Cromer crab with a warm tomato and tarragon butter sauce, fresh peas and saute potatoes.
I wake up to wonder what this day will be but I guess it will just be like all the others. No, not a sign of depression just acceptance that things are what they are. It is a sadness that there seems to be little thanks or understanding from this person my husband and I look after. So much that was a sharp, clever and funny lady has gone to be replaced by someone interested mostly in themselves and only concerned about how they are perceived by others.
I am not someone who thinks like that but now realise that my mother has probably always been that way. Our visits to her over the years were short ones and although she would spend four weeks at a time staying with us, several times a year, we never saw this vanity.
But, a light on the horizon and this time the train is not hurtling towards us. A relative has said that my mother can spend a month with them in October and a friend has offered us the use of their coastal holiday home and we can take our dogs with us.
This will be a much needed break. We have both had the great fortune to be fit and well throughout our lives but 3 months ago my husband ended up in hospital and was very ill for some months. This is not something you consider happening when you decide to take on an elderly relative and it did create a huge amount of stress and emotional trauma for us both.
We had tried a trial run the winter before and it looked as if it would work well. My husband had always got on well with her. The reality has been different and we realise that although we did the right thing for her it may not have been the best thing for us. We are trapped in our own home with no personal space, no privacy and with a 99 year old who can be difficult and lacking in grace. She is not a bad person, just old and has reverted to being in some ways a teenager, in other words the centre of her own universe. I don’t want to become full of self pity or bile and decided to start this blog as a kind of diary to myself; to try and find a way of coping with the frustrations of the situation we find ourselves in. Some days are ok and others can be awful. I am sure that there are many people out there who find themselves in a similar situation.
Seven 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.