On the way home from my last day of work, about four years ago now, I called in to collect Daisy. She was sitting on her foster mothers knee, visibly shaking and clearly wondering what the fuss was all about. I had never really imagined myself with a foxy cross, already 7 years old, timid and with a few foibles that “were best dealt with by an older woman who will be at home most of the time”. So there it began. We settled into a routine of walking, eating and sleeping that you could set your clock by. She became my mate, the keeper of my darkest moments and greatest joys. She became the untidiness in the lounge, the constant tap-tap of claws on the lino, the centre of conversations with strangers who became friends, the warmth on the bed and the tail wag that greeted me on coming home.
It seems October so far has been a month of endings. Friends losing friends; a nursing home resident, who despite not being able to speak could sing the most tuneful song from beginning to end; a friend given a “best before” date. My lesson in all of this is that despite the sadness what is most important is the time we spend with those we love while they are with us. The statement is trite, I know, but for me I need to keep being reminded because I’m not always the best friend, the best carer or even the best person. It takes beginnings and endings to put into greater perspective the importance of the now.
Rest well my Daisy.
I enjoy writing into oblivion. Imagine how many real therapy hours have been saved by this narcisstic activity of getting my mundane words fixed on a page. I love the challenge of introspection, that wormlike activity of the brain that starts with a thought, more analysis, no insight, just another worm. Playing with the fantasies that have no hope of realisation.
I used to have a sense of stuckness but now there are so many activities. I attempt to limit my time to activities because I’m still ‘on the clock’. Still watching for 11 a.m., that time to get a move on and head for another parental adventure down the yellow brick road. My activities are stunted; an hour catching up with the news, FB, getting tempted to read excepts from books that it takes every effort not to buy, particularly now I have memorised my credit card number. An hour reading; an hour or so in the garden, not too much because the knees are starting to grate and the back is not as strong as it was a while ago. The smell of the tea tree mulch fills the house. I should vacuum, but don’t. The little black and white shadow that has become so much a part of my waking and sleeping leaves her short, prickly hairs everywhere. Vacuuming is a pre-visitor thing to do these days.
It’s school holidays. I hate them. Annoying, noisy kids riding their bikes and skateboard up the street and drawing phallic symbols and “fuck” all over the road in four different colours of chalk. There are cars parked in every available spot and people dressed in black coming and going. Someone else has gone. Who? This small cul de sac with 13 houses, all known by sight, few by name and none in person.
It’s nearly 11.
Wally walked in. He visits the nursing home community most days. He’s tall, gawky in fact and reminicent of a man who has spent most of his life bending over to counteract his height. His hair is a greyish blonde, uncombed and in need of a wash. His clothes are misshapen, fresh from the washing line. He wears shorts in the most inappropriate weather and a pair of rubber thongs. He looks the same every day.
Today is special. It’s his wifes’ birthday. He holds a bunch of dark red roses which are well past their use by date. On the wrapper is a sticker: “reduced for quick sale”. Wally smiles in my direction, acknowledging my presence. We have spoken about her birthday and his plans. Wally proudly leads his wife by the hand to find a vase and emerges all smiles. They sit on the lounge where she attempts to unwrap a turkish delight he has bought for her. Sometimes he talks to her quietly but mostly few words are spoken. Today he just holds her hand while she dozes. After an hour or so he kisses her on top of the head and leaves through the door his wife has not seen the other side of for a year or more.
It’s probably impossible to fall off your seat while you are driving but if I could have I would have. The Off-sider, colloquially known as dad, in a tone much more serious than it deserved said “It’s hard for me to cope with all this because I’m much more emotional than your mother’. Firstly, this was one of the longest sentences he had spoken to me for well….. can’t remember … and secondly, it proves, without a shadow of doubt that perceptions are staggeringly deceptive at times. Thank god the uni’s were closed over the weekend making it impossible for me to take back my qualifications in welfare, sociology and counselling. Had I really just wasted my lifelong career under some magnificent illusion?
The Off-siders devotion has always unquestionably been for one woman. In their 61 years of marriage I never heard an argument. It was clear: he did as he was told and there were no problem! He has never been inside a grocery shop, bought clothes, presents, cards or anything really. He has no knowledge at all about banking, paying bills or using a phone. His grief when Dorey was admitted to the nursing home was very private, evidenced by the trail of tissues between the bedroom and the lounge room, despite his claim of having “a bit of a cold”. He is told off daily about his wrong coloured shoes with his trousers and wearing one t-shirt on top of the other. He laughs and says he will try harder tomorrow.
Someone once said the opposite of love is not hate but apathy. Efforts to consolidate the devoted husband and the apathetic father during my uni years led to my psychoanalysis lecturer labelling me “dissociative”. The Off-sider never shared in the emotion of births, deaths, achievement, birthdays or Christmas. I stopped struggling when I was no longer able to describe him as the “strong silent type” because I realised he had nothing to say.
So today when I prepare his meals, clean his house and wipe bodily fluids from the floors and walls and then worry he will fall while I’m away it really hurts when he says “I’m sorry, but I don’t like you very much”.
I have a personal distaste of aspiring blog writers who write with intensity for the first few weeks and then stop. The well of ideas seemingly dries up having verbalised all the frustrations which caused the blog to be created in the first place or something else happens to take the time the blog creation previously used. Pleading guilty to the above I have again become inspired.
Brief catch up: Dorey is now in a nursing home for the past four months having had a fall at home. Encouraged by hospital staff to consider nursing home care. a place for her became available in the same retirement complex she and the Off-sider have lived in for several years. After the initial placement and several attempts to escape she was moved to “the lock up ward” where she now shares her day with twelve or so others in varying states of mobility, communication ability and progress along the dementia road. Dorey is the only one who can relatively share a conversation with carers and still has the ability to give cheek when necessary, endearing her to her carers and other staff. She is also cheap labour in wiping down tables, folding serviettes and sweeping up.
The Off-sider has progressed through some stages of grief and is learning to manage his own time at home. He has found the kettle and understands the function of the microwave. Now 91 his safety is precarious but he adamantly rejects any other assistance and considers himself “too young” to go into care. I cringe when I see him shuffling around the place and daily have fears of what I will find when I arrive to make our daily visit to Dorey. Care for the Off-sider is much more practical. Our father/daughter relationship never progressed to the point of mutual adoration beyond adolescence so caring for him has raised some emotional challenges. He is currently drinking his way through the remaining bottles of alcohol and sorting out his paperwork. He is destroying his old diaries so I can’t read them, although why the devil I would want to know what dates his catheter was changed or the cleaner came is beyond me.
I am about to start volunteering at the nursing home on the “lifestyle” team. I figure I spend so much time there I might as well make it official. Never in my wildest imagination would I have seen myself doing anything like that but I have become passionate about providing more activities for those who still have the ability to throw a hoop, listen to music or even make music.
Symbolism has been particularly poignant for me. It has guided my actions, confirmed my decisions and given me hope. It has appeared at the least expected time and come dressed in a variety of genetic combinations. Call it spirituality, faith or whatever gets you to the end of the day. I just call it symbolism.
I live on an island so spend an above average amount of time staring into the water for no apparent reason. I take my black and while foxy cross for a walk twice a day along the water and do some more staring, interspersed with retirement appropriate conversations with men and women taking their white fluffy pooches out for their evening constitutional. Why do retirees buy white fluffy dogs? I’ve said it before but if you knocked off all the white fluffy dogs on the island you would halve the dog population. I digress. People come to the island to holiday, watch the dolphins feed, go for boat excursions, hire b.b.q. boats and take photos. I have lived here for 26 years and 75% of the time never see a dolphin on any other day except my birthday. You could bet on it and guarantee to set yourself up for life. It’s like a yearly promise that everything is going to be o.k.
The hideousness that is Alzheimers frailty of mind and body is taking Dorey further away from us. Never, ever to this extent have I been haunted by a sense of failure, unworthiness and a need to make everything o.k., quickly. It’s like my alter-ego fighting with the part of me that is strong, capable, independent coupled in the knowledge that in the end everything will possibly be o.k. but I’m not sure. The dolphin never came this year.
I found myself reacting negatively to people who wished me a Happy Easter. Nothing happy about our Easters, never has been and I know for sure there never will be. We have not been the family who hid eggs for kids to find, bought eggs for other children or quite frankly bothered about Easter at all. There was no religious overtone but for some bizarre reason any propensity to eat meat on Good Friday was met with the gates of hell. Such was Mum in her good years, that is before she became Dorey.
Good Friday and Easter Day means the shops are shut. It means the clubs are closed and the club courtesy bus will not be running. It means the Off-sider will have to deal with Dorey for the whole day without a break. It means he will not get to have several snoozes, share his t.v. programs with the neighbours and imbibe in his G & T without supervision. Good Friday and Easter Day are about as close to a catastrophe as you can get.
And still no chocolate.