To be honest, there’s not much more to say. This is going to come over as a monstrously self-indulgent and whinge to most of you and it probably is (although it’s supposed to be funny as well). But caring is a horrible conflict of emotions. It’s hard and difficult and you are very responsible for the safety of a vulnerable person, a vulnerable person who you love very much but who, at the same time, can be utterly exasperating. Especially during the night!
However, if there is anyone reading this to whom the business of caring and the endless enduring tension feels almost unbearably heavy. This is for you. You’re not alone. Also, I’m also going to tell you about a narrow escape from a multiple bollocking and explain how being British is probably going to get my Facebook account terminated.
On the up side, most of the Christmas period was pretty relaxing but I have to confess that, on the downside the stay with Mum wasn’t. I was hoping for the best but fearing the worst and I had got myself in a bit of a dither – the exact same way she does, incidentally – and it was everything I feared.
The last two or three weeks have basically been one long panic attack. To the point where I have been referred for an ECG. It’s not fun and I’ve had to do far to much sensible, no-you-are-not-dying CBT for any of it to have been enjoyable.
On balance, I think it cost too much. I’m not great at caring. I find it really, really demanding, I do not relax and I have hit a point in life, and an age, when I’m not actually capable of three days of high stress with no let up and very little sleep. By day three I was a hot, sleep-deprived, tearful mess.
There’s also more going on with Mum than usual. The money has run out so we are mortgaging Mum’s house to pay for care. We have, pretty much agreed on how a skin cancer on her nose is treated subject to my pinning down exactly what happens during the procedure we’ve chosen so we can be sure we made the decision in an informed manner. I also have to find out if she’s been using her capital gains tax allowance but she hasn’t done a tax return for years so I’m not sure I’ll be able to uncover much.
First night, Mum was up at 1 am to wee and change her sleep pants and then again at 3 am getting showered and ready for Christmas Day because she didn’t want to be late for Church. I’d been expecting her to get up early for church so I was ready for that one. She did listen to reason so I managed to cut her off at the pass, before she started her shower and persuade her to go back to bed. She woke at six thirty but I was expecting that and I let her do her own thing for a while and then went in and got her sorted. We got to church on time so all was well.
Getting up at 3.00 am is not a usual occurrence. It does happen when she’s excited about something or worried about getting somewhere but not usually. Mum likes to do her own thing so I’d intended to leave her to shower, dress and get ready on her own – just popping in if she needed help with buttons etc.
When it came to it, though, she was very tired and wobbly and having trouble finding words. Sometimes I could tell from the rhythm of her speech what she was trying to say but most of the time I couldn’t. Hence, instead of leaving her to do her own thing, I hovered. None of the anticipated letting her get into the shower and going back to sleep because if she is too tired to string a coherent sentence together, the danger of a fall goes up quite a lot and it was just me. There was no-one else.
I got her to church but obviously, throughout the day when she wanted a wee, someone had to help her pull up her pants. I was that someone. I found it unbelievably hard and because she was a bit more distracted than usual, most times we found that she’d filled her pants so I had to put on a clean set, which involved removing the trousers and shoes putting a clean one on, putting the old one in a nappy sack and doing them all up again. That is so much less simple than it sounds if you don’t do this stuff regularly and the person you are helping is bent and twisted and arthritic and you are aware that every time her toes catch on those bloody trousers it hurts her.
Late that afternoon the event I’d been dreading happened – I really need some dan dan daaaaaah music for this moment but I haven’t any so you’ll have to imagine that in. Where was I? Ah yes.
The event I’d been dreading happened. Mum had a poo. She didn’t really know if she had finished or not (she only gets that distray once in a blue moon, lucky, lucky me!). I didn’t know either because I hadn’t done this. Turns out, I should have reminded her to wait for the splash (oh god). Since I didn’t she started to wipe while things were very much still in motion. On the up side, that did precipitate said splash though, I have to give her that. She got it on her hands, but luckily I managed to wipe it all off before she got it over everything else.
Learning note. Wiping someone’s arse when they’re standing up straight is really difficult.
Christmas night was wonderful, she was up at 1.00am to wee and that was it. I managed to relax the palpitations away enough to sleep and got 8 hours in! Woot. Obviously she was up at crack of sparrow’s fart because she always is. On the downside, when I went in to say hello, she was still all wobbly and couldn’t find her words, so once again, I didn’t dare stray too far away from her because I wanted to be on hand to catch her if anything happened.
Boxing day was alright but despite her fabulous sleep on Christmas night, Mum still seemed to be very tired. I left her to her own devices for an hour or two while I did some metal detecting in the garden and yes, the minute I got outside she did another poo and McMini came to find me. McMini, bless his heart, stayed up listening out for Mum, in case I didn’t hear and then came to tell me if he’d heard her moving about. It meant he was knackered, too, but I am so proud of him. Anyway, back to the poo …
Things went better this time. She tried to wipe early but I was able to remind her to listen out for the splash (oh god, sorry god). Oh you haven’t lived until you’ve donned single use rubber gloves and wiped a much loved parent’s bum after a crap. Yep some people are fine with it and if you are, well bully for you, you lucky, lucky fucker! On the one hand it’s a duty of love and I am happy to do it, on another it’s so unbelievably sad and upsetting.
I think one of the things that is difficult about caring for vulnerable loved ones is that by din’t of being vulnerable they can be downright exasperating. The word finding made things difficult. I was aware that I hadn’t stayed over for two years, that I’d kept the night care on when I did so and that a lot had changed. Even so, I’d kind of expected to be guided by Mum over the new bits or the parts with which I was unfamiliar. But that didn’t work because she wasn’t always able to make sense. The most exasperating aspect of it all, by far though, was that every night when I put her to bed, she’d say,
‘Now darling, I don’t want to be a pain and get up to early tomorrow so what time would you like me to wake up?’
‘If you can relax and watch telly until half seven that would be wonderful,’ I would say.
‘Right oh, darling, half seven.’
And the next morning, or the middle of the next night, there she’d be insisting on getting up, bless her. It just made it worse.
We got her to bed early most nights and Boxing Day we managed to get her happily into bed by about seven. I was a bit worried things were going tits up when she woke at 10.00pm for a wee. I was right. I was lying awake having palpitations until she woke at midnight and I carried on having them until she woke again at 1.00pm when I helped her change her pants. I did manage to got to sleep after that one but she woke again at three and then again at half past four when I went in to discover her preparing to get into the shower.
This time, there was no stopping her.
‘NO! I NEED to get up! NOW!’ she told me. She was quite agitated.
‘Mum, it’s four in the morning, everyone else is asleep.’
‘I don’t care. I must get up and get on.’
‘Because otherwise we’ll be LATE!’ she said in some exasperation.
‘But why? What what for? We’re not going anywhere!’
‘Yes we will!’ She turned and looked at me very seriously and said, ‘The mice are rising.’
This is where I should have laughed, made a joke and she’d have laughed too. Then I could have said she’d be saying more batty things like that if she didn’t get back to bed and sleep some more and she’d probably have gone back to sleep until 7.30 but I was so tired I just couldn’t think and act with that sort of coherence. Instead I asked,
‘Do you mean, the others are up already?’
She said something slurred and unintelligible which I thought was probably along the lines of, ‘Of course they bloody are! Everyone is.’
‘They’re honestly not Mum. It’s four thirty am, they’ll be asleep until nine at the earliest. If you get up and go downstairs now it’ll just be you and me, on our own, with nothing on telly sitting looking out at the dark for FIVE hours.’
‘I don’t care! I MUST get up NOW! It’s important!’ she demanded.
At which point, I just burst into tears and begged. I’m not proud of this but I’ll bet I’m not the only person who’s done it while looking after a vulnerable elderly loved one when they are all in, not to mention when the loved one is also knackered and therefore at their nadir, as well, as far as their easiness-to-look-after goes.
‘Please, Mum,’ I sobbed. ‘Please. I’ve only had four hours sleep, if you can give me another one hour and we make it five I’ll be OK please, I’m so tired, I can’t look after you today without one more hour. I can’t do it. Please, help me. Please go back to bed. You can get up at six, it’s only an hour. Please.’
‘No,’ she said angrily.
She was wearing no nappy at this point and she headed off to her bed and sat down.
‘OK,’ I said, taking some deep breaths and trying to sound calm. Wait. It looked as if … surely I couldn’t be that lucky. Had she forgotten what she was doing? Please, please God let her have forgotten. ‘What are you doing now?’ I asked, meaning to ask how can I help.
‘What do you think? I’m going back to bed!’ she said she still sounded nettled.
‘D’you want a hand with your pull ups?’
She softened a little, ‘Yes, please.’
So I helped her put them on, took her slippers off, got everything ship shaped and put her back to bed.
I suspect she was just aware that we were leaving and wanting to make the most of us before we departed. Or possibly she got 7.30 lodged in her head and started getting up three hours ahead because she wanted to be ready.
Aiming to get a visit in where she was relaxed, I took McMini down to Mum’s on Wednesday and managed to disgrace myself with an impressive driving disaster. Mum has a garage near her and I always fill up with petrol there, on arrival, before going to Mum’s. There is a tiny road leading from the forecourt to the street Mum lives on. It’s single track and if you meet someone coming the other way you usually have to back up. I don’t like backing up onto the forecourt because not everyone knows there’s a road there and as I kid we were rammed several times by people running off the forecourt and into us as we motored along the road.
Obviously, in these situations, what usually happens is that the driver with the least far to back, or the easiest manoeuvre open to them backs up. That meant the gentleman in the Prius should have backed up but now, it was abundantly clear that the entitled old bedge wasn’t going to. That left three alternatives.
- The old git in the Prius facing me could back up to the corner – a nice straight run of about three metres.
- I could back round a very sharp corner into the loading bay behind the garage. Doable in about fifty turns with my stupid low profile tyres, big brakes and 84ft turning circle (OK it’s not that bad but it’s not great either).
- I could pull up onto the sloped drive of a nearby house.
This is the point where actually, I should have just got out a newspaper and waited, pointedly, for him to back his short straight line to the corner where I could pass.
After a bit of futtering and flustered efforts to get round the corner into the back end of the garage I gave up and had a go at the the drive.
‘Mind the bin,’ said McMini.
‘Yes, yes,’ I said. What did he say? I thought.
There was a god almighty bang.
Arnold’s fucking socks I’ve knocked their bastard wall down! I thought. But managed to get away with saying, ‘Shit McMini! Have I just knocked down their wall?’
Images of what happens when you try to take out bricks and concrete with a few hundred quid’s worth of shiny fibreglass flashed into my head, along with projections as to the size of the repair bill. Because just as there’s food and then there’s M&S food so there is fibreglass and there is fibreglass that is part of a Lotus.
‘God mum! I told you to look out for the bin!’ McMini’s eyes almost audibly rolled in their sockets as he said this.
‘Wait, it was the bin?’
‘Of course it was.’
Oh lord be praised!
… or not.
Someone had just appeared at the window. A woman, who was wearing an expression of gurning disdain, like Harry Enfield doing Deborah Meaden in the Dragon’s Den rip off on his TV show – see picture; this is from the Victorian Dragon’s Den as done for Comic Relief.
Oh and thinking about it. We still hadn’t got out of the way of the miserable old bastard in his Prius and he was glaring at us and all. With an expectant expression. I ignored him. He could fuck off. You could have backed up instead you Knut and we’d have been on our way by now. I thought.
I drove up into the drive a few feet, avoiding the prone bin and scattered bin bags to let the miserable git in his Prius drive past. He glared at me, obviously saying thank you or anything was beneath him. So I did a thumbs up at him and said, ‘thank you, thank you for being so considerate and kind you’ve been really helpful!’ all the while nodding my head but doubtless with an expression that said ‘rot in hell you rancid fuck!’ because that was really what I meant.
Next I backed into the road, got out of the car and did a very hammy, ‘oh my goodness!’ kind of open-mouthed arms spread gesture of pantomime horror. I rushed to the bin, made sure I was handling it incredibly carefully and respectfully as I put it upright. I reloaded the five billion nappy sacks that were lying about on these people’s drive, along with their bin bags and then I
lobbed in very carefully placed a plastic glove that had obviously blown round from the petrol forecourt on top of the bags, for good measure. All done, I closed the lid.
Finally, I put the bin back, really carefully, taking time to park it properly in the small square bit at the gate they’d put there specially, and make sure it was straight, and check if it had damaged my car without them noticing (it hadn’t result!). Deborah Meaden was no longer looking on but I feared that merely meant she was busy unlocking the door ready to come out and have a go at me. So bin replaced, I leapt into the car and drove away.
Doubtless a video of it all will appear on idiots in cars before long. Or bad women drivers abroad or … I dunno, something demeaning. For the meantime, though, I feel I did well. The old git in the Prius didn’t have a go and neither did Deborah – although McMini is as certain that ‘Deborah’ was a bloke as I am that she was a lady.
And there’s not a scratch on the car … And the bin was completely unscathed! And Mum was in cracking form and she and McMini watched Father Brown together and both loved it. I’m so glad I made him come with me.
Win-win, I’d say.
Facebook? I hear you ask. Yeh. I think I’m going to have to carry that one over until next week! Sorry about that but I want to ham that one with the prerequisite amount of sarcasm and generally give the whole sorry tale the column space it deserves! Mwahahargh!
Just a quick reminder, the Christmas story is still up for grabs, also, starting on 13th January, the audiobook versions of Few Are Chosen and Small Beginnings are down to 99c on Apple, Chirp, Kobo and my own Store. To find an information page, with links to buy, or to download the Christmas One, just click on one of these links:
Few Are Chosen (remember it’s Kobo, My Store, Chirp and Apple the other stores still have it at£7.99)
Small Beginnings (this one is free on my store but 99c/99p on Kobo, Chirp and Apple.
The Christmas One This one’s an ebook, obviously.