Fragile Mortality

So today I spent the first few hours of the week with my Hero. You see my dearest Dad is having a little respite care in a Rest Home while my Mother, his sole carer takes a much needed break..on a cruise no less…but she does need it so I wont gripe as to how she chooses to spend this respite. I am mature enough to know she needs it and so does he…and god knows, so do I.

So I wander in around Midday knowing lunchtime would be not too far off. I want to be sure he is fed or feeding himself as he is so painfully slow and deliberate it might try the patience of even the more sympathetic care worker. These care workers are all worth their weight in gold, I tell you. Even if the lovely Thai lady pronounced my Dads name in two syllables when it only takes one..I did correct her to save her own embarrassment and because it soon got on my reminded me of ‘Allo ‘Allo for some reason. Anyway I walked into his little room (actually more spacious than last time) accompanied with two of these carers and his little face lit up..Maybe the glimpse of shiny bronze foil on a bar of Galaxy, but I chose to think it was at the sight of me. His only visitor of the day and I was greeted with a little wave of his squished up hand.  I’m so proud of him. He is the man he always was in a body that’s let him down. He insisted on walking with frame to the lift to the lower floor dining room. As we inched our way along I encountered my first plaintive call from his next door neighbour. ”Nurse Nurse’ called out a bearded chap in a state of undress. I smiled and walked on wondering why neither of the Carers with us were responding to him. We reached the lift and I pushed the wheelchair down one flight of stairs knowing he would be tired by now and i was right. He sat down gratefully and I wheeled him into the bustling and fairly full residents dining room. A number of residents (have to resist the urge to call them inmates!!) gauped open mouthed as I wheeled him in. A couple smiled. One particular old lady took an instant dislike to me and very clearly mouthed ‘Oh my god She’s black! to her dining companion. With a sneer on her face she looked on. I resisted the temptation to respond in an equally ill-disguised stage whisper ‘ Yes I am , and aren’t I freakin Awesome!!? Very proud of it I am too …..and luckily for you I am aware how inappropriate it would be for me to poke out your mean beady eyes with a fork’ Then despite my obvious hairstyle, skirt and painted nails she mouthed to her friend Is that a man or a woman!? WTF?? Really...shall I show you my tits to give you a clue…Nasty Old bat! I am almost looking forward to winding her up on the next weeks lunch times. In the meantime her companion asked for a second glass of wine and ordered tomorrows lunch. In fact she looked as healthy as I am so I did wonder what the hell she was taking up a bed for. Wine? Is that wise!? Ha! Its a care home love , not bloody Wetherspoons!

I didn’t do any of those things of course but will no doubt fantasise about doing them every time I see her over the next week. I’m betting she has no clue how it looks given every one of her carers is from overseas and all different shades of loveliness. My Dad’s Mum was sadly as bitter and nasty when she was holed up in care after battling to stay with my parents. I think the last straw was when my Mother claimed she was literally ‘inhaling’ my Gran as her dry skin shed around the house. Not ideal for an allergy sufferer and good job Mum isn’t asthmatic…I recall visiting her in a local hospital after yet another life reviving blood transfusion and she had a name for every other patient in her little ward. Funnily enough I was newly pregnant. I didn’t know it and came over all queasy after a cup of luke warm milky tea. I also was convinced my hands had gone bright orange , not realising the reflection of the plastic chair was shining onto my palms?! Yes I was that stupid….No one was exempt from her cruel remarks…..the woman opposite who cried all the time through dementia, the poor twisted soul to the left who clearly could not move …according to my Gran she was just lazy! Is it so common that bitterness and meanness show their true colours as we age and realise our bodies are just flesh and bone? As a child visiting my Gran and my beloved Grandad I never saw these characteristics so it must be exclusive to the ageing process. You know the kind of comment ‘ Why cant they get English ones? and THEY are stealing my chocolate! I always recall a deep and meaningful complaint she had that on a Christmas outing one of the kindly Portugeuse carers had ‘cheated’ pulling the cracker! The penguin pencil sharpener she was going to give to me flew out from the cracker and the carer claimed it. By rights it should have been my Grans!? I reassured her back then that in reality I didn’t need a pencil sharpener, Penguin shaped or otherwise. Maybe the chocolate thing is why I always feel I want to take Dad chocolate every single time I see him. I see his little face light up and the mask of Parkinson’s shift to reveal his still open and handsome smiley face. Small pleasures for someone with such a big heart…..

Am looking at Nasty Resident and her companion and as a man joins them I realise there is a reason why misery breeds misery. As he was helped into the third chair he exclaims without irony .. ‘I’m on my way Out!’ …Now again , I am resisting the temptation to reply ‘ Why, you only just got yourself in here! They all three roll their eyes and start to moan about the food, the carers, the weather, whatever they can moan about really…

My Dad is ready and looking forward to soup, roast lamb and his favourite ice cream. Shortly before the soup is served a man and his wife arrive to share our table. She is his carer just like my mum is dads and she looks utterly defeated. Turns out her hubby had a stroke and he is in for the week while she gets a break. She moves to sit by me between me and her hubby who merrily chats to me about life and the area . We establish a shared humour so I feel lunch could be quite fun . He says I look like Serena Williams. I said I wish I had her money! She tells me her life story, how she is almost totally deaf now and struggles with him at home as cant hear him during the day and never during the night. How can that even work then? I think but say nothing. She tells me she cries all the time and her local family seem less than useless to me. I see the whole family smiling from the small screen of her Samsung and as she mops drool from her hubby I suddenly have a jolt of real pity for my Mum. Yes we have and will always have massive issues , many I wont even share as too painful to relive. Something is broken between us and despite being accepting of the fact, I still feel it . However,  I am a Mum, a daughter (to two women! Hmmmm.) and I would like to think I am a good supportive wife. I also hope I make a pretty good friend to my beloved circle of mates who I laugh, cry and play with. At that moment I choked up. As my dad slurped his lamb and gravy merrily in contented silence because I sat close I saw the fragility of life right there. Looking around that dining room, I saw the fear in Nasty Resident’s beady red-rimmed eyes, the resignation in my table companion and in contrast the acceptance in the two men sitting opposite each other.  The man asked me if my dad had also had a stroke and I explained his condition but I did say , ‘he knows what you are saying and you might have much in common’. I just sensed it you know. My dad is quiet, unassuming but not altogether unsociable. It is just how he appears. Quiet doesn’t mean unapproachable. The man asked what he had done as a career. I explained he had a huge financial position looking after the entire districts finances. A minute of silence as we all digested just how intelligent and responsible my father had been throughout his career. The unfairness of his plight was not lost on any of us. In just a few minutes we established that best friends of this couple were known very closely by my Dad! He worked for many years with the chap they were friends with. What were the odds? You see, as he arrived for his first day in the Home he was meant to meet my Dad and vise versa. As I keep saying I am a huge believer in fate. I really hope they are together from time to time . Certainly the man said he looked forward to spending some time with Dad. I felt a swell of pride as that’s exactly how I feel too.

They agreed to meet later by the TV to watch the Tennis. In fact by the time we were the last to leave the dining room with me feeding Dad the last of his ice cream I didn’t see the chap again. His wife was tearful and fearful in equal measure and I said she needed to do something nice for herself this week or what was the point? She said she was planning to clean his room? I said ‘ I didn’t really mean that to be honest’. Another stoical wife carer beaten down by circumstance while her charge remained chirpy and comfortable in the knowledge that their ladies took ‘In Sickness and in Health’ VERY seriously.

I made Dad a coffee and me a green tea…smiling to Nasty Resident who sat nodding off in the conservatory….meanness takes it out of a person ….I left him watching the Tennis, I suspect with his eyes  stuck shut but he said he was happy to listen to it in company.

I felt by the time the lady in the wheelchair next to me had proved that holding onto her lunch was not a viable option, the smell proved that… I decided to leave. One of the joys of ageing I know must be that no one bats an eyelash as they are all in the same boat. She nodded off on and on but was friendly enough.

As I kissed him on his head and held his hand I told him to behave himself around the nurses and as always told him I loved him. He said ‘I love you too’ Before I left I told  him how proud I am of him walking so well to the lift and eating all his dinner…there’s nothing wrong with his appetite that’s for sure….if that changes I know something is very wrong.

Popping to his room to return his frame and use the loo (gotta love those raised you don’t even need to sit down!) His neighbour again called to me ‘Nurse Nurse’ and I left with a lump in my throat.

I am a grown up, I get it…its the nicest place we know but I still feel heartbroken that we are at this point. He is holed up in there for over a week and I plan to see him daily or at least ensure he has a visit daily…..I am not that strong though and  I find it hard to see his condition and how tired he gets after so little exertion.

I am glad my Mother is getting a break and hope she returns all refreshed and full of vim and vigour and able to carry on with Dad in the family home. Time will tell. I am feeling selfish and guilty.Wanting to do more but there is no more that can be done.

My only thought is that I am so grateful that this gentle, non-complaining man remains exactly as he always has been.

No man can every come close.

The love of my life and my Hero. Much Love Always xxx


Thanks for Reading

Black Sheep


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