My dad has never adhered to use-by dates. He knew we were arriving a few days ago and he filled the fridge with yogurts for the kids, sausages for their tea, vegetables for me to make some home-made soup and extra bread for our toast at breakfast. All of these newly bought items have an “Oops” sticker on. They are slightly out of date, or they are now at least, after being in the fridge another day or two. Dad doesn’t mind. He sees it as pure waste, throwing something out, just because of its sell-by date, when in fact it smells fine and looks fine. It isn’t him being thrifty or tight, he just believes there is nothing wrong with eating a yogurt that is a couple of days (or a week) out of date.
I defrosted two packs of mince from his freezer earlier today and have made a big batch of chilli for him to put in his freezer….a few meals he doesn’t have to worry about over the next few weeks. His cupboard was full of dried herbs, stock cubes, tinned tomatoes….all the necessary ingredients to throw together a decent chilli. The best before date on the cumin was 2007. The date on the paprika was 2013. The date on the chilli powder was 2014. It tastes fine. He would be disgusted if I threw them away and bought more.
I did insist on him opening a new jam yesterday morning, however. The one he was about to dip his knife into and spread on Archie’s toast was growing what appeared to be a new form of penicillin. There were about 7 brand new, unopened jars of strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant and apricot jam in the cupboard. We agreed to throw the old one away and treat ourselves to a new, fresh jam. Yes. We know how to live!
It has been a tough day today. Mum has been very unsettled for most of the afternoon and we don’t really know why. If there was a trigger, or an obvious reason for her delusions and agitation, then I think it would be much easier to bear, but, it comes out the blue. It hits us like that old metaphorical bolt from the blue. She wanted to help me make the chilli earlier this afternoon and I tried, I really did. I asked her to put the unused garlic and the chillis back in the fridge, but she hovered near a drawing the kids had done which was blue-tacked to the wall, trying to open a door that wasn’t there. She offered to empty the dishwasher, whilst I served up the kids’ dinner and instead of putting the cutlery away, she took it out the little plastic basket, placed it on the kitchen surface, then started putting it back in again.Honestly, I could go on….there have been so many times today where this bastard illness has shown itself and stopped me in my tracks, seeming to laugh at me and my assumptions. My assumptions that she can still do basic things. My assumptions that she wants us to be here. My assumptions that she is interested in what is going on around her. She can’t. She doesn’t. She isn’t.
There have been funny moments today though. My dad and I chuckled over his “use-by dates” and the kids have had a good root through a load of old pictures. Now, when I say old, the ones they really enjoyed were ones of my wedding, which are only 9 years old, but of course to them, they seem ancient. The fact that a lot of them are in black and white doesn’t help! I had to check myself a few times when I stumbled across lovely pictures of my mum. It is hard to recognise the pictured vibrant, energetic, beautiful lady, as the same woman who has wandered around the house all afternoon, her handbag clutched to her side, searching for shoes/coats/keys/tissues. Never settled. Never content. Constantly searching for her family. For me. For my dad. For my sister. For my brother. We’re here mum….we’re all just here, waiting for you to find us. You are not alone.
The carer lady came tonight and Mum went straight up to bed with her at around 8pm. It was a relief if I’m honest. Dad and I watched a bit of Call the Midwife on catch-up (yes, we are that wild!) and I got bleeped a few times by my phone, telling me my oldest friend was putting horrendous pictures of us on Facebook. I have giggled so much tonight, it has been a release! Tears have streamed down my face and my tummy hurts from laughing. My dad and I giggled at some of the old teenage photos and I felt lighter, for a moment, at least. Never one to ignore the importance of a Friday night, I raided Dad’s kitchen cupboard in the mist of my nostalgic euphoria for some Friday-night treats and found some Werther’s Originals to stuff down my throat. They were a little chewy – lovely but chewy. And, no, they weren’t the chewy kind – they were “originals”, so their chewiness was a bit of a surprise. A nice surprise though – I always prefer a fudge to a hard toffee. Then back to Facebook and our girly giggling about days gone by and a youth, seemingly long gone.
Dad tidied the kitchen and the dog was put to bed. All I have to do is grab a drink of water to take to bed (my nightly routine), turn off the lights and put the now empty pack of Werther’s Originals in the bin. It occurs to me, (I don’t know why now and not earlier) to look at the best-before date. 2014 – only 2 years out of date – that’s not bad really. Wait until they eat their chilli next week with 9 year old cumin in, I giggle as I retreat to my bedroom. The thing is – my dad would love that he’s making use of that cumin. It would prove he was right to never throw the damn thing away. Then it occurs to me, he’s reluctant to give up on anything, my dad. Despite our bloody awful day, his exasperation, at times and his need to pull me into the dining room, away from my mum to vent his disbelief at the things she was saying to him (I promised him I wouldn’t put those words on here!), he will cherish her in the same way he has cherished his 9 year old cumin and his 2-year old Werther’s. He bought the cumin / Werther’s / paprika, so it is his responsibility to use the thing properly and not waste it. He made his vows to Mum all those years ago and he bloody loves her. He will do his utmost to ensure he looks after her for as long as possible – that is his job.
So, tomorrow is another day. The cumin is back in the cupboard, the chilli is ready to eat, the Werther’s (thank God) are all gone and mum will wake up and still have dementia. Her brain will still be dying and she will continue to decline. Her “best-before” date has certainly passed, but, she has my dad, who cares not a jot for dates…. And for that, I am so incredibly grateful.