My mum has one of those window-cleaning scraper things in the guest room shower. It is not the original one – that one appeared in the bathroom, carefully hanging on a little rubber hook that stuck to the shower door many, many years ago.No, this one is a modern replacement, but still sits unobtrusively against the shower door, gently reminding anyone who is in there, to scrape the walls and door on their way out, to reduce the build up of scum, mildew and mould.
It made me smile this morning as I briefly pretended I was an expert (naked) window cleaner as I did big swirly figure of eight scrapes on the inside of the shower door. She was never shy about trying new things or finding ways to make her life easier. With three kids and a busy husband, no wonder she was keen to embrace anything to make her life a little easier: quality washing machine, fancy tumble dryer, Tupperware boxes for cereals so that they stored better and the cereals would stay fresher for longer – I would happily bet that she was one of the very first Dyson users in the UK!
Dad has always been the very opposite. If the hoover worked, then why replace it with a better, more expensive version? If his jumper still kept him warm despite the holes in the arms, then why throw it away? If the herbs in the kitchen cupboard were two years out of date, did it really matter? If the car still managed to hobble its way from A to B, then it was perfectly fine – no need for a new one.
Mum embraced change and new ideas – things to make her life easier. Dad always liked things the way they were, the way they had always been and still does.
Last time I was here I encouraged him (strongly and over many days) to buy a new hoover – his old one just wasn’t working and for many of my previous visits we had taken it apart, cleaned it out and still couldn’t make it work. Then last week my sister made him buy a new washing machine as the old one was very ancient, had mould growing in the door and was becoming increasingly noisy by the wash.
I am sure he was dreading my visit this time and is keeping me away from all the old household appliances!
I arrived yesterday, my three kids and the dog in tow and was thrown into the chaos of what life is now like for my dad as we attempted a walk up to the park. Fresh air, we thought – great for the kids, great for Mum and nice to stretch our legs after four hours in the car.
The kids enjoyed it. The sun shone and the dogs charged about for an hour, but getting my mother home was incredibly stressful. At several times while on our walk, she headed off in the wrong direction, refused to come the right way with us, got aggressive and cross when we tried to get her to come with us and plain refused to come into the house when we eventually got her home again. She found the garden and the increasing chill of the early evening a more welcome place than the home she has lovingly created with my father for the past 13 years. F**king crazy disease.
The good news I suppose, is that my dad is almost ready to think about full time care for her. He has done so amazingly well, caring for her almost fully on his own for two years whilst she rapidly morphed from his beloved wife and the teenager he fell in love with all those years before to this wild, scared and irrational crazy lady. But, now is the time to admit defeat. Now is the time to get her more help, to get him more help. Now is the time to start thinking about the next stage of this disease and where the best place for her is going to be. It isn’t here at home. If we’re completely honest, it hasn’t been here for quite some time now.
Dad is struggling with the decision, though is certainly more open about it now and willing to talk about it. He even went to look at a local home last week and has reported good things back about it.
I watch my mother as she sits in her chair, vacant and expressionless, getting no enjoyment out of the day and it dawns on me that this whole situation is very like the shower scraper. Dad has quite understandably railed against the change that is tragically inevitable, he has not been ready to update his life and make life easier for himself – instead he has been drifting along, coping as best he can while we all try to convince him that a care home might well be the best place for her. Like the hoover and the washing machine, he has needed some encouragement.
Perhaps if Mum had a choice she would embrace the change and choose whatever is going to make her and my dad’s life easier. I know she’d be worried about my dad’s health and his reluctance to accept too much help. I know she’d think logically about it and would consider the pros and cons of a care home. I know she had to make the same decision many years ago when my granny was struggling with dementia and could no longer look after herself at home.
So, perhaps, she would choose the shower scraper.
Or perhaps I just have to convince myself that she would.
My mother has also got to a point of having to ask for more input and help for dad. At last she has made the decision to join a carers group and also get some therapy for herself. I marvel at the way she continues to care for him, mostly alone as he refuses to have outsiders in the house. I am realising what an amazing and strong woman she is and how she is living up to those marriage vows, “in sickness and in health”.
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A colleague’s mother-in-law, who has advanced dementia, has just moved into a home and is absolutely thriving there – he tells me that she has gained weight and is so interested in all that is going on around her that she has little time for her family when they visit! He says that, all in all, it has brought about a very positive change in her. It is a phenomenally difficult decision to make – one that also potentially lies ahead of me and my sister, too (both of our parents have dementia) – but can be beneficial for all concerned. Wishing you and your family all the best on this horrible journey.
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