I sit in the gloom watching my father sleeping, mouth wide open ( his default mode these days), while my mother stares at the TV. It doesn’t matter what is on because she doesn’t understand much of it.
Daytime TV is mind-destroying anyway
I have seen too much TV recently: Dion Dublin talking about knocking through rooms, Jasmine Harman showing apartments to people who want to live in Spain without speaking a word of the language; people buying old toot at antique fairs. The TV is far too loud because my father, 95, is fairly deaf. On the other hand my mother, 91, has excellent hearing. She seems to enjoy shouting at him. And you can’t talk about her, even though there is a lot to say, especially about her recent dementia diagnosis, because she can hear – even from the next room.
Mum turns to me and says “So, we’re going up the road tomorrow, but we’re not staying?” It is the sixth time I’ve heard it tonight, so I reply with, “Anything you say, Mum”. Silence. Then she says “I wish I was dead”, a catchphrase she began to come out with a couple of months ago. Usually I ignore it. With Dad gently snoring I say, “Stop it, Mum, I don’t want to hear it. I’ve been busy all week to make things better for you. I’ve seen the lawyer, the bank, the financial advisor, the doctor and nurses, the neighbours; I’ve been to Upton Manor four times, and spoken to Everycare. I’ve cooked two meals a day, done all the washing, arranged for the odd-job man to come round, taken you to the hospital, spoken to the water company…” (about the enormous bill, because Dad wouldn’t get the toilet fixed).
I’ve made my point… to excess. “I know. We do appreciate it”. I know that’s true, although it rarely feels that way. Expressions of love are almost unknown in our miserable, uptight little Glaswegian family unit. Not that I am resentful in any way.
Almost all Mum’s friends are dead. My lovely, gentle Aunt Margaret, who suffered dementia for 10 years, passed away 14 years ago. The only non-family people Mum sees are the women from Everycare who come in for 45 minutes, Monday to Friday; and that is only because I forced it on Dad three months ago. Until then he had resisted all attempts to get help; anything that threatens his hegemony is usually batted away. But now his race seems to be run.
Mum starts to weep: a pitiful little whinge that lasts only a few seconds. Anne comes in and turns the TV news on, so I put down the laptop.
Dad had a little fall today – another one
I was only away for an hour, on a preparatory visit to Upton Manor.
Awoke at 3 am but eventually got back to sleep, much to my surprise. These days, four hours is acceptable. I am braced to listen for things that go bump in the night. Got up at 8:15 to find parents still in bed. Usually Dad is up well before then, making tea. I knock on their bedroom door. Mum says, “Come in, Colin. What a night… I had to get up and Dad wouldn’t help me. I don’t know what state the bathroom must be in.”
I put the kettle on and enter the bathroom which is, to put it bluntly, covered in shit. I mop up the worst with toilet paper then look around for bleach to clean the floor properly. Then Dad finally emerges; it is not clear if he knows what has happened. I decide to say nothing, as today will be difficult enough as it is. He is very dozy, like an elderly wasp, having popped a Nitrazepam at 6 am. There is some suggestion that he has had another fall during the night. Eventually Mum gets dressed and I serve up four tasteless, spongy Morrison’s croissants and everyone tucks in. I make coffee.
Rather than pack according to the logical system I devised a week ago, Dad begins, literally, farting about. I am, as usual, forced onto the defensive. I gradually wrest back control. We start with Dad’s clothes, which involves him undoing everything I’ve already done (forming piles of newly-washed underwear, shirts, trousers etc.), and I put everything neatly into his suitcase. He comments that the suitcase is very heavy. Everything is heavy, according to him. I reply, “But you won’t be carrying it.” The two of us move on to Mum’s clothes, deciding not to involve her in any decision-making. I check my watch once again.
It takes 30 minutes to disentangle Dad’s laptop from the spider’s web of cables, and eventually I have a shoulder bag of tech: the laptop, the iPad he hardly uses, the mobile he never uses, his shaver. Then another bag with the meds and knick-knacks, including a few nostalgic photos for Mum.
Suddenly it is 1 pm. I serve up three bowls of Heinz tomato soup with bread and cheddar. Anne just has coffee, and keeps out of the way. I don’t blame her.
It is a quarter to 2. I have already loaded the boot of the Astra. It is enough to start them off.
After a long struggle to get Dad’s shoes on his swollen feet, and ditto for Mum, we set off and drive for five minutes in the direction of Moreton Road.
It is literally around the corner
The staff escort them to their rooms via the lift, while Anne and I take the beautiful mahogany staircase of this listed stately home carrying the intolerably heavy suitcases.
The rooms are quite spacious and nicely decorated, and have a decent view. We shuffle a bit of furniture around and, after a couple of hours, leave them to settle in.
It has been a long and difficult week. I’m getting on too, you know! Anne and I drive home, thinking “job done”, and celebrate with steak, chips and mushrooms, and a decent bottle of wine.
How wrong could we be?