Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I'm fine

Everyone keeps asking how I'm doing and I tell them I'm fine. Which I am. But I shouldn't be really.

After  months of being closely involved in my uncle's life and death I should be feeling something. But I'm not. It's my pills you see. They keep me happy. Or if not happy at least stable.

Perhaps I should stop taking them for a while so I can show people that I'm not a cold emotionless human being. I stopped while I was in hospital (because I forgot to take them in with me) and I found myself in tears at the most innocuous sentences in my romantic novel. Perhaps that what I need to do now. Let myself cry. 

But is feeling necessary? I can't go back to where I was before I began taking my happy pills where I had slipped into a half life ruled by anxiety. I won't go back there. 

Is it so bad to not cry? To not demonstrate emotion? Does it mean I don't care? I don't even know the answer to that.

I saw the flash

At first I thought I was having a funny turn then I realised it was the speed camera. It turned out I'd been doing 36 in a 30 mph zone and my reward was four hours in a room with other offenders taking a speed awareness course.

Now I know how to tell what the speed limit is on any stretch of road, the difference between speed signs outlined in red (mandatory) and any other colour (advisory), and the benefits of commentary driving aka talking aloud to oneself. 

But the highlight of my afternoon came when the trainer asked what the lines down the middle of the road are for. One suggestion, to keep traffic on different sides, was acknowledged as being a secondary reason but did anyone know the main reason? As no-one else seemed to know I said, 'More paint more danger?'
'Well done, Liz! That's excellent.'

I'm still preening.

At the end of the course we had to complete an activity: What are you going to do differently? (Concentrate, allow more time etc.) The final question was, 'whose help will you need?' Apparently the correct answer is no-one's; you have to do it yourself. After that I didn't feel I could shout out the answer I'd written, 'God's.' I honestly can't imagine how else I'm going to change the habits of a lifetime and stop being late.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sorry, but it's not fair

In the last six weeks three of the people in this family photo from 2008 have died. Two of them, Uncle John and Great-auntie Joan, were in their 90s and wanting to go; the third (at the top of the stairs) was in the prime of her life and most certainly didn't want to.

Now that's not fair.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

My uncle John

Uncle John was born on 13th December, 1925. He was my mum's little - 6'3" - brother. 
With my mum at my grandparents' golden wedding party in about 1970.
In 1978 he gave me away at my wedding to Husband.

With his dear friend, Margaret, when they were young.

And with Margaret four years ago when he drove them both to Italy for Younger Son's wedding.

At his 90th birthday pre-celebration with Anna, CEO of Fitzroy, the charity he helped start.

In 2014 he received a national award, The Mansell Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Learning Disability Sector, and was interviewed for the Guardian newspaper for which this photo was taken.

Uncle John was a loyal friend and inspirational character. He was also charming: at his 80th birthday party most of the guests were women and, indeed, women played a large part in his life: Margaret of course, in the photos above; Audrey, his wife of about 30 years; Edith, his close companion in later years before her death; and Jane, a good friend from his time in Nottingham. And many more who've phoned and kept in touch especially during his illness, and have related lovely stories to me about him.

He was a special man.

The death of Uncle

Uncle died on Wednesday afternoon. I'd just gone to the shops to get a present for Daughter whose birthday was the next day when I had the phone call. His end was peaceful and he was at home, which was so important to him, and his carer was there. The last day or so he'd been on a morphine drive so he wasn't in any pain or discomfort.

It was what he'd wanted. When the doctor had given him the option of stopping all his medication he'd agreed eagerly - he'd been suggesting it before but we'd said, 'No! You mustn't!'

The last days were long and slow - and exasperating as he'd breathe and then stop for up to a minute at a time while we'd watch anxiously until he'd suddenly gasp again. The district nurses came in twice daily and I'm sure they fully expected each visit to be their last. Please take this the right way when I say that his carer and I kept looking at each other and saying, 'He's never going to die!'

I'm not entirely sure that the doctor who came to confirm death about an hour afterwards took my comment the right way when I said, 'Watch out, he'll probably sit up and start breathing again. He's been teasing us for days!' Husband and Carer looked at me aghast and the doctor, well, she just looked. (Must learn not to say the first thing that comes into my head.) (Like saying to the undertaker, on discovering that the funeral will be just before St. David's Day, 'Maybe everyone could wear yellow. Or dress as leeks ...')

I blame lack of sleep and general brain-mush. And too much chocolate, my staple diet for the last few weeks.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Go gentle into that good night

I wrote this in the depths of Friday night.

My uncle was a presence at most of the significant moments of my life.

He gave me my first teddy, who, bedraggled and moth-eaten, still sits on the shelf.
He 'gave me away' at my wedding thirty-eight years ago.
He and I spent a night sitting in hospital together waiting, as it turned out, for my mother to die.
He was the one who phoned me in the middle of another night to say my grandmother had died. 'It's just you and me now, love,' he said.

And yet I hardly knew him.

It wasn't until he retired and eventually moved back to the village of his childhood that I got to know a bit more about this amazing man. Father of a son with cerebral palsy - when Huw was born Uncle John and Auntie Audrey were advised by the doctor to put him in a home and forget about him - Uncle John was one of the founders of a charity, Fitzroy, that has home-from-homes across England for disabled adults who can no longer be cared for by their families.

But it's not just love and care he gave to his son and wife and his achievements in his working life as well as the charity work; it's the love and respect that so many people have for him and the value they place upon him, the inspiration they receive from him.

After his dear friend, Edith, died, Uncle John continued to care for and play a part in the lives of her daughters. One of them told me yesterday, 'He's been a better father to me than my own father ever was.'

I was glad to hear that but sad too. Sad that we'd never had that close relationship. The closest it came was when I told him that I was being treated for depression and he took me out to lunch and answered my questions about my mother and my father. He said, 'I'm so sorry; I should have talked to you before this.'

We both have our regrets but as I sit here, by his bedside at two in the morning, I remember another night almost forty-five years to the day, when we sat in a hospital together and I prayed so hard for my mum to live.

Tonight I have prayed just as hard that he would die, that God would take him. Out of his struggle, out of his pain. He's had enough, he's ready. He is tired and distressed.

Dying is undignified, It's not right that a strong gentle-man should suffer this. He has no energy to 'rage against the dying of the light.' 

Answer his prayer Lord. 'Dear God, how long does it take to die?'

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

D is for Delilah and Dragon

Let me tell you first that I am Welsh. I come from Wales, a country once described to me as 'that bit on the side of England'. A proud would-be independent country with its own language, traditions and flag. A country whose mood can change in sync with the fortunes of its rugby team.

We can get very worked up at an international rugby game.

And we do love to have our allegiance clearly shown on our faces. This is me a few years ago in Cardiff for a game. You can tell it's taken before the match as my Welsh dragon is not yet smudged by tears - of joy or misery? Nobody remembers the score afterwards.
The dragon has been associated with Wales since Roman times when the cavalry were believed to have used a dragon emblem on their pennants. The dragon was later used by Welsh kings to symbolise their authority and later formed part of the Tudor monarchs' coat of arms. The flag of Wales as it is now was officially recognised in 1959.
Something else that features at Welsh rugby matches is the singing of a song made famous by Tom Jones, Delilah. Released in 1968 it tells the story of an unfaithful woman and her boyfriend's response - murder. (Interestingly there have been moves to have the singing of Delilah at rugby matches banned because it legitimises violence towards women. Police reports indicate that numbers of assaults on women increase after an international - regardless of who's won.)

When we travelled across the world two years ago to visit Malaysia and Vietnam I decided to take a dragon with me. The idea was that I would take photos of her in various locations so my grandchildren could follow our travels. Unreliable internet connection meant I wasn't able to maintain a complete log but nevertheless the dragon, whom I named Delilah, did get to see quite a lot of the world.

Here she is sunning herself on a beach in the beautiful Perhentian islands.
Other entries in ABC Wednesday can be found here.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What a difference a word makes

In the consulting room the doctor explained to me what happens.
'The consultants sit around a table and discuss the patients' cases. There is a radiologist, an oncologist ...'
I didn't hear anything else until her last word, '... risk.'

My stomach had done a triple back flip and my brain had frozen. I'd also gone deaf it seems.

'I'm sorry, what did you say?' I stuttered.
'You are low risk.'

I could breathe again.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

C is for Care - and Crocus

Carers, care home, live-in carer. In one way or another care has cropped up in many of my thoughts and conversations over the last few weeks. If I'd thought about it I suppose I'd have guessed that care homes came into being in about the 1960s. Certainly when I was a child most elderly people who could no longer live alone lived with their families. I grew up in a four-generational home: me, my mother, my grandparents and my great-grandmother. To put your parent in a home was considered the not done thing. You had a responsibility to those who'd brought you up.

Today care homes are looked upon much more favourably - although possibly not by the elderly - and caring for your parent at home is much less common. I suppose it's partly because generations no longer live close to one another and to take someone out of a locality that is familiar to him could cause unnecessary grief. And we live fuller lives for longer with outside interests. My grandmother cleaned, washed, shopped, cooked and spent the occasional evening in the local pub. That's all I remember her doing as I was growing up. Her life centred around the family, caring for her mother, her husband, her daughter and her grand-daughter.

For her to have put her mother in a home would have been unthinkable. In those days the only care homes were run by local authorities and although the emphasis had changed from the old work-house designation as a 'receptacle for the helpless poor' to cater for the care of the sick and elderly, many of the homes were located in old work-house buildings.

But by the end of the twentieth century 85% of care homes were privately run. Today some are purely residential, some are  nursing and some provide a variety of care packages depending on the changing need of the guest.

In Wales local authority financial support towards care in a home is means tested; support for home care isn't. In 1990 the Community Care Act with its policy of deinstitutionalisation was passed, returning physically and mentally disabled to their homes for care. While this was justly criticised in some cases I'm sure that the majority of elderly would rather be cared for in their own homes, surrounded by their own familiar things.

It's almost impossible to go into a care home and not shrink at the sight of roomfuls of elderly sitting and staring into nothingness. That said, care at home isn't always the best: it's not a highly paid job and training for carers only seems to cover basics like how to lift and food hygiene - but not preparation so a carer can be employed who doesn't know how to poach an egg, a true example.

With the increasing ageing population we - meaning those of us in middle-age - perhaps need to be thinking seriously about what our choices or options will be. Studies have shown that communities that value and include the oldest generation are happier places. Maybe all new-build houses, except starter homes, should have to include a granny flat. But that might be too late for us: our daughter has always said she's going to keep us in the shed.

On a lighter note, here's the first Crocus of Spring in our garden. According to the plant almanac the meaning of the crocus is youthful gladness, a good omen for Spring and also what we need to develop as we age if we don't want to be grumpy old burdens!
This is my entry for ABC Wednesday and here's the link to find others. I think. (this is my first time for years and I'm a little confused!)