Hello, my friends. Sorry I have been missing in action for so long. Things have been busy. And sometimes a bit fraught. And when I did have time, I could not muster the enthusiasm for anything but retreating to a quiet corner with my book. Honestly, I’m a bit like a cat in that way. I mean, if cats could read.
I’m back from New Brunswick now. I had a good visit. When I arrived, my sister Carolyn travelled to Ontario to see about a few things that needed to be seen to, and I stayed with Mum. Carolyn is so good with Mum. She studied nursing in university for two years before switching to pharmacy, and the skills she developed then have not been lost. I am not so capable. Staying with Mum on my own is a very different experience than it was pre-pandemic. Mum is more frail and less mobile and needs more care. She usually has care workers for a morning shift and a late afternoon shift. But because of the rising Covid numbers in New Brunswick, there were many shifts that could not be filled, and then it was just Mum and me.
Mornings are about helping Mum get out of bed and ready for her day, and the bed changing and laundry and personal care that goes along with that. After lunch is easy. Mum naps and does her physio exercises. Evenings, after supper and the requisite TV watching, involve the reverse of the morning with personal care, and a few extra more “personal” tasks that I was hesitant to take on. But after initial flappiness on my part, and encouragement from Mum, I managed okay. And then to my own amazement I grew better and better at it. Mum said I would be eligible for “my qualification papers” by the time Carolyn came home. Ha.
I have to say that I am not a good personal care worker. Because, well, bodily fluids, personal space, patience, bending, lifting, bending. But I was happy to do it. If not exactly happy while doing it. At one point I told Mum: “It’s a good thing I love you. That helps with the gagging, I think.” And we both laughed.
I’ve decided that everyone should try to be a personal care worker for a few days. If only to appreciate the people who do this work every day. And, wow, do we appreciate them! When Stephanie, one of Mum’s care workers, arrived the morning after I’d been alone with Mum for a couple of days, I could have hugged her. She bustled around, greeting Mum, getting her meds ready, helping her to the bathroom, stripping the bed, starting the washing machine, and organizing the towels and stuff for Mum’s shower, while I stood in the kitchen drinking my tea, sighing with relief, and smiling like an idiot.
With Stephanie or Theresa to do the morning shift, I was better able to handle the evening stuff. Plus I could more easily leave the house to go for my walk or get groceries, or even hide in a corner with my book for an hour.
But you know, I mustn’t forget the other element, in some ways the most important element, that made everything easier: Mum’s sense of humour. With me and Carolyn, and with her “girls” as she calls her care workers. Mum is long over the feeling of uselessness that attends giving up so much control in her life. Well, most of the time, anyway. And she jokes with the girls, and with my sister and me, when many people would be frustrated, or angry, or humiliated.
Not that she doesn’t feel frustration. Especially with the pain, and the fatigue, and the inability to just get up and move easily whenever she wants. She is still able to get around with her walker. But not without someone to help her out of her chair, and remain in attendance. She knows the risks and is careful. But I know that some days she’d just love to be able to pop out of her chair and go make a big batch of doughnuts. And we’d love it if she could do that too.
Still, it’s amazing the laughs that can be had when doing personal care for someone you love. Like the last night I was there. I tried to help Mum out of her chair because she had to pee. But I couldn’t manage it, so Carolyn took over. Mum made a smart remark. I replied in kind. And Carolyn collapsed into a nearby chair in stitches, saying that it was a good thing she’d already peed. Because if she hadn’t she’d certainly be doing so now. Then we helped Mum up and she and her walker shuffled off to the bathroom. And I thought, you know, maybe love and laughter are the secret to coping with getting old.
After my sister returned from Ontario the best part of my trip began. She did most of the evening care, and I focused on the meal preparation. I tried to make stuff that she doesn’t usually cook and that I know Mum would like. And I bought lots of treats for dessert. Then after supper, the three of us would settle down with our tea and dessert and watch British detective shows on TV. Mum sighed one evening and said that was the best part of the day. The three of us pigging out and watching Vera or Inspector Lynley Mysteries. Carolyn and I agreed.
My sister and I had lots of time together this trip. Especially in the evenings after Mum was in bed. We yakked about clothes, browsed on-line shopping sites, and restyled some of the older pieces in her closet into new outfits. And we talked about everything.
One night she said that she would never have guessed she would be the one caring for Mum. She said that I have always been closer to Mum, share more of her interests, and know her better. And in many ways that’s true. I’ve always been the one who travelled home the most, who shopped and knitted and watched Jane Austen movies with Mum. Who swapped books and listened to old family stories. But then isn’t it good, I thought, that she is here now? She has the opportunity to get to know Mum better than she ever has. I mean I know that my sister is making a big sacrifice to be there. But maybe it will turn out to be a gift, not just to Mum. But to them both.
I am not trying to minimize the huge thing that my sister is doing. For Mum, and for all of us. And I am grateful because now I’m not worried all the time if Mum is okay, if she’s eating right, if she has enough books to read. Or if she’s lonely. I know she has lots of good care givers. And lots of love and laughter too.
So, there were a few fraught moments for me this trip when I was alone with Mum. Nothing that I couldn’t handle, as I discovered. But my sister, my sister is a wonder. She is a strong woman in all senses of that word. And I’m thinking that maybe she has more in common with Mum than she realizes.