If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past six months people will carelessly break promises and at a time when you need them the most, callously let you down. Maybe we’ve lived in a cosseted world where my Dad has been our family’s moral compass always leading by example and providing help where he can. So it has been an education for me that neighbours and those we have long considered family friends have fallen by the wayside apart from when they call to enquire what we’ll be doing with his lawnmower, power tools or car.
I’ve discovered that the care the elderly and infirmed receive is a direct reflection of how deep their pockets are and in many cases woefully inadequate or just plain sub-standard. There is no instruction booklet on navigating the stormy waters of the social care system and you better grasp the jargon pretty quickly because not doing so will cost you dear. Having been cut adrift to find my Dad a residential placement we had a crash course on just how difficult this road can be for novices. This journey has been a revelation with moments of sheer despair, frustration, overwhelming hopelessness and countless sleepless nights. We have met less compassionate souls that truly have no business working within sectors where they encounter traumatized families and occasionally individuals that have been like bottled sunshine on a very dark day have crossed our paths.
What advice would I give those forced into a heart breaking journey of their own? I would tell them to use every resource at their disposal and then some. To fight even on the days when you feel you have nothing left and to never give up. We were made to feel that we were “difficult & problematic” for insisting on an acceptable standard of care and on occasion bullied into enduring something which fell way below. There is no doubt that the social care system fails many and for those fortunate to have a family prepared to challenge procedures the outcome can sometimes be very different than for those that don’t. I feel very strongly that the elderly have a right to dignity with care and when you have to deal with a system where policy becomes more important than the welfare of the most vulnerable in society then it’s time you reviewed it.
Nothing is ever just one phone call or just one email and sometimes making, what for others would be a straightforward appointment, takes weeks but more often than not, months. We all know that when you call a service provider it’s a bit of a lottery in terms of who answers the phone so imagine speaking with yet another dismissive jobs worth concerning a loved one’s welfare. Trying to hold down a job and manage my father’s affairs leaves little time for much else; my hair hasn’t been cut since December and I am badly in need of a dental appointment but that has had to wait as there are more pressing things on my ever-increasing agenda. My phone bill is nearly equivalent to the cost of a small car and I can’t remember the last time I have had a night out with friends. There are days when the sheer enormity of the task in hand becomes just a little overwhelming but I have come to realise that sometimes you just have to put down your sword and leave slaying dragons for another day.
So what keeps you going despite the constant rejections and refusals? Without a doubt it’s that smile from your Dad; the one you thought you’d never see again. The smile that says he’s safe at long last surrounded by compassionate people and that the hard fought battle was truly worth it. And so on a sunny day here in Devon you shed a tear and say a silent prayer of thanks knowing that he will now have the best possible care for the remainder of his days which my friends, is truly priceless.
The old fella with two of his favourite fabulous carers
At the weekend the old fella was admitted to hospital with pneumonia and we spent a tense couple of days not knowing whether he would pull through but when I rang the hospital ward that morning I knew when the nurse said he was sat up in bed asking for his breakfast that we had turned a corner. So later that day after my shift finished I drove to the hospital to check on him.
As is the case when I visit him of late, he dozes after a couple of minutes of conversation since his stroke so I sit there either reading, drinking or my other favourite occupation of people watching. I couldn’t help but notice an elderly lady sat by the bedside of a disabled man gently holding his hand and stroking his brow; the love and tenderness evident in every caress. This gentleman was unable to talk or control any of his limbs but it was evident that he knew his loved one was close by. A short while later, a nurse came in with a tray and demonstrated how to feed him through a tube. We caught each other’s eye as the elderly lady struggled to handle the feeding tube and smiled at each other in compassionate understanding.
As I got up to go and fetch a coffee from the vending machine as I knew that she wouldn’t want to desert her post, I asked if I could get her one. She fumbled around to find her purse and I assured her I had plenty of change from the car park ticket machine; frankly I was pleased to be able to do such a small thing for her as I have known the loneliness and sadness of a bedside vigil when sometimes just a kind word can make all the difference on a bleak day.
When I returned we started chatting; two strangers united in the responsibility of caring for a sick loved one and she explained to me that she had nursed her son at home for the fifty years of his life but said that sometimes he went to a day centre who were very good with him she assured me. She confided in me that after a fifteen week stay in hospital he would be returning home at the weekend which she said would save her two lengthy bus rides to the hospital each day.
“He’s my world” she said gently stroking his hair back from his forehead. Suddenly my burden no longer seemed all that heavy. This devoted mother’s plight had touched and humbled me in a million different ways.
I left the hospital that day a little lighter in heart feeling grateful knowing that there was still immense love in the world and that goodness does exist if you just know where to look for it.
Do you remember the scene in “Great Exotic Marigold Hotel” where Judi Dench’s recently widowed character was speaking with her broadband service provider and the call centre representative insisted on speaking only with the account holder? I have lived that scripted conversation with so many utility providers over the past few weeks resulting in endless calls, form filling and emails.There is no flexibility within their scripted conversations which enable them to deal with people struggling with huge emotional loss
This journey has been a big learning curve for me in so many ways I never thought it would be as hard for many different reasons; the heart-breaking handwritten notes that my Dad had left for me amongst his jumpers many still unworn, preferring instead to live in his gardening clothes. insisting that when he’d gone that the local charity shop take his old clothes “but no pick & choosing mind you”. The many clippings torn carelessly from gardening magazines and newspapers to be stored for later use. The pocket diaries where he had meticulously recorded the weather and his gardening schedule every day.
Dementia or Alzheimer’s is a hateful creature which creeps in and suddenly steals your familiar and beloved relative away replacing them with a complete stranger who no longer has the same interests or in some cases preferences. An acquaintance of mine dismissively suggested that caring for an adult with reduced mental capacity is no different from looking after a small child. I disagree with that entirely; an adult has a lifetime of financial responsibilities, cupboards full of memories, and a devastated family who overnight have lost a beloved relative. I have met some amazing people on this journey who have been like bottled sunshine on the rainiest of days but many others not so much.
Having reluctantly spent the weekend sorting through the old man’s treasured possessions which are little more than tatty junk, I have been reduced to tears by the discovery of my first school note-book, his communion medal, my niece’s first crudely written & misspelled love letter. What price can you put on a pocketful of memories precious only to the one who saved them? In a rare moment of clarity when I told my Dad I had found them he said “I know they’re not much but they meant a lot to me though”.
Irrespective of what the future may hold and how many cavalier individuals touch our lives, my old Dad will always be right there with me in the scent of wild garlic and Queen Anne’s lace rustling on a gentle spring breeze, a warm hand in mine on a cold winter’s day, the smell of wet earth after a summer shower but above all he will always be my very first hero.
For the past thirteen years my Dad’s constant companion and shadow has been an old border collie called Sonny who was rescued by the old fella when he came across him being thrashed by an impatient farmer for failing to nip the heels of the sheep but clearly no amount of beatings was going to change this poor dog’s submissive behaviour. My Dad being a canny old fella knew there and then that the fate of this young pup lay in his hands as most failed sheepdogs are usually despatched with a bullet from the farmer’s gun so waving his walking stick in the air he approached the farmer saying “Now then fella m’lad, that’ll be enough of that” and promptly took the young dog off the farmer’s hands right there and then without any further argument from the farmer.
My mother was less than impressed when this fairly bedraggled and smelly dog was brought into her pristine kitchen but had become accustomed over the years to my father bringing home various waifs & strays so begrudgingly set about finding something to feed the poor animal. After an overly-enthusiastic bath and groom the bewildered animal settled at my father’s feet, which is more or less where he has been for the past thirteen years. We often joked that Dad probably loved the newly named Sonny more than the old dear. It took some time for Sonny to gain confidence even the cats knew he was a complete pushover and whilst the farmer had not appreciated his kind temperament everyone who met him was charmed. I am always amazed by the good nature of animals in spite of the poor treatment they receive from those that should know better. Sudden movements and loud noises still frightened him and the fact that he never barked were signs of his former abusive life but the old fella loved him dearly.
In fact they were seldom apart, every time I cycled up to the allotment Sonny would be contentedly laying on a blanket in the sunshine watching his master with adoring eyes, who would be toiling amongst his beloved dahlias.
The saddest thing is that as both old boys have fought their health own battles they have been separated when they when both needed each other’s comfort the most. It’s been hard watching them both deteriorate and I’ve come to terms with the fact that the old fella will never be coming home as the brain damage is just too severe for him to cope with the smallest of tasks. I’d also been in denial over Sonny so with a reluctant heavy heart made the decision to help him take the journey to Rainbow Bridge where he passed away in my arms as the person he loved the most on this earth could no longer remember his name.
I truly believe it’s possible to die of a broken heart but I am comforted that Sonny will be waiting just on the other side of the bridge to walk the old fella home when his time comes.
Sleep well bonny lad
Sadly the only pictures I have of Sonny and the old fella have been lost or damaged so I thought they’d both approve if instead I posted a picture of Handsome Benny who Blind Dog Rescue UK are trying to find a UK home for as regrettably his other one fell through. I sure would appreciate it if you could share beautiful Benny’s story so he can find his forever home just like the old fella’s boy.
I’m tired and fed up; fed up with being brave, fed up with pretending everything is going to be okay and honestly a little resentful at putting my life on hold again. The truth is that despite being in denial for some weeks, my lovely Dad will never be the same again and whilst he’s made a wonderful physical recovery he struggles most days to remember what day of the week it is and what he had for breakfast. Heart-breaking though it is, I have to admit that overnight we have lost my beloved Dad.
This is the post I have dreaded writing the most because by doing so I have to finally admit that my Dad will probably not be coming home and writing those words fills my heart with an unfathomable sadness. I know that my Dad’s no more special than any other dad but to me he’s been the anchor that has steadied our ship and his kindness has enveloped us in an embrace that warmed our hearts just like an old favourite sweater on a winter’s day, reassuring us that there was goodness in the world on even the darkest days.
The surgeon made him aware of the risks when he had his hip operation and we were told that they had a medical dilemma which meant that they couldn’t treat both the stroke & shattered hip simultaneously but he had been adamant that he wanted to pursue the operation. I remember someone telling me that the sooner you treat a stroke the more of the person you save and in my Dad’s case it was to be very little. When the old fella made the decision he was completely coherent, had been driving the “old folk” to the supermarket the day before for the weekly shop, read a broadsheet every day and was able to discuss current affairs almost as well as a foreign correspondent; now he struggles to operate a basic television remote.
The fact of the matter is no amount of sleep, medication or a different environment will alter that now. Our lives have changed dramatically, I go to work and visit him on the way home every day but when he thanks me for coming I realise he doesn’t remember that we had the same conversation the day before and the day before that. There will be no evening telephone calls to discuss our day & bid him goodnight because quite simply he is unable to concentrate on anything for very long. He still kisses my hand when I leave that’s on one of the rare occasions when he hasn’t fallen asleep mid conversation.
We’re not the only family who have been left devastated by the effects of a stroke and no doubt we won’t be the last but at this time and moment I am suffocated by black despair. There’s no quick fix this time around, no magic potion waiting to wake him from this deep slumber and regrettably we are just starting out on this journey of unchartered territory. Some days fragments of my old Dad appear and then just as quickly disappear again. There will be lots of dragons to slay along the road not the least being the callous and faceless bureaucrats with their senseless & often ridiculous form filling.
As he has always told me we never know what’s around the corner, I think I’m all out of wishes and I have frequently wondered during the past few weeks if my Dad really understood the decision he made exchanging physical well-being for mental coherence. I can’t help but feel that sometimes he made a deal with the devil and came up short-changed.
During one of my visits to the hospital to see the old fella I spent some time with the spritely gentleman in the next bed who was ninety years’ young. He’d had a similar accident to my Dad but said he had sadly resigned himself to never returning to his lovely little bungalow with the beautifully tended garden.
He confided in me that he had never had cause to stay in a hospital before and had kept himself busy nursing his wife through a stroke for the past twenty years. As I made us both a cup of tea in the small ward kitchen the nursing sister told me that when his wife was eventually admitted to hospital he used to visit her every day come rain or shine and would stay from early in the morning to late at night.
As we chatted over our cup of tea and a chocolate digestive biscuit he proudly told me with a twinkle in his eye that he had been married to the love of his life for sixty-nine years but smiled as he said “mind you, we’ve had our ups and downs”. As an incurable romantic I had to ask him if he knew the first time he met her whether she was the one and without hesitation he said “absolutely”.
He said that he’d first met her at a fun fair and after he’d sweet-talked her into sharing a dodgem ride he’d asked her to a dance and three children and seven grandchildren later they were still together. After another chocolate digestive he went on to tell me that she was now in a nursing home and he would be joining her at last. I remarked how nice it would be for them to be together and he leaned forward and whispered “She has dementia m’dear and hasn’t recognised me in over ten years but I’ll be happy if it’s my face that she sees every morning when she wakes and the last one she sees before she goes to bed.”
As I sat holding his hand he smiled and I could see his mind wandering back to happier times and I envied him as he had found that which all of us longed for but which many seldom find within their lifetimes. I choked back a tear as I realised that he already knew how blessed he had been.
Everyone knows how to love but only a few know how to love forever
Of course, I couldn’t let this special time of the year pass without wishing you all a Happy & Safe Christmas from everyone at Dyson Abbey here in blustery old Plymouth. I hope you all get to spend time with those you love and are surrounded by laughter on this special of all days.
Be filled by wonder, be touched by peace & believe in the miracle
From our house to yours
I know it’s been a while but for those that don’t already know my darling Dad had a fall last week whilst the old dear was away on a Turkey & Tinsel weekend with the Women’s Institute. No doubt getting up to go to the little boys’ room without putting the light on he fell and shattered his hip waiting there from 5.30 am until much later when he was discovered. Regrettably, because he had had been sat there for so long his blood pressure dropped and he had another stroke in the ambulance on the way to hospital.
I can’t deny it’s been a tense week with Dad critically ill where he hasn’t known any of us. However, I am delighted to say that we have turned a corner and he’s back on the road to recovery. Whilst it’s a road we’ve taken before it’s one he won’t be walking alone and with Ayesha’s Passing Out Parade in June, I rather think his stubborn determination and heart will have him waltzing along rehabilitation street.
So on Christmas Day we will be heading off to Burrator Ward in Derriford Hospital in Plymouth to bring some festive cheer to the old fella along with a trunk full of Tupperware boxes stuffed with Mum’s homemade seasonal buffet; that’s if he’s no longer a “Nil By Mouth” patient! Beverley Big Pants and I will be traditionally dressed in our Christmas Jumpers and rather splendid earrings bearing a strong resemblance to the the Ugly Sisters, the grande dames of pantomime; oh yes we will!
So I want to take this opportunity to wish all doctors and nurses a safe & happy Christmas and thank them for giving up their family holidays so that we can all still have time with ours.
I think as you grow older your Christmas list gets shorter because the things you want can’t be bought.
Decisions, decisions …
When it comes to photography I am no Rhonda, Gunta, Rebecca, Marianne or Madhu. I’d hoped that over the past four years some of their skills would have rubbed off on me but regrettably the photography fairy has failed to sprinkle a little pixie dust on me. I’ve been privileged to work with some of the very best WordPress photographers on joint projects but I still lack the fundamentals when it comes to capturing a great shot.
In honour of Pet Fostering week I thought I’d snap a couple of photos of Milo one of our failed fosters to help promote how worthwhile it is taking an animal in to provide them with the best possible chance of finding their furever home. I mean, after all how difficult can it be photographing your beloved pet, my blogging friends Animalcouriers do it all the time!
Two hours later, I’d broken out in a sweat, got through two bags of cat treats, a stiff glass of wine and still hadn’t managed to get a good shot of Milo; well one that didn’t make him look like yellow fang evil psycho cat. Eventually my perseverance paid off or either my subject was tiring and decided to submit gracefully to my bribery. You can see Milo’s close up here in which he’s a great ambassador for rescue cats and we succeeded in getting our message out there that fostering saves lives.For those interested in fostering head over to your local rescue where I’m sure a warm welcome awaits.
I have a true appreciation for the talents of all my photography blogging friends and their endeavours to provide the sleek glossy pictures that regularly grace their blogs but I realise that a lot of work goes in to providing the completed article. So I’m curious, tell me what’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve done whilst trying to capture that perfect shot?
“I’m the reason my family couldn’t put out the nativity scene this year as I ate the three wise men – Milo”
I’m not ashamed that I drink out of the toilet – Hobo
I steal the neighbour’s Koi Carp from his ornamental pond – Chloe Hellcat
This is me after I ripped open a bag of cat nip & I’m too stoned to move – Charlie
A burst water main managed to bring an entire city to a standstill on Thursday with flooding causing problems on main access roads and water supplies to many households interrupted. From mid-morning until early evening many of us were left with no water supply at all.
The old fella in true gardener style keeps a series of rain-water butts strategically placed around the garden and generously offered us a cold water bath, however, I think it’s safe to say that my germ-conscious mother was less than unimpressed and frankly if he’d continued to press the point he may well have been facing a cold water shower of his own.
The local water company was bombarded with complaints both via the telephone and social media ranging from not being able to make a cup of tea to having a bath. Whilst their engineers battled in severe wind and rain to fix the problem they also arranged deliveries of water to those most vulnerable in the area.
Normal service returned to our water supply by early evening but I thought that all the negative and self-absorbed comments a tad ridiculous especially when there are millions of children throughout the world who don’t have access to clean water day in and day out. For us it was a minor inconvenience for them, life & death. I would like to hope that this has served as a timely reminder especially at this time of year of how blessed most of us are to have easy access to clean water, healthcare, a roof over our heads and food on our tables.