This morning, as I drove north from Dunbar to Comrie, I was listening to Woman’s Hour on Radio 4, as I often do. This morning’s subject was Mothers and Sons, and I immediately felt a connection to the programme. Close to the end, they touched on the area of sons caring for their mothers in old age and illness, and that was exactly the reason I was driving to Perthshire, as I have done every week now since January.
My mother celebrated her 91st birthday in December, with a family get-together. My brother and his family live abroad, and they came over at Christmas. It was a good time. My mother has enjoyed reasonably good health most of her life, and she has always been active. She has lived on her own since my father died in 2001, and has managed shopping, cleaning, and all the houshold chores on her own, latterly with the help of a wide circle of good neighbours and local friends – Comrie is a very neighbourly place. However, she was diagnosed with a kidney problem, and in January the effects of the illness became dramatically obvious, as she succumbed to a succession of infections which have left her weak, frail, and unable to look after herself.
Since then I’ve stayed with her for two, three or more days each week, depending on her needs and how I’ve managed to reschedule my other activities. Just lately the infections have finally responded to antibiotics, and it’s now like the calm after the storm. The progress of her underlying illness has not been halted, however, and it seems now that other organs are beginning to fail. It’s been touch and go several times, and I sometimes wonder if I’ll get my morning wave from her. Time is the big uncertainty, or rather, the future is.
She’s never been on the social services’ radar, and it’s been extremely frustrating trying to arrange personal care for her. I’ve lost count of the number of world-weary women who’ve told me they’ll phone me back (they don’t), or they’ll transfer me to the right extension (the call goes in a black hole). My mother is, after all, a fragile 91-year old with a terminal illness, who has never made a fuss, or made any demands on the system before. How do these people set priorities for care? She needs help with bathing (the other week I had to lift her out of the bath when she got stuck). And the home help agencies haven’t called back, despite being ‘approved’ by the Council. We had to find and employ a local woman privately, and thank goodness she’s a good one. This morning her GP called in, and when he got back to the surgery he called the social services people and emphasised the urgency of getting a care plan finalised and a carer organised. I hope his call has more effect than mine have
Meanwhile, I enjoy looking after my mother. I’ve rediscovered my cooking skills, and I’ve taken pleasure in introducing her to some of my favourite recipes. I cook up meals and freeze them, so she just has to warm them up. She says my soup is better than hers, and I take that as a compliment, because she always was a good cook. With our meal tonight we had leeks in white sauce, and the leeks came from my allotment. So did the purple sprouting broccoli. I’ve made a beef casserole for tomorrow, and I’m cooking up another dish for the freezer. The broth mix is soaking overnight, and I’ll chop up the onions, carrots and swede and add them tomorrow.
It’s nice having quiet chats with her during the day – she’s as sharp as ever, with strong opinions, even though her voice is weaker. Then after our evening meal we watch TV together, with asides and commentary, until she goes to bed. She doesn’t sleep too well now, and seems to feel that she should be having 7 or 8 hours sleep each night. I tell her, “Insomnia doesn’t matter. If you can’t sleep at night, stay awake, and sleep during the day. It’s not important.” But I don’t think she believes me.
Now I’ll write for a while, do some reading, maybe catch up with webmail thanks to our neighbour’s connection, and sleep until I take her cup of tea through in the morning. Good night.