My previous post generated some very thought-provoking comments, and for those not familiar with my blog, some may not realise that my Mother lives with my sister and has done so for 21 years now.
It was never intended to be a permanent arrangement, but when my Dad died in 1996, everyone was glad that Mum wouldn’t be alone and it just seemed to make sense for her to remain where she was.
Then my sister lost her husband in 2010 and if Mum had ever had an inclination for independence, it went out of the window as she felt my sister needed her.
For the past few days, I have been trying to put things into perspective to relay onto paper.
I have written several posts on our visits Down South, and others on the relationship with my Dad and my Mum. I will follow this post up with Looking after Mum.
I have always been a little envious of nuclear families, those where siblings are close, visit each other regularly, have family get togethers often, and basically are always there in each others’ background.
That wasn’t exactly so for me, but I had a happy childhood.
My sister is not a bad person, she just doesn’t like to share, and I became the more independent of the two of us rather than compete for Mum’s attention.
Sis doesn’t handle stress very well, and has always had Mum to fall back on to help her. Even when Dad was alive, it was Mum who looked after her kids when she had to work, and then when my parents moved in with them in 1995, Mum took over the reins of housekeeper, cook and nanny to them all. It worked for everyone.
However, now that my Mum is a contributory factor to my sister’s stress levels, her children are grown and have family issues of their own that they are always dumping on her doorstep, it is no wonder that Sis feels she has no-one in her corner for support or to lend a listening ear.
I cannot talk to her on the phone in case she lashes out at me, and thus emails seemed to be an adequate truce to put points across and be a sounding board, but Sis doesn’t contact me.
In truth, Mum forgets things, and has finally been assessed as having dementia, but she doesn’t need care and attention 24/7 as Sis led us to believe and a lot of frustrated hostility was directed at us because we cannot assist in Mum’s care on a regular basis now.
Buying and living on a boat certainly did not go down well, but then Sis has no idea of our own problems, and basically doesn’t want to know as she was too wrapped up in her own, which is fair enough.
I realise how difficult it can be from Mum’s holidays with us, the recent frustrations Mum herself feels because she can’t remember things and has to ask the same question several times in a matter of minutes.
I appreciate what my sister is doing, and accept that, as she says herself, we only see things part-time and can walk away.
There are support groups available and Mum would qualify for ‘respite’ day care, if my sister would only ask for it.
She doesn’t ask, but is confident to leave Mum alone for a few hours and enjoy some quality time with her friends.
She once told me I was criticising her and if I could do a better job she’d gladly hand Mum over. If circumstances were different, we’d rise to the challenge, though from past offers of taking over responsibility, we know Mum wouldn’t come.
Our visits are usually unannounced.
It is not to catch anyone out, we go to see how Mum really is, at random, and not how someone wants us to see her.
Our reception varies, so we take everything as it comes.
Mum is always pleased to see us, and that’s what’s most important.
We expect nothing when we arrive, and if a cup of tea or sandwich is offered, we accept.
If Mum is feeling up to it, we will take her out for lunch.
If the family is there, we make polite small talk, make a fuss of Mum and leave.
Last October, we went down to look after Mum for the weekend to give my sister a break.
We were asked if we could do something similar in April or May this year so that she could have a week away. We said of course, but she would have to let us know well in advance as living on a boat and going away is not as straightforward as locking up a house.
She’s never asked or mentioned it since.
We went down on Monday.
It took us over four hours as we got caught in traffic, and we only stayed an hour. Mum was on her own, and wasn’t sure where my sister was.
Don’t think badly of me, but I’m glad she was somewhere else.
Mum was thrilled to see us, so there were lots of hugs all round.
It was brilliant to see her so animated, alert and chipper. The past few years fell away, and it was as it was before dementia started to take hold.
I didn’t take flowers as I knew there would be loads there already seeing as it was her birthday on Sunday. Mum proudly showed us all her cards.
We made a cup of tea, and had the last of her birthday cake.
We laughed. We joked. I made light of my nosebleeds, not mentioning the hospital visits, and Mum showed us her latest piece of jewellery.
It’s an alarm call beeper and she wears it round her neck. If she has a fall or is in trouble when she’s on her own, she can press it and talk to somebody straight away without needing to get to a phone, and they will send help. She is sensible, and puts it on every morning when she gets out of bed, and takes it off at night ‘so that she doesn’t strangle herself’, putting it on her bedside table next to her teeth so that she doesn’t forget.