Sunday, 21 July 2013

You will have seen my last post on the subject of my mother, and there's lots more to tell about that. Again I will be summarising what has happened over some considerable time, which is just as well as a blow by blow account would have everybody yawning! (Anyone who has done it will know how tedious the process of sorting out someone's goods and chattels is, and how long it takes - if you have not yet had first-hand experience, it's not something you'd wish on anybody!) For the moment I'll just leave you with this, from a friend who's in Compostella:

a year on ......

I have now decided to break my long silence, a long silence over a year which has been one of significant events, lots of patience, a fair bit of pain, and NO SUMMER! The weather is better now than it was in August - bright and sunny and not much colder (except after dark).

When I last wrote, my mother was becoming increasingly frail and we knew she was on the finishing straight, though not how long that would be. Shortly afterwards, she took another turn for the worse and this proved to be the one from which she did not recover: she had fought her last fight and had no strength for this one. Both her regular carers asked for time off at Christmass so she had someone strange looking after her; Fiona asked me to go over so that at least there was one of the family there, but in the event my mother was in sufficient distress that both of us stayed.

I had not seen her for some time and was shocked at her appearance; she looked like one of those bodies you see in pictures of concentration camps - thin, gaunt and skeletal, and by the time I got there on Christmass Eve, at the end of what must have been a tiring day for her, all she could manage by way of greeting was a movement of her hand. When I went in to her on Christmass morning (in scruffy black t-shirt and trousers!), told her it was Christmass day and wished her: "Happy Christmass", there was no response. Whether she ever realised what day it was or who I was I don't know. By Boxing Day, Fiona was worried enough to call the ambulance and the local hospice. The ambulance staff were not best pleased, as we didn't want her taken to hospital, but we did think she might need medical attention and we had been told to call the ambulance. It proved our concern was unfounded; later on a nurse from the hospice came and his kindness was a relief after the rather brusque response of the morning. He said he would arrange for a nurse to come and fit a catheter to make life easier and more comfortable for her.

Meanwhile, Fiona and I kept her company. I eventually left to sit in the sitting room as my back and shoulders were beginning to feel uncomfortable where I was. Shortly afterwards, I saw a head of brown hair in the hall outside. Presuming it was the district nurse, I stayed put; I didn't think my mother would appreciate an audience gawping at the procedure! In fact, unknown to me, Fiona had contacted a friend to pray and the friend had decided to come over. Five minutes later, two distressed woman rushed in to me, one saying; "She's gone!" and the other incomprehensible. It took me a moment or two to realise what they were saying, but there was no doubt: Our mother was no longer with us.

For me, it was a shame I missed the crucial moment. Fiona regrets that, after more than one false alarm, she did not realise this was indeed the end phase; had she realised she would have contacted St Christopher's (Hospice) for care rather than arranging it through an agency. This might have given us time to contact our brother and give him a chance to be there and our mother would certainly have been better cared for and with special kindness as they are the experts in end of life care, which an ordinary agency is not.

It seems fitting that she should have died on the feast of St Stephen, who is associated with King Wenceslas of Poland. She had worked with refugees in Germany in 1945 and had contact both with Polish servicemen (during the war) and Polish refugees (after the war) and WWII (which was the feature of her youth) was triggered by the Nazi invasion of Poland.

This year I will spend Christmass quietly in my own house. Fiona, I hope, will have the family Christmass she was hoping for last year. I won't join them: after several years of having their style a little cramped by an elderly grandmother, they don't need a second installment by a decidedly creaky aunt! I would not be at all surprised if Fiona came for coffee on Boxing Day morning - she might need a moment of quiet among all those boisterous males in her household!

That about wraps it up for now. I realised later that I must have had some nasty virus with that chest infection; this year, although tired, I am not nearly so drained (and I don't think it can all be put down to coping with my mother - a friend said she had had a virus that had knocked her out for the rest of the year, too). I also had a very painful back and neck for several weeks. I don't know what I did, but it was like a stiff neck, plus stiffness in both shoulders, which I just woke up with one morning. The net result was that I asked to defer that year, too (and made sure I got a medical certificate from my GP) so now I am once again second year, with lots of study to do! Although this was written more than a year ago, I will post it now: for anyone who has missed the letters we usually send at Christmass, it will be an update until I eventually get round to the next one!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Long time passing .....

It's such a long time since I blogged you could be forgiven for thinking I had hidden away from the world. For those who appreciate this form of contact, I'll endeavour to write a quick update. The upside of my non-communication is that you will be spared a blow-by-blow account of my fortunes over the last little while! ;-)


re mother: my sister referred to the emotional roller-coaster, with good reason ... she is still here, despite our having been told twice that she was unlikely to last more than a week or two; she is frail and fragile and any hiccup in her care (non-appearance of the district nurse, any illness)results in a crisis which means my sister has to sort it out; she is on morphine because she has painful arthritis, so she tends to repeat herself and forget things more than we are used to; she still has her weekly German class (they come to her) and loves to have people come to see her. One carer thought she was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's, but my sister reassured me that was not the case (having trained as a Special Needs teacher she knows a bit about how the brain works) and on reflection I realised the symptoms described could very well be due to tiredness or the sort of confusion you get into when you feel hassled (and she will always feel she doesn't want to cause more bother than she can help, so that applies)and the morphine won't help, either. I wish there was more co-ordination between herbalists and the NHS as I'd like to see what alternative pain relief might do.

re: sister (Fiona) she is the one who has to organise anything my mother needs, along with a part-time job and a busy and demanding household. She has managed to have a couple of much-needed breaks (I sent her away to Aylesford Priory in Kent on one occasion, the other she spent in France arranging the juicing and bottling of their apples). All this makes for a lot of stress and any of you who read this and are the praying sort, please do.

re: brother (James) is now project-managing the security system for the shopping centre on the Olympic site. As it's right over the opposite side of London (he's West and it's East) he has a long commute and doesn't get home until 8pm; given that the morning commute must mean an early start that doesn't give him much time during the week, though he still sings in local productions.

re: me What happened to my immune system I don't know, but mid-August I got a nasty cold which turned into a chest infection and 10 days of antibiotics :-( I had been planning to clear the decks to be ready for the new academic year .... best laid plans o' mice and men .... and I was still taking antibiotics when I went to the opening course residential.

I am, as usual, way behind with my studies, but must catch up and complete this year because I cannot forever dilly-dally. I plan on getting Christmass wrapped up this weekend so that I can then have a straight road ahead. Preoccupation with my mother's health (predominant last year) leaves me unsatified: there is only so much I can do and I need to study, for myself (as well as for the very good reason that I will otherwise get thrown off the course - and that I don't want!). I did feel at one point last year that it was all of no avail because it wouldn't keep my mother alive, but since then I have realised how very keen she is for me to continue (she always asks what I am reading, however much of a muddle she might get into, and she isn't expecting to hear that I've been reading a novel!). After she dies it will be a fitting memorial to her to take the course through to the end. I could use her knowledge of St Paul when I get to that module, but I think I will have to rely on inspiration from above as its two years away! My assignment on him will be written in memorial to both my parents, both keen students of St. Paul, who between them had a wealth of knowledge through sheer familiarity with the texts.

We have had very cold weather early in the winter: today is a little warmer - just a short respite from the North/North-East winds - why can't it get stuck at South rather than North? Last night I heard a thud outside the conservatory that sounded like someone's boots on the snow: I think it was the snow sliding off the conservatory roof onto the snowy decking below.

That's it for now!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Sorrow of love (and a little joy) .....

I have been trying to get an assignment finished for the last little while ... and am still trying .... interrupted by quite some little while when I had more resemblance to a dormouse than anything else. I suspect it was genuine lack of sleep, concern about my studies and worry about my mother all piling up somewhere in the back of my mind and telling me I didn't want to know, thank you.

Sleeping pattern is now improved. That happened the moment I let the course secretary know I would have to intercalate. This was followed up by an email to the course director explaining my position and making a formal request to intercalate. He then rang me and agreed, so I've spent the last week or so luxuriating in being able to relax. The pleasure is somewhat clouded by knowing from Burrswood, who are giving my mother the once-over to check that she is getting what is the best option for her now, that her kidney function is markedly different from how it was in September when she went there to convalesce - not good news.

Whereas before Fiona was speaking in terms of depression or whatever being the cause of mum being under the weather, she is now talking in terms of her age and that it cannot be long before we lose her ... I have had the feeling all along that this has been the case and hoped against hope I was wrong, as things are often attributed to old age and left, to the detriment of the patient. Hence the once-over. We are both concerned that what time she has left should be the best it can be and that she feels love and warmth around her so that she can relax into the presence of God to be ready for the last great adventure.

It is a shame that she spent what looks like having been her last Christmass with us in such a state of distress: she was very low, in pain and just could not relax. Hence the concern that she should be able to do so: if she cannot any longer DO, it is time that she should enjoy BEING. I recently read a line which seems particularly appropriate for her:

God loves you because of who He is, not because of what you did or didn't do.

and something for us all in those dark times of doubt.

Since I started writing this we have heard from Burrswood that her kidneys are failing and that we should think in terms of weeks rather than months. What a strange feeling! To know that in a very short time your mother just won't be there ... I usually send her a card every week: I was in the stationer's looking for new ones, and wondered as I chose whether I would soon be looking at them regretting that I was never able to send them.

I am not, now, sure of my priorities. Getting rid of what stuff I can from my own place is definitely high on the list, after doing what I still can for my mother: some academic work is a priority, so that I don't get behind again this year. I have emailed my course director to advise him of the situation, and I will be going to the September residential: how receptive I will be to theology remains to be seen! I need an interest outside of my mother's death - something positive when all is collapsing around me; I just hope I can concentrate.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Monday, Monday!

Hope a little more sleep means more effective study as I need to get my assignment wrapped up by early next week - not before time! Hope I can then redeem my reputation with the course director and make my intended intercalation official. That will, I am sure, relieve some of the underlying stress that is affecting my sleeping pattern.

Then I have to prepare for a course residential and think of some way of bringing a little joy and pleasure into my mother's life (more difficult now, as she seems to be too weak to get here, so I have to think of something I can send there). Today would have been her wedding anniversary, an occasion I don't normally celebrate, as I reckon it's for the couple themselves, or at most other married couples, to mark the occasion, but nowadays I am conscious that I need to mark every occasion in her life just in case it is the last opportunity I will ever have. A bunch of red roses is on its way, courtesy of M+S, who I hope will get it right this time!

I wish I could find some way to support my sister: she is bearing the brunt of caring for mum and needs a break. That is difficult because the moment she is out of contact my mother goes downhill: she relies on Fiona to ensure her well-being and feels insecure without her. Even to get mum to Burrswood requires a letter from the doctor, which Fiona will have to organize, but there she may feel secure and Fiona can feel confident she is well cared for while she is away.

The person who has been caring for mum is the best of the bunch: she is unfortunately due to leave this week and I fear the next one might be the occasion of another downward turn (through no fault of her own: mum is just so sensitive to any omission in her care).

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Bumping along ...

True of both my mother and me! I have managed to do a little (far too little) study. A new textbook arrived this week which looks very interesting, but I must confess to having been rather relieved to find it was only loosely related to the topic I am working at: it can wait for perusal when I've more coursework under my belt. For the moment I am revising what I did earlier as I have become rather disconnected from it, and then I have another bit of reading which should wrap up the current topic, and I hope, at last get my brain into gear for the assignment.

Spoke to my sister yesterday: she was more than a little annoyed that, yet again, the doctor had been to visit my mother when she was not there. Even though the doctor had asked her to ring, the receptionist was obstructive about putting her through. One can understand filtering to a certain degree (not all on the books have been brought up, as we were, only to get the doctor when necessary: some seem to think a headache on the morning after the night before is worthy of medical attention .... ) but the result was that my sister arrived AFTER the doctor. When will the NHS realise that its patients also have busy lives and tight deadlines?

Fiona said that my mother was back to her old tricks as regards eating: making a meal of tiny portions. How can one get her to relax?? I suspect inability to do so is at the root of everything. She goes downhill if Fiona is out of reach, and Fiona needs a break: she said she was herself feeling very weary, and I am not surprised. She is dealing single-handedly with a teenage son doing exams and a frail old lady for whose well-being she has to keep constant watch and be ready to intervene.

However long my mother lives, she would not now be alive if my sister had not been to visit every day the last time she was in hospital: she would have been one more added to the statistics of those who die of starvation in hospital. What sense does it make to dump a tray of food out of reach of someone who is, anyway, too weak to eat unaided?? One fellow-student who works as a care assistant said they were told that to feed someone was an infringement of their human rights!! (That Act has been a pernicious nuisance: the interpretation of it has no respect for morality or humanity and it is constantly misused to wicked ends.) So it is NOT 'an infringement of Human Rights' to allow someone to starve to death?? My understanding of that Declaration is that it was made in response to the terrible abuses perpetrated by the Nazis: now it is used to starve the infirm to death - precisely one of those abuses. I gave my mother a stern talking to, to the effect that she was not a useless old woman because she could no longer do: she maybe had reached the time when she needed just to be. It is not for her to say if she is useful or not: she has given to various people over the years (foreign students, young and old) so she should not be ashamed to receive now that it is her turn.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Ups and downs (mainly downs ... )

Still have not completed coursework! I am finding it very difficult to concentrate on study as I have not been sleeping well and there is a limit to how much I can do when tired. I know that some of the problem has been coming to terms with the fact that I have not been able to study with the commitment I hoped this year: circumstances have conspired against my new start. The other factor is undoubtedly the knowledge that my mother is increasingly vulnerable to the slightest threat to her well-being.

Her carer appears to have been doing everything she can for my mother: encouraging her to move around, to eat, reading to her while she is eating so she doesn't have time to realise how much she has eaten and keeping her spirits up. Despite that she was very weak last week: it took her a long time to get to the bathroom and she would forget why she was there. I tried to speak to her on Friday and after a very short time (five minutes?) she said hadn't we better hang up. So I did. Maybe that was a mistake: she might have been distracted and would have continued to speak after a while. The carer, who by now must know her better than any of us, says it is just the extreme weariness of old age ...neither Fiona nor I are convinced.

I was much relieved to talk to her today for quite a long time: as I was doing most of the talking I'm not quite sure how much she was taking in. She responded to my query as to whether material of a spiritual nature (spoken rather than read) would be a help by saying she didn't know. I suspect that was her usual (maddening!) indecisiveness (which I have, even more maddeningly, inherited!) rather than incomprehension.

I was glad to learn that she was getting more visits from church people: I have felt they were neglecting her. I haven't dared suggest they visit, as the last time I tried the message came back on the grapevine that I had been critical of the person concerned. I only meant to be firm and stern enough to get something done, but either I was too straight (Northern fashion?) or it came over all too well as I meant it to without having the desired effect! Either way, I hastily sent messages that I hadn't meant to be critical (true: I did want them to pull their socks up, but wouldn't have wanted it to come over that way so obviously that that was what they remembered!) as they are basically good people. Even less would I have wanted them to feel bad as I discovered afterwards that they had suggested bringing my mother communion, only to be told they needn't as she wasn't used to it that often, having been brought up Church of Scotland.

I suspect that had more to do with not wanting to be a bother than her upbringing. I gave her a stern lecture today to the effect that she had given to so many people over the years that it was now her turn to receive and to enjoy as much as she could. She might not have been conscious of giving, but the fact remains that many people remember her with affection and thankfulness. I also gave her a stern lecture on the fact that her being was not defined by what she could do or her capacity to think: those are parts of her, but her being is greater than either capacity: her incapacity does NOT mean she has ceased to be a human being. I added that the last Pope had been greatly incapacitated, but that he was was precisely what the world needed to see and learn from. The fact that she is still here means she still has usefulness: it is up to the Lord to decide when she has no longer (at which point he will take her elsewhere).

I can see I shall have to have another look at the Philosophy textbook!