It’s been a difficult past few months, which is why I haven’t been posting that many blogs. I can’t seem to get my act together to sit down and write and yet all I think about is writing! Sometime in November, my mother, who lives with us and has just turned 94, suddenly became rather challenging. After always being quite undemanding and pleasant to be around, she became querulous, petulant and, dare I say it, bloody annoying. This change happened literally overnight, as if she woke up one morning and said to herself, “I can’t do this anymore.”
It caught us totally unawares. Basically, she took to her bed and turned her face to the wall. We called the doctor who said that there was nothing physically wrong with her and gave her a vitamin b12 jab, which usually perks her up – it didn’t. My brother visited her and suggested an anti-depressant, which she refused to take. Since this happened she has lost interest in everyone and everything and derives no pleasure from anything – she hasn’t set foot in her once-beloved garden, she no longer watches tv or listens to audio books or does sudokus. She has simply stopped living whilst still being alive.
Thandi, our domestic worker, had already started helping Edna with bathing and household chores a while ago but it became clear that my mom now needed more care. In a serendipitous way, we had previously been talking to Thandi about putting up another wooden cabin on the farm for her as the place she was renting was really not fit for human habitation. When my mom took to her bed, Thandi agreed to move in with her and provide her with the necessary care. We’ll still go ahead with the cabin but Thandi seems quite comfortable being Edna’s roomie, for the time being.
Even with Thandi’s incredible support, I have found this all hugely emotionally draining and exhausting. So, when Thandi was away over Christmas and New Year and I had to take over, I was a wreck. Thandi hadn’t planned to take leave over New Year but tragically her brother, who worked as a security guard in Pietermaritzburg, was shot and killed during a robbery and she returned to her home in Wartburg for the funeral. Her grieving family were further distressed by the fact that the mortuary would not release the body for burial until later the following week. He died on the 29th of December and they only got the body on the 4th of January because mortuary staff were on holiday!
The only bright light during this past festive season was Alex’s visit home for Christmas and even that was over-shadowed by the sense of gloom emanating from the Wee House.
Without Peter’s help I think I would’ve given up the ghost myself. In a sense, I’ve gone through, in rapid succession, all the stages of grief. At first, I denied that there was anything wrong with my mom, that she would snap out of it and return to her former self. Then I got angry with her because I believed she had given up. I tried bargaining with her, especially around food and getting up and about. The whole situation eventually wore me down and I got quite depressed. But now I’ve accepted it – I accept that there is no going back, what’s done is done and I accept that I may have made mistakes in how I’ve handled things but that is with hindsight, which Kiera tells me is always 20/20.
So here I am writing my blog and feeling like I can take something positive out of this sad state of affairs – perhaps some life lessons that I’ve learnt from my mother. It amuses me that Edna always used to say, quite disparagingly, that her mother-in-law “took to her bed and died of melancholia.” The irony may have escaped her but not me – it has made me all the more determined not to follow suit in a family tradition.
Life Lesson no.1
Firstly, the most obvious: KEEP ACTIVE, not just physically but mentally as well. Keep moving, keep doing stuff – even if it’s small stuff. Get out and about.
If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
Martin Luther King Jr
Life Lesson no.2
Be sociable, even if you find it difficult. We all need and benefit from company. Play a game, entertain, phone a friend, keep in touch. If you are an introvert like me, read Susan Cain’s book Quiet, it transformed my life.
Life Lesson no.3
Show gratitude – just a small thank you will suffice. Carers are people too!
Life Lesson no.4
Make a contribution to the world. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture but do something that makes you feel like you have made a difference.
Life Lesson no.5
Listen to what your nearest and dearest tell you – we don’t always have all the answers and sometimes advice is hard to take, especially if it is coming from your children.
Life Lesson no. 6
Don’t expect others to read your mind. Speak out about your feelings and your needs.
Okay, so I never said that my life lessons were going to be earth shattering – they are a work in progress.
I would prefer to live forever in perfect health, but if I must at some time leave this life, I would like to do so ensconced on a chaise lounge, perfumed, wearing a velvet robe and pearl earrings, with a flute of champagne beside me and having just discovered the answer to the last problem in a British cryptic crossword.
Olivia de Havilland