Broken

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.

Alex and Peter on Christmas Day 2017

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

94 years old

 

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12 Responses to Broken

  1. John Brewer says:

    I am sorry to read this about your mother Edna, who I remember fondly. My thoughts are with yuou and the family. Happy New Year nonetheless. John

  2. Chris Ammann says:

    This must be so tough Cathy. The behaviour of the very elderly can change pretty dramatically and it’s hard to see the person you loved being replaced by someone else. Your life lessons are all good ones. The challenge is paying attention to them. I’m hopeless at this – it often seems a big step from where you believe you should be to actually heading there. Here’s to a harmonious 2018 for you all.

    • Cathy says:

      I’m also hopeless at following my own advice – I’m hoping that by writing it down, not only will l be reminded of it but my family will hold me to it. Best wishes to you and Pam for 2018.
      P.S. Yesterday, you wished me a harmonious 2018. Today I read that “Harmony is the inner cadence of contentment we feel when the melody of life is in tune.” I rather like that.

  3. Louise says:

    Dearest Cathy I’m so sorry to hear your mum has given up, I still have a photo that you took of her through the window of her little cottage with a spray of flowers and still think to myself that’s exactly how I’d like to be at that age (doubtful as I probably should stop smoking), it is on my list of “to do’s” this year.

    • Cathy says:

      Hi Louise, thanks for reminding me of that photo – I think I should get it printed so that I can remember her like that. one tends to dwell on the negative but she loved her “wee house” and lived there very happily for many years. Good luck with quitting smoking, let me know how it goes.

  4. Sharon Derman says:

    Thinking about you and Peter. Billy was my rock when things got tough with my Dad so I can understand a little what you are going through . Loved your life lessons, they are very thought provoking and true . Lots of love Sharon

  5. Joan Sole says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this piece Cathy. Your reflections will provide new directions for your thoughts and actions. There is something to glean for us all from what your have shared with us. Siyabonga Sisi. Joan

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks for your comment Joan – writing about it really did help me to see things more clearly and I realise that I’ve got to try very hard not to let it dominate my life.

  6. Vicki says:

    My dear Cath – How fortunate for you that you have had your mum with you for so many years . Focus on all your happy times together. I still remember your mum being such a lovely Gran to Kiera and Alex and being such a lovely Neighbour.
    It is now 2018 – I will make a plan for us to get together ! We need a HUGE catch up.
    Loved reading your life lessons.
    Love to you all – keep your spirit up
    Vicki

    • Cathy says:

      Hello ex-neighbour! You’re right – I must focus on all the happy times (it’s so easy to dwell on the negative). I relied on my mum a lot when the children were young and they adored her. Please let me know if and when you visit the Midlands, I would love to catch up xxx

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