2017 in review

What a big year we have had.  Dear Old Dad is still going strong even though he said last Christmas that he thought it would be his last, and also said he didn’t think he would make his 95th birthday, and yet he did.  When I say he is still going strong, there is an almost imperceptible increase in his frailty, demonstrated by more caution when walking.

The  small ulcer on his left ankle has been gradually diminishing.  It has been such a big part of our lives that I feel it is almost time to give it its own name.  Ursula the Ulcer perhaps?  Ulysses?  Whatever, it celebrated its first birthday just a few weeks ago.  My sister suggested a cake with a candle.  But I dislike Ulysses/Ursula the ulcer intensely.

At the beginning of the year I had XYZ Care Pty Ltd coming to do the ulcer dressing change – bit this did not end well.  I keep saying it until I am blue in the face – the one thing aged care providers need to understand is that their business model needs to be based on the needs of the client, the elderly person, not the needs of the form filling bureaucracy they have created.  A different nurse came every time; at a different time, and there was no consistency of care.  So I became chief nurse – I could tell if it had changed, or was becoming infected.  And it is almost healed.  Fingers crossed it will be cleared up at the end of January.  That would be a lovely start to 2018 for both of us.

There were challenges at the start of the year, once again demonstrating dad’s resilience.  He gave up driving at the end of 2016 (although I keep joking that he has only given up driving from behind the wheel – he likes to drive from the passenger seat).  Shortly after that he had a fall and had a small fracture in his right wrist which temporarily  limited his movement – but not his ability to win at cards and scrabble

Five Good Friends has been godsend to both me and Dad – every Tuesday and Friday, a lovely woman comes, (the same person, at the same time) to take dad to the shops, library, barber, bank and any other local place he needs to go.  She also fits in a game of scrabble on a Friday.  Dad wrote to friends at Christmas to tell them about Five Good Friends and his own Good Friend who had become a dear friend, with a small ‘f’.

Our cribbage battle has continued throughout the year. Since I started keeping score in April 2011, we have had over 1500 games – when Dad wrote his Christmas letter it was  808 to him and 758 to me.  Crafty old fox.  I am not a particular fan of scrabble, however note that the two games we have had this year have each been won by me.

 

One of my neighbours loves scrabble and pops around on a Monday afternoon to have a game with him as well.

I put a call out on the neighbourhood Facebook page to see if there was someone local who could take his paper up to the front stairs and the call was answered by a lovely man who lives down the road.  In the same vein, the postman gets off his motor bike and puts Dad’s mail on a stand at the top of the stairs near the front door.  With all the horrible news in the world, there is a great deal of kindness as well.

Dad’s brother, our uncle, visited again in April this year. It is so lovely to see them reconnect after many years of not seeing each other.  My siblings and I are also blessed to have him in our lives, and I was privileged to be able to visit him in the UK in September, as was my sister earlier in the year.

 

Most importantly, at 95, Dad has continued to practice his faith and continues his Ministry – attending church twice a week, and doing intercessions on Sundays.  In the space of ten days in October, he gave the last rites to a dear friend, preached at her funeral, and travelled to Sydney for a weekend to baptise his second great grand-daughter, my sister’s grandchild, all of which he does in a manner which inspires respect and admiration.  It takes it out of him, he says, as he uses up a lot of energy doing these things, and yet it is these things which give him focus and purpose in life (apart from beating me at cribbage).

He celebrated his 66th anniversary of ordination this month.

He was awarded the Coaldrake medal by the Australian Board of Missions in November, in recognition of his work with missions, both in his time as Qld state secretary in the 1970s, and his continuing work raising money for their projects by analysing, sorting and selling stamps donated to ABM.

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Purpose trumps everything in my view, and Dad has it in spades.

Happy New Year!

Not Looking After Dad

Last week was National Carer’s Week. Apparently. I found this out quite accidentally when someone mentioned it at church after a family baptism (more on that later). 

*Makes mental note to contact Carer’s Association about their PR*. 

Apparently,  we were meant to be celebrating carers. Which is odd, because the people being cared for most probably can’t organise anything,  even though they are very grateful, and those doing the caring are just too damned tired to organise their own celebratory morning tea, or shout it from the rooftops. 

However in the spirit of acknowledging carers week, I like to think I celebrated early because for three weeks before this I was NOT looking after dad, and had a little holiday. 

I needed a break, and a long one; not just a long weekend. I needed not to have to think about ulcer dressings, transport to and from church, buying special cheese, trips to the doctor and physio, cooking meals, and all the other things I do for dad.

I needed not to be looking at my watch at 7.35am, hoping that Dad has just forgotten to call at 7.30am as he does every day (just to let me know he is up and about!).

I went overseas.  To a different country, and a different timezone. It would not have been possible with my village – but especially my sister, who came to stay for all but the five days of the three weeks I was away.

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She, together with the regular help from Five Good Friends, and additional help from them on those extra days, and my husband, I had a complete and total break form the ‘every day’.  I went away with a friend, both abandoning husbands and children, for three weeks in the UK.  The bonus is that most of that time we spent with Dear Old Dad’s brother, my Uncle, in Cornwall and Wales. It was heavenly.

I read a quote once that said something like ‘You don’t know how heavy the burden is, until you no longer carry it’.  And that is true.  I look back on the photos of that holiday and I see that in the first few days my smile did not reach my eyes.  By week two that had all changed.  I felt lighter, and definitely more relaxed.

You see in order to get away, the preparation and organisation required was enormous- even for a very prepared and organised person.  The week before I was to go away Dad’s ulcer had become infected and a whole new dressing regime was required – so I was typing out instructions with photos of the different steps required in the days before I left.  He needed a new phone, so I set up all his regularly called numbers and SOS call button.  Plus a colour coded tabulated document with day by day activities and phone numbers of every person who may possibly be needed.  [Plus I had a dated, colour coded day by day itinerary for my holiday – naturally].

The best things about the holiday other than me just having one, sharing it with a friend and my darling Uncle – watching boats in the harbours of Cornwall, and the beautiful scenery in Wales, visiting the birthplace of the Mitford sisters, having afternoon tea at the Wedgwood factory (OMG!), lunches at two Michelin star restaurants (I won’t go on)?

One is that while Dad was anxious about me going away, and being alone for a few days, it was good for him to have a change of scenery in terms of people seeing him every day, and he coped very well with all the changes. Resilience is still one of his strongest character traits.  But the best thing is that I came back refreshed, and ready to get straight back into life at home, including caring for Dad.  I arrived home from London at 8am; by 9am I was down at his house, changing his ulcer dressing, and telling him about my trip, and good times with his brother, my Uncle.

 

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Short Story

I have written before about the bureaucracy of our alleged Aged ‘Care’ System – you can read those posts here, here and here. Oh, and again here – plus there is another story to tell but I have been so traumatised by it I can’t bring myself to tell it yet.  Here is my take on the stories one often reads in newspapers about elderly people being found dead inside their own homes, having lived in ‘squalor’. I now know that this is because they gave up trying to get help because it is so complicated and inefficient, or died while on hold on the phone.

The end.

Father’s Day again

Father’s Day has come and gone again.  My Dear Old Dad has been a father for 61 years now. It would have been 63 but for the death of his and mum’s first child.

For Dad right now, and me, every day is Father’s Day!  Sometimes it’s also a bit like Groundhog Day, but the actual Father’s day is special.  Being a Sunday, the best gift he can have is to have me join him at church, followed by morning tea with his friends there.  He joined us for dinner so we could also celebrate Father’s day with my husband and children.

I am conscious that at my age, I have many friends who are now without their fathers, or who do not have a good relationship with their father, and Father’s Day must be difficult.  and I will be one of those people one day, which while inevitable, makes me feel very sad.  I can’t imagine a world without him in it.

Father’s Day makes me ponder what it is to be a father.  My favourite quote is from someone tragically named Wade Boggs, who, it seems to me was destined for a job as a plumber, but was in fact a famous baseball player.  He once said “Anyone can be a father, but it takes a special person to be a Dad”.  And my Dad is a special person.

We didn’t realise it at the time, but we grew up in a very forward thinking environment. Workplace flexibility and working from home are buzz words in the workplaces of today, but with a parish priest for a father, our Dad had his office at home.  He worked from home (although was often out of course), but of the many childhood memories I have, sometimes having afternoon tea with Mum and Dad after school, or having Dad pick us up from school, are highlights.

Of course having a father at home meant that our mother didn’t ever have to say “wait until your father gets home”, and I knew I was in trouble when I was summoned to Dad’s study.  The worst punishment was being told by Dad that he was disappointed in me.  I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

Going away for weekends was something we did not do, with church services on Sundays. But when we went on holidays, Dad was really on holidays.  We grew up with no mobile phones or internet, so our holidays involved visiting with cousins, going to the beach, and once, what seemed like an interminable caravan holiday (scarred me for life).  But holidays always  included cards, board games, and french cricket.  And lots of laughter.

Now that Dad is 95, who knows how many Father’s Days we have left.  So we must treasure every moment, even when it is upsetting or stressful, caring for him.  I have to remind myself that no matter how hard it is for me (and my sister) from time to time, it must be so much harder for him, becoming frail and dependent.  I think Dad would agree with Euripides (Greek poet, not a plumber nor a baseball player) that:

“To a father growing old, nothing is dearer than a daughter”

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The Nervous Nineties

Cricket lovers will understand this expression. The nervousness of a batsman or batswoman making it to ninety runs, hoping to score a century, not out. The anxiety of hitting the ball and getting singles. 91. 92. 93 etc. Each one more difficult and nerve-wracking than the last.   I imagine this is what it must be like in your nineties, although some whose health is not the best may not wish to reach their century.

When Dad was heading for 90, he resisted plans for a 90th birthday party on the basis that he might not still be here.  This is a recurring theme, so convinced is he that his life span is all but over, all indications to the contrary.  But a party was had and it was a wonderful celebration at our home on our patio and under a marquee – high tea, with proper bone china cups (tea always tastes better from bone china), mum’s collection of tea spoons, with an endless supply of cake, sandwiches, and scones. Most importantly, many family members and friends were present for the celebration.

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It’s not often my dad is lost for words, but on this occasion he was, no doubt emotional that mum was not there to celebrate with him, but also to see so many people there that day, celebrating with him and wishing him well.

That was 5 years ago, and this year, like then, Dad, even six weeks beforehand, resisted any celebration of his 95th, on the basis that he might not be here. This year’s birthday was a much simpler affair – a morning tea after church, dinner with us at home, and then dinner out a few nights later on his actual birthday.

 

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Dinner at the Golf Club 8 August 2017

He still has the same gorgeous smile, and enjoys the many bottles of scotch he receives as gifts. That sounds worse than it is. He enjoys one glass of scotch late in the afternoon and his birthday and Christmas presents of scotch last him for months!  There are very few novel gifts one can purchase someone who has everything he needs.

Imagine what someone of his age has seen:

Living through the depression
Transport moving from bicycle to car – and now the news talks of driverless cars!
Plane flight going from a luxury to everyday
Man landing on the moon – and passenger space travel a real possibility
A World War and the horror of that war, and its aftermath
Television as entertainment in addition to the ‘wireless’
Computers and mobile phones (no phones attached to the wall now!)
The abdication of King Edward VIII, the coronation and death of King George VI, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth – he may well see Prince Charles become King
The fall of the Berlin Wall
Twenty-three Australian Prime Ministers (four of those in the last 10 years alone!)
Twenty Queensland Premiers

I can’t work out how many elections in which he has exercised his democratic right to vote.

So much change and development has occurred in his lifetime, and with the pace of change accelerating, he is sure to see much more change in years to come.

The one thing that has not changed is his vocation and he recently celebrated 65 years ordination to the priesthood.

So here he is in his 96th year – will he crack the ton and get his letter from the Queen?  Or perhaps it will be King Charles? Time will tell, but every run he adds to his score will be celebrated.

Time does not heal all wounds

C.S. Lewis once said that “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear”.  Sixty three years ago today, my parents’ first baby was born and died.  Her name was Ann.

I can’t imagine that kind of grief.  My mother was younger then than my own daughter is now.  She must have been filled with fear each and every day of each pregnancy and though each hour of labour before delivering each of her three subsequent babies. As I’ve written before my mother never spoke of this event, and grieved silently in all the years that followed.  Dad said that sometimes she just stayed in the bedroom all day – that she remembered the detail vividly.  I often wonder how Mum coped with so many people no doubt telling her that the death of her baby was ‘God’s will’.  She must have wanted to scream, but instead kept that grief bottled up.

When Mum died, it was like a cork stopper came out of a bottle and Dad was able to talk about that horrific events of that day and beyond.  And all the years that followed.

Part of caring for an elderly parent is more about caring about them – and that means caring is sometimes doing nothing but sitting and listening and giving a long hug, even if you’ve heard the story before.

Thinking a lot about both my mum and my dad today.

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Confusion reigns supreme

Every once in a while,  I have a small worry that Dear Old Dad is becoming forgetful.  At almost 95 that is to be expected – his forgetfulness, rather than my worry.

Yesterday, in the rush of getting ready to have friends over for lunch, I was telling my husband about a recent episode of confusion, when Dad had forgotten arrangements we had made.  I was telling the story while moving about the kitchen and dining room.  As I opened the door to the sideboard, still recounting the story and my worry, I found myself staring into the cupboard and asking “what was I supposed to be looking for in here?”. I stopped talking and looked up at my husband’s raised eyebrows.

I guess I should be more worried that I can forget a thought from two minutes ago rather than a 95 year old forgetting a conversation from a week ago.

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You can’t pour from an empty cup

It would be good to remember where I first heard this expression – which basically means that if you don’t take care of yourself first, you can’t really take care of others.  Which, for a long time, I thought made one (me) selfish.  In recent times a few very dear friends have been urging me to take some time out, but I have been loathe to do so without someone in place to look after Dad.  My last holiday, at Easter was possible because my gorgeous Uncle, Dad’s brother, flew out from the UK for a visit.

Caring for someone is exhausting, both emotionally and physically, and time to oneself is important to re-charge the batteries.  I say that, from a very privileged position knowing that for many people this is just not possible.  And yet, as fortunate as I am, I find it hard to do.  I have had a gift voucher for a treatment at one of my favourite spas since my birthday in March and have only just managed to make an appointment for July.

But here I am, writing this at the beach, where I have been for two days and will be for another two, with just my husband for company.  As much as he loves the beach, and we love him, we even left the dog home with our two boys who were staying home to feed the cats.  We had an opportunity to get away for four days so we decided to do it.  Just breaking the news to Dad that I would be going away for a few days was hard, as he becomes quite anxious if I am not around.

Whoever first uttered those words in the title to this post is absolutely correct.  Two days of relaxation, sun and the sea air, and a swim in the ocean each day, feels like a tonic.  No alarm in the morning, no lists to write, things to remember, no washing, cleaning, changing ulcer dressings, cooking for DOD, etc etc etc.

What is has involved is sleeping in (to be fair, a sleep in for me now is 7.30am but that’s a victory), reading the paper in bed and not getting out of bed until 9am (bliss), cups of tea, visits to the beach, experimenting with a stand up paddle board with varied success, swimming falling off the paddle board into the icy ocean, dolphin spotting, meditating, colouring in, watching the TV, more cups of tea, and a few* glasses of wine.  It has been perfect winter weather – warm during the day, cool at night and in the mornings, clear blue skies.

Of course, to get away required the organisation and negotiation skills of a Major General, a spreadsheet, many, many phone calls, meals cooked in advance for DOD, and visitors lined up to check in on him, transport to and from church organised, bins organised to be put out, and two medical appointments made, and all of it typed up in a table for DOD to look at from time to time in case he forgot what had been organised.  But even if DOD really doesn’t like to be ‘managed’ I can rest a little easier knowing I have done all I can to make sure he is safe, fed, and looked after.

I am so grateful to my children, and my eldest son in particular who is doing a lot of the driving this weekend, my cousin and his wife who are dropping in, as well as my sister’s friend who is also dropping in. No doubt DOD will have an ample supply of jam drops and chocolate slice after the weekend.

It really does take a village, and I am very grateful for my village for enabling me to fill my cup this weekend.

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D-Day

When our eldest child finished school in 2010, we decided to torture the children by taking them overseas for a month, live in a little French village for 3 weeks, without internet or McDonalds, and enjoy a foreign culture, and learn about some World War II history.  It had been a rough year with the death of both my mother and my father-in-law in the space of five months, and the trip was welcome.  The anniversary of the Normandy landings is 6 June and since that trip I have been quite fascinated by the planning and execution of this battle, and the liberation of France.

This week is one for anniversaries of two D-Days.

My mother died on 10 June 2010.  Today is the anniversary of her death. The events of that morning are indelibly printed on my mind and it took me many months with some professional help, to stop seeing her dead body every tine I closed my eyes.  Nothing in  life, and especially no number of Law and Order episodes, will ever prepare you for having to identify the body of a loved one, or see them taken out of their home in a body bag.

I long ago stopped being sad about the sudden nature of her death – it was, as Dad said at the time, a good way to die; suddenly and without any warning.  Shocking for those left behind but a blessing for the deceased.  Dad, ever faithful, said he was grateful to God for taking Mum the way he did, as he could not have borne her becoming sick or having a stroke.  He hopes the same will happen to him.

I wonder what Mum would be like if she hadn’t died – how she would be with Dad becoming frail and worrying about him.  But they would have been together, keeping each other company.  She would have adored being a great-grandma, spoiling them in her own way by making pikelets and sprinkling sugar on them, cooking rice puddings, and making sure there were leftover rissoles in case they visited, and keeping her ‘brag book’ of photos up to date to show all the people at church.

That was not to be regrettably, although Dad is keeping his ‘brag books’ of his now two great-granddaughters.   However, I do know she would be so proud of Dad coping with all the changes in his life since she died, and hopefully proud of her children for taking care of him, and loving him the way we do.mum and dad

R.I.P Mum

Things I Do For Dad

There is a certain predictability about some of our days, which I like.  Dad goes to church Wednesdays and Sundays.  He likes to go shopping Tuesdays and Fridays –  it’s important to have fresh bananas every few days.  Once a month he goes to the library to change his library books.   The washing is done on Mondays.  Not Tuesdays, nor Wednesdays. He likes routine. As do I.

These days, I have some help from time to time with some of these activities – for example I have found a local Uber driver who does a lot of the driving to and from church, although when he can’t do this, I step in – either doing the driving myself or booking an Uber.  Dad has only given up driving behind the wheel; he still likes to drive from the passenger seat so it can be a little tedious at times.  I also have some help from a wonderful lady from Five Good Friends for a few hours each week.

There are lots of other things I do for Dad to make his life a little easier, such as:

  • Cook all his meals
  • Collect him for dinner at our house once a week
  • Prepare meals ahead of time if I am going to be away (not so often any more!)
  • Go to a shop in the next suburb to purchase the special cheese he likes and his molasses in a squeeze bottle
  • Change the dressing on his ulcer every two days, including cleaning the wound and moisturising
  • Make appointments for him
  • Take him to the doctor, dentist and other specialists
  • Do his buttons up in winter when his fingers struggle with the cold weather
  • Rub cream on his back when his skin gets dry
  • Order things he needs on-line
  • Take him shopping
  • Play cribbage every day (and lose on average 2-1 because he is frustratingly lucky – and clever)
  • Look phone numbers and other information up for him on my phone (‘that’s not just a phone is it dear?‘)
  • Listen patiently while he discusses Oscar’s eating habits, in specific detail
  • Look for Oscar when Dad thinks he has gone missing (he is always asleep somewhere, ignoring us)
  • Take Oscar to the vet and to his holiday accommodation when Dad goes away
  • Help him cut up Oscar’s chicken breast meat into precise sized pieces and put 25 pieces into individual freezer bags, ready for his evening meals
  • Deal with rodents, geckos and birds in the house (thanks Oscar)
  • Clean up the occasional Oscar vomit (see above), which is always on the carpet never on the tiles or timber floors (cats are awesome)
  • Advocate for him with doctors, government and service providers
  • Negotiate with the Insurers when they increase his insurance 30% every year
  • Take him clothes shopping (which includes helping him get changed)
  • Clean out the refrigerator
  • Put the bins out on Sunday nights (my husband and sons help with this too)
  • Fix Foxtel (his fingers sometimes accidentally change the AV source)
  • Source typewriter ribbon for him
  • Replace the correction tape in his typewriter (I need to look this up on Youtube every single time!)
  • Organise the mowing man and tradespeople
  • Take his ironing  home to be done (not by me!)
  • Make him a ginger cake or orange cake so he has an afternoon tea snack with his cup of tea
  • Act as digital carrier pigeon for correspondence with his brother in the UK
  • Post his letters
  • Take him to visit friends on occasion
  • Put his hearing aids in when I remember (so I don’t have to repeat myself three times)
  • Make lots and lots of phone calls and put together colour coded spread sheets should I get the chance to go away

Most importantly, be ready with a hug when he is feeling down.