At the end of 2020 the first half of the forthcoming year looked tantalisingly empty. What to do with study-commitment-free time? Something creative?
On 29 December 2020 I posted “Other 2021 goals involve planting roses in the garden [suggesting that old dogmas can change… previously I wasn’t much for roses] and expanding its range of edible, useful & beautiful plants from Greenpatch nursery, and a couple of online courses to get me writing: Daily Om: A Year of Writing to Uncover the Authentic Self and Australian Writers’ Centre: Freelance Writing Stage 1 & possibly Creative Non-fiction.”
If you’re going to dream, dream big, right!
Lessons #30 #31 #32 for A Year of Writing to Uncover the Authentic Self are sitting unopened in my email In box. I completed and posted about lessons #1 to #4… the latter on 19 March during a deluge. Since, I’ve downloaded lessons #5 to #30 each time planning to get to them soon… We planted the roses as well as the last of the new fruit trees just before the G.O.’s birthday in late June. The rest? Forget it.
In lieu of ruminations on Authentic Self lesson topics, the following could be prefaced with Real Self Lesson: Caring for Aging Family… If you have an interest in the word version of what’s happening with my Real Self… and its contemplation of a contemporary topic, read on. Otherwise skip through to the photos at the end.
We navigated the post-deluge mould clean up after that March rain over a couple of months with more and more passing days in between our cleaning efforts as other day-to-day business required some attention.
By mid-June, as the G.O. swished his last broom stroke to clean mould from exterior walls of the house, we breathed a sigh of relief, anticipated making exciting plans for the latter part of the year, I arranged his superannuation fund transfer to coincide with his age pension-official retirement birthday and caravan pick up deadline, postponed our Hawks Nest holiday until late July [yet again postponed until November], recorded mother-in-law’s hip replacement surgery pre-op appointments dutifully in our diaries, and the G.O. had the insurance claim for her rain damage collapsed ceiling under way.
Despite the G.O.’s stepfather, aged in his early nineties providing domestic personal care and companionship as much as his wife will allow, over past year or so the G.O.’s responsibilities have been amplified to the point he now oversees all his mother’s affairs: financial, health and household.
One of the reasons many years ago we began planning to leave the city and move to the Nambucca Valley was so the G.O. could keep an eye on and lend a hand to his mum in her dotage. At the time, his sister was living interstate, and my dad who is a decade younger than the G.O.’s mum has family support in the form of my stepmother a decade younger than he, and two of my siblings living nearby.
Regardless, especially at times when Dad has been unwell, the 720 km / 8-hour drive roundtrip between his home and ours hasn’t been an easy accommodation. But it’s not only land distance that separates or connects. Dad and I share life history obviously, a particular sense of humour… and common interests in family history, books, gardening, and food which includes enjoying excursions to pleasant places for nice meals.
Conversely, despite living closer to my mother-in-law we do little besides cater to her practical needs. The G.O. knows and understands her very well but we lack common ground across her passions for incessantly updating home furnishings, watching soap operas and football, and sustaining herself as much as possible on cigarettes, tea & biscuits. Attempts to encourage her to venture out, offering to drive her to visit our home or engage otherwise, meet with stonewalling at best and repeated vehement protestations at worst. Forget my dreams of sharing meals and outings. Irrespective of her habitual remonstration “you’re going to too much trouble”, the best I manage is to bake a cake by way of stubborn celebration of family occasions. Occasionally in winter, she’ll accept homemade soup, accompanied by the inevitable “it’s too much trouble… you’ve got too much to do…”.
For a while we connected over her very tidy garden with bonus occasional jaunts to a garden centre. But deterioration of her hip and several falls when she’s persisted despite advice to the contrary has meant gardening is a no-go. Nonetheless, only days after we’d read the
riot act letter from the hospital to my mother-in-law explaining that even the mildest injury or illness might prevent her surgery going ahead on 12 August, the G.O. arrived at her house early one morning to run errands for her including a pre-op physiotherapy assessment, and found his mother appearing unwell, shivering and clutching a bloodied tissue in her hand.
To this day we’re still not quite sure what transpired but it apparently involved weedkiller, decimated gardening gloves, a last few pesky weeds, a rose bush and a curtain chain… causing a deep laceration and poisoning of my lefthanded mother-in-law’s right index finger. At the physiotherapists’ rooms the G.O. managed to call and get an emergency appointment with the nurse at our doctor’s surgery.
It took two weeks of antibiotics and six weeks of twice weekly visits to the nurse for finger wound dressing changes and inspection by our GP (involving either or both of us driving a 60 km roundtrip to town to take her) to get the all clear.
The G.O. describes it as “getting dotty” and says his mother’s mother tended the same way at the same age… cruel irony that so close to regaining physical mobility, my mother-in-law along with or because of the constraints of being almost crippled by her bad hip, has been steadily declining cognitively. We’re mostly onto it, understanding that when she offers up that so & so says they do or don’t want her to do something, she hopes that will lend extra authority, and when she proclaims she takes her pills when and how she’s supposed to, the dishevelled blister pack evidences otherwise… but every so often how and what she says sounds reasonable sending us off on a wild goose chase to contact builder/plasterer/painter ostensibly coming that day but which in reality is simply fanciful thinking on her part.
Such as happened in the midst of seemingly endless errands and appointments, when we attended a critical pre-op x-ray and assessment appointment at the hospital where during her health history check my mother-in-law chattily regaled to the pre-op nurse she “was born with a hole in her heart like Aunty Dot” by way of explanation when asked about her heart medication. We believe it’s for a previously diagnosed leaky valve and attribute her explanation to semantics but with the risks involved in major surgery for an 88-year-old woman there’s no take backsies! Compounded by her now deceased heart specialist unavailable for consultation, we’ve got to get an urgent cardiologist medical assessment and clearance… If she isn’t able to have surgery, I think that will break her heart.
Postscript 31 August 2021: My mother-in-law’s pre-op consultation with the heart specialist yielded the red flag we’d all been waiting for. Afterwards, he notified the hospital on her behalf that her hip replacement surgery wasn’t going ahead. Turns out she was born a hole in her heart, and as well the almost a pack of menthol cigarettes a day she insists are necessary to her mental well-being are not conducive to major surgery. We all -including my MiL- breathed a sigh of relief. We are helping her make the best of it and she is -finally- helping us help her by taking her medication because her GP the darling Dr Rob said she should.
Little did we know how much upward intergenerational familial support would impact our life here. For me it’s particularly poignant at this time, as August marks the 50th anniversary of my mum’s death. The fact that I’m not of her blood makes me all too often feel ill-equipped to deal with my mother-in-law despite my best intentions, and I doubt she’ll ever realise the absence of my own mother inclines me to be both caring of those I care about and
cranky overprotective in equal parts… something Dad understands and tolerates.
“I used to think mothers-in-law are difficult the world over, but on that day I came to understand that they’re simply unknowable.” ― Lisa See, The Island of Sea Women
The rest… from my phone’s photo gallery.
“Dumbledore watched her fly away,
and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape,
and his eyes were full of tears.
“After all this time?”
“Always,” said Snape.”
For my mother, Janice Beryl Steward-Newling (20 May 1945 to 4 August 1971)