Real Self…

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.

Real Self_the finger
The finger… weeks 2 to 5.
Real Self_birthday collage
The birthday.
Real Self_caravan
The caravan.
Real Self_in my kitchen
Keeping it simple… kimchi, pizza, birthday bangers & mash, cauliflower soup, birthday rice pudding and rum apples… #inmykitchen.
Real Self_in my garden
#inmygarden… Red-browed finches, winter plantings, daffodils, roses, fruit trees… and a caravan.

“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.”
― J.K. Rowling

For my mother, Janice Beryl Steward-Newling (20 May 1945 to 4 August 1971)


21 thoughts on “Real Self…

  1. Goodness, you’ve certainly being having a time with family members of the older generation. I lost both my parents in my early 20s but I still have my oldest sister who is turning 95 in early August, but in a way I have lost her as well, I finally closed communicating with her semi demented mind last year, especially after the phone call where before she promptly hung up she insisted she had no siblings!

    Your real self is in there somewhere, your photos besides the “bad finger” – show you’ve been doing a lot of personal and GO things together…and pretty soon you’ll be gallivanting in your new tiny home on wheels. Lots to look forward to…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your insightful comment. I get sad about some things that might have been but weren’t, and realise a lot of what were dreams… sometimes require reconciliation with reality as it transpires. Happily our real selves thrive otherwise.

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  2. Families are difficult. MIL was unknowable. FIL was impossible. Mum has dementia and remembers who I am but that is about all. It’s all hard. I also shared no interests at all with my MIL, except for loving her son. I’m really sorry for you, it sucks the joy right out of life. It’s so good, though, that you have got your van now. Don’t worry about the writing course. If you want to do it, do it, and if you don’t, there are other things in the world. I paid for two online art courses and didn’t do either of them and am now teaching myself via YouTube, books and practice how to paint with pastels. If you want to do it, you will. My very best wishes to you both, there are better days ahead. xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I needed to hear all of that. Thank you. The Authentic Self course cost very little and I think I will eventually cherrypick my way through it for my own personal growth/amusement… I doubt anything ever prepares us as children for changes of status quo with our parents whether via death or changing roles… it’s a different sort of grieving. We’ve come to the same conclusion… no matter how far that van moves or doesn’t, it’s good for us to have accomplished the dream of finding it. We’ll deal with what comes later, later. Take care ♡

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  3. I know you, and I’m confident that in the fulness of time, you’ll return to the creativity you felt drawn to. And now that you have a caravan again (and what a beauty it is), travel will be possible once again, and you’ll be able to have fun planning future adventures.
    The parental care is something else…I’m now an orphan, having lost my mother at 22 and my father last year. Both became unknowable mysteries at the end; my mother because the pain meds she was on caused huge confusion, hallucination and sometimes irrational anger, and my father because of a combination of TIA side effects taking away his power of speech, and dementia. We nursed my mother at home at her wish, rather than letting her go into palliative care. Even after all these years, I feel immense satisfaction that we were able to respect her wishes and give her loving and personal care rather than leave her in the hands of kind, but strange people. I have an inkling what you’re going through with your MIL. Caring for ageing and aged parents gives us the opportunity to return the love and attention they gave us. I see it as a privilege, despite the undoubted frustration, annoyance, sadness and sheer demands on your time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All you say is so very true and it helps so much to hear other’s experiences… more time now for family, and in the future there will be -a somewhat bittersweet thought- more time for creative pastimes and travel. I’m hoping for smoother sailing once we accomplish our hip replacement goal. In so many ways we feel very fortunate to be right where we are right now.

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  4. Dad lived with the Offspring and I until the fall that sent him to hospital. He was 89 and had mild dementia so I know what you and the GO are going through. Maybe once your mother-in-law has her hip fixed she’ll regain some of her joy in life. As for you…hang in there. -hugs-

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So good you had that time with your dad, and he had you guys. And so unfortunate about the fall for all of you. Falls are one of the things I’m most afraid of for myself, and for others… they can have such an impact of quality of life as we age. We’re all looking forward life after surgery… just wish she’d agreed to it sooner.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, falls are often the things that kill. Dad’s mother was 92 when she died but…I believe she could have lived longer had she not had a fall as well. She ‘cracked’ her hip but it went undiagnosed so she was in pain all the time. That led to a rapid mental deterioration. Her hip was found and fixed, eventually, but it was too late by then and she died soon after. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I wouldn’t be surprised. Constant pain makes sleep even harder, and sleep deprivation can make anyone dotty. I’m only 68 but I can feel the difference in my ‘brain power’ after a good night’s sleep.
          Fingers crossed your mil will get a new lease on life once she is pain free.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. You are a very very nice human and giving your time and energy so selflessly is a gift.
    We have our lives planned out by a higher power and when all things align you will be able to travel & be creative and do all the things you want to do. Nothing goes unnoticed and your kindness & empathy towards another will always have its rewards.
    One day at a time ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for your honesty with this post. It can be hard to open up publicly on these matters. I too understand what you are going through (as much as someone else can). My mother is elderly (95 this week!) but is reasonably good health, and still mentally very strong. My caring role is for Terry, The Fella. I get frustrated with how quickly things can change. For example, just when he was getting stronger he fell, hit is head and ended up in hospital for 4 nights. That put paid to any plans I had, and, more importantly, set back his recovery. The role of a carer can be very difficult, and must be doubly so when the care you want to give is not accepted. So I am sending hugs to you, and the GO. As Ardez says, the things you have planned will still be there when you are ready, able and want to do them. 🙏🏽

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the insightful comment. It takes a team, I think. I care for the G.O. and most days these days he’s not too bad but his knee and back will never be as good as they were. I support him to support his mum, and his stepfather and his sister do their bit, the latter more so during the post-op recovery period. I can see why you display such understanding… For us all I wish for better days ahead. Take care.

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  7. Hi I have been reading your latest blogs. Do you reccomded the “year of writing to discover your authentic self” course? It seems interesting and prompted some of your posts. I may give it a go too. What has your experience been with the course?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m enjoying the course, and via the DailyOM pay-what-you-can-afford tier it is good value for me. The topics and prompts offer -I think- food for thought opportunities for journaling-writing-notebooking-memoirs for a multiplicity of people, styles, and approaches. Right now I’m taking a break as my time and energy needs to be directed at household tasks that came up unexpectedly and have taken longer to deal with than anticipated… it’s also good value timewise as despite being delivered via weekly lessons its do-it-at your-own-pace structure allows flexibility… I’ve saved each lesson offline in a Word file so I can pick the course up again when time allows… it might take me a couple of years to get through it and some topics I imagine might be less relevant to me than others but I’m doing it solo and for my own amusement, so that’s ok.

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