Monday, 31 October 2011

Too Much Peeing

31st October 2011 Monday

8.30 am I’m doing the morning shift at my father’s - but I can see there is too much peeing going on. In the bed, in the chair cushions, on the bathroom floor, in his socks. He says he’s had a shower but I don’t think he has. I phone the surgery, get an appointment with his doctor - a miracle. My sister phones social services and the respite care home. I have a quick cup of coffee with my niece in the Boston Tea Party - she has come to visit us before flying off to Beirut to be with her husband.

11.40 am The doctor says he wants to admit my father to Honiton hospital tomorrow or the next day - ‘to see what’s going on, sort out his waterworks, re-assess his medication’. He says the confusion isn’t due to a urinary infection - more likely a little infarct in the brain - that’s why the antibiotics aren’t working. I want the district nurse to come and sort out the peeing situation. The doctor says he’ll organise it and call me.

1.30 pm In the warmth of The River Cottage Canteen in Axminster, while the rain drizzles down outside, my niece and I order pumpkin soup and a roasted tomato brushetta. The soup is cold and tasteless - except for a smidgen of garlic oil on the surface. But her parsnip and ginger cake is moist and tender and my fridge cake is gooey and chocolatey. I keep my mobile on - waiting for the doctor’s call. Which doesn’t come.

5 pm. I ring the surgery - talk to the district nurse. She says she can come and see my father tomorrow about the peeing but can’t say when. No news re hospital admittance.

6.30 pm We all sit down to a supper mostly from the freezer - a butternut squash and mushroom pie with Gruyere cheese, my husband’s fresh tomato sauce and his pink fir apple potatoes - followed by a lemon curd ice cream and the giant pomegranate my sister brought back from Istanbul which leaks clear scarlet juice when I cut it open - like bleeding rubies.

Tonight I’m thinking about my father - hoping he’s asleep - hoping his sheets are still dry.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Tectonic Shifts

30th October 2011 Sunday

When I get there my sister has already stripped my father’s bed, put the sheets in the machine and made his breakfast. It seems he has taken two antibiotics this morning instead of one. While I help him try on his new striped pyjamas - too long in the sleeve - she makes a phone call about respite care. This feels like another stage in our lives now - the tectonic plates are shifting, throwing up a new pattern of how to look after our father.

This feeling stays with me all day - an undercurrent of uncertainty, a shadow in my heart. It meshes with the fallout of a phone conversation I had this afternoon with a woman whose husband is in the final stages of frontotemporal dementia. He can’t feed himself now and needs twenty four hour care. She says I should get a volunteer to help me fill out the claim forms I have had for months. The ones I don’t want to open. Because this isn’t happening to us. My husband isn’t like hers.

Later the shadow fades as we walk with dear companions through woods dripping with the russets and burning golds of autumn, soft carpets of pine needles under our feet. A sumptuous home made tea of delicate cucumber sandwiches, mince pies and dark date and walnut cake takes my mind off it all. Reminds me that now is all I have.

My husband wins our game of scrabble tonight. Those tectonic plates at least are the same as they were yesterday.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Rice Pudding Abuse

29th October 2011 Saturday

In the bath tonight my husband says sorry for having a glass of red wine too many.....

Sometimes I just want to go unconscious, he says.

Me too, I say.

But my version is rice pudding abuse. Two gloopy bowlfuls for supper - unctuous with cream and plopped with strawberry jam, fragrant as summer.

We can’t work out which way the clocks go tomorrow - forward or back - fuddled by alcohol and sugar.

Fortunately I don’t need to know everything. Not tonight anyway.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Cream Tea

28th October 2011 Friday

I wake to the sound of the pussy cat being sick on my slippers. My throat feels like a cauldron of razor blades. My first thought is that I shouldn’t go to my father’s in case I give him a cold. My second thought is that I’ve given myself this infection for some reason - anger turned inwards? - and he won’t get it because he doesn’t need it.

I rummage in the top drawer by my husband’s side of the bed.

Have you got the Paracetamol?

What’s that?

Headache pills.

Bottom drawer.

What my father does have is constipation because for the last two days I forgot to stir the sachet of Movicol into his breakfast juice along with the two spoons of flakey psyllium husks and the slippery soaked linseeds. But he did shave and get dressed today - little steps.

This afternoon I’m cleaning the loo when our friends from Brighton ring and say they are on their way and will be half an hour early. I haven’t made the scones yet. In my rush I pour in too much milk and the mixture is sticky and unwieldy. Ever since my Cranks days I’ve made tender, fat scones which always rise perfectly. These ones don’t and I think about calling them Cornish splits instead.

The clotted cream is runny, impossible to spoon up without leaving a fine spidery trail from bowl to scone. Our friends like it anyway and my sister’s plum jam is a huge hit. My chocolate brownie is possibly a sweet rich step too far but we all tuck in, the late sun dazzling our eyes, streaming into the kitchen like a tangerine river.

And I forget about my headache and the rasp in my throat for a little while - and what I could be angry about.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Rose Gold Hammock

27th October 2011 Thursday

I wasn’t going to change my morning plans - shopping at the farmers’ market - and drive over in the pouring rain to see my father. But I’m so glad I did. He’d had a bad night, fallen, couldn’t get back into bed at first. Now he’s full of ideas about buying a tip-you-out bed. So I know he’s feeling better.

I come home to lunch laid out on the table, made by my husband - two big plates of salads, smoked salmon, last night’s roasted artichokes and fennel - and a candle burning. It feels like a first - a reversal of our roles - blurring now. It’s been four months since he stopped working.

This evening the kitchen floods with a rose gold light as the sun starts to sink below pewter clouds drifting across a shell pink sky. Even the pussy cat is outlined in a glowing furry halo. If love had a colour it would be this. Tonight I feel it in a warm bright room full of dear friends - this luminous love spun between us - a golden hammock stretched wide in the world - from me to you and you and you........

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


26th October 2011 Wednesday

It sounds like toxic confusion,’ says the doctor, dipping a litmus stick into the sample bottle of my father’s pee.

So an infection of the urinary tract causes mental fogging. This afternoon my father sits at his desk in his dressing gown and says,

I’ve been asleep for twenty four hours.

No. I gave you your breakfast this morning, I say.

Did you? he says. I haven’t had my pills.

Yes, you took them this morning.

But it’s Thursday and the box is empty.

No, it’s Wednesday.

I’m worried I haven’t had my diuretic. The doctor said I should take it.

You have taken it.

Is it Tuesday today?

And so we go round and round. I remember having these conversations with my mother. For years.

I hope the antibiotics start working soon - start taking the poison out of my father’s brain. So he can be normal again.

Driving home tonight I think about how worrying is like a toxin. I feel poisoned by my own anxiety - exhausted by trying to make the right decisions. As if it’s all up to me.

Forgetting to trust God.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Doctors and Nurses

25th October 2011 Tuesday

I feel less raw and ragged at the edges today.

I spend most of the day with my father. The district nurse comes and takes a phial of his blood. The doctor comes with a medical student and says my father must take the diuretic he suddenly decided he didn’t want to take any more. My father is more interested in quizzing the medical student who comes from Sri Lanka. My husband comes and takes me out to lunch - including meltingly delicious sweet potato wedges - while I’m waiting for the call from the doctor and my father is sleeping.

I come home and put a joint of beef in the oven for my father’s breakfasts and then fall on the bed.

At supper my husband and I make a kind of chutney peace. But there is still some stickiness between us.

When I phone my father tonight his voice sounds croaky and distorted as if he hasn’t got his false teeth in. But he says he’s eating birthday cake so he must have. He takes a long time to write in the diary that I’m coming tomorrow at 9.30 with a sample bottle to test his urine. He says he’ll remember but I don’t think he will.

Today I also remembered how grateful I am to have this time with him. That I didn't want to be anywhere else. Even though the day I'd planned didn't happen - I lived the one that did.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Not United Nations

24th October 2011 Monday

I’ve had a horrible day. Anxious, cross, tearful and sad.

When I arrive at my father’s to take him to his hearing aid appointment he’s still having breakfast and I can tell he’s not right. He says he’s zonked out. I'm worried it’s his heart. Later I sit in an audience of eight people in a big empty church on United Nations Day and listen to him talking about the Prayer for Peace - off the cuff for nearly forty minutes - no notes - about his own peace journeys. We have egg sandwiches and sausage rolls and tea in the refectory afterwards while the rain slashes down on the Peace Pole outside. He can hardly make it back up the stairs to his room.

The kitchen reeks of vinegar - I smell it the second I put my key in the door this afternoon. My husband is making green tomatillo chutney. A lot of it - four saucepans boiling on the hob. We argue about it - too much vinegar which will never evaporate without burning - I am unreasonable and unkind. He’s at a loss about what to do.

It’s 8pm when I come back from my first yoga class - where I’m shocked at the loss of strength in my legs, where the pain in my right wrist means I can’t do a downward dog any more - the chutney is still simmering gloopily - not getting any thicker. When he asks what should he do I say I want to hurl it onto the compost heap. In the end I strain off most of the liquid and cook it some more. The pans are all burnt black at the bottom. He spoons it in to hot jars. He says it tastes wonderful. If you like that much chilli in your chutney.

I can see that I need to say my own prayers for peace. How can there ever be peace between nations when there is war between two people at home...

Tonight I’m dedicating this piece to my sweet niece who taught me to blog. In my life she is a rose poem to love and truth and shining beauty.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Holiday Destination

23rd October 2011 Sunday

Wind rushing in through the cat flap tonight. Rain sheeting against the windows.

Late afternoon we walk through chestnut and beech woods at Killlerton. The ground is a thick carpet of beech nut shells which crunch under our feet like new snow. I don’t hear the roar of the M5 below us till my husband mentions it. I pick up the half open prickly green case of a chestnut and find a glistening brown conker inside - snug as a baby in a fur lined cot. The other half of the chestnut heart is missing - lost or trampled on in the dead leaves.

We are talking about holidays. My husband says,

When we were in Dementia....

We look at each other and laugh.

Do you mean Madeira?

Well there is an M and a D in both of them, he says.

I wish dementia was a holiday destination I say.

Instead of what it is.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Apple Scum

22nd October 2011 Saturday

For a while now I have been feeling foetal inside - curled away from my life, contracted and sludgey, telling myself I can’t write any more. Fear in my heart again. Looking normal on the outside - chopping wood, sweeping. Waiting for the hour to come when I can read my book and dissolve into another world.

This morning while it’s still dark I lie awake and rehearse the shape of my day. What’s urgent? What can I leave out? Where did I put that birthday card for my brother-in -law? Will I have time to buy lemons? Will the agapanthus plants we brought back from Madeira survive another day? Is it too cold to prune the hedge? My prospective day feels like a pillow case I’m stuffing one more thing into - and there is a pillow in there already. I don’t want to get up.

In the end, late morning sun warms our backs as we hack away at the hedge, the overgrown viburnum and the dead hydrangeas in the front garden. My husband loads up the car with sackfuls of leaves and branches and drives to the dump while I chop a whole box of our apples and feed them through the juicer. It makes two bottles of clear sweet pink juice after straining off the thick muddy froth at the top.

This afternoon I lie on a massage couch and our beautiful Indian healer says,

Does your head hurt?

All the time, I say.

And she gives me a wonderful massage deep into my skull,

Where your grief is buried, she says.

She also says if I keep turning away from my life everything will become an effort and I will stagnate. She recommends I start my yoga practice again which will strengthen and expand me - help me to cope with my circumstances.

Tonight I feel clearer - as if the apple scum in my head has blown away. And I can unfurl into my blog again. One word at a time.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Stroking or Stroke?

13th October 2011 Thursday

A Random Blog Day

I wake in the night with a tummy pain - did I undercook the borlotti beans? The nearly full moon is as bright as a car headlight in the early hours darkness.

This morning my husband says he’ll come with me to the market but winces when he jolts his ankle carrying heavy bags full of veggies - and he limps the rest of the day.

When I bring my father back from the clinic he says he’s so tired he will sleep for the half hour till he has to go down for lunch. His door bell rings.

'I’ll send them away - whoever it is,' I say.

'No, I don’t want to lose my friends,' he says.

His visitor says, 'I have half an hour to wait for my bus so I thought I’d come to see you.'

He talks about his bees and how it hasn’t been a good year for honey. I can see my father is white with weariness but he encourages him, asks him questions he knows the answers to. I strip his bed and put the roast beef in the freezer, willing his friend to leave.

On the way home I stop at my mother’s grave and cut the straggling grass edges with a pair of kitchen scissors. And polish the brass plaque with Silvo but it doesn’t make it shiny. The bunch of artificial sweet peas are splattered with dry grass cuttings - surprisingly sticky and resistant to my attempts to clean them with wet tissues.

I put the big bowl of garlicky roasted tomatoes on the table for lunch. The pussy cat squeaks, winding round my legs.

My husband says ‘I’ll comb him,’ picking up the brush. ‘I mean brush him - but I want to say brush him with emotion....

‘Stroke him?’ I ask.

Yes, but I can’t remember the f******* word,’ he says.

He looks like he wants to break something.

I wonder if he knows any of the other meanings of stroke - like the rupture of an artery of the brain. Or a sudden unexpected occurrence. Like losing your vocabulary. Out of the blue.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Back Home and Bandaged

11th October 2011 Tuesday

Back from the tropical sizzling heat and cloud topped mountains of Madeira.

Today I inhabit the kitchen - cooking to try and bring myself home - to slip into the familiar mantle of the life I left behind a few weeks ago. I make pear and cardamon chutney with the few precious pears that didn’t go brown and mushy in their centres - I thought they would keep in the shed but it must have been too hot here too.

I roast two trays of bright red tomatoes - six different varieties that my husband picked in the greenhouse. He sits at the counter, his sprained ankle bandaged up and swollen, and shells borlotti beans while the two sweetcorn cobs he brought back from the allotment this afternoon bubble away on the hob. The dark gold kernels look dry and tough, the outer Ieaves like pale crackly parchment. But I don’t want to waste them. I mash potatoes with stock and olive oil and steam the last of the asparagus peas to have with the lemon zested mackerel fillets in the oven.

A huge Waitrose store, five minutes away the house, has opened in our absence. I am going to have to ration myself there.But I couldn’t resist the fish counter yesterday and bought three speckled brown trout for the freezer.

I’ve been thinking about disappointment - how we couldn’t go on the Levada walks in Madeira we wanted to because of my husband’s hurt ankle. And how you can only be disappointed if you think it should be different from how it is. That suffering comes from “arguing with reality” as Byron Katie says.

I notice how much arguing I do in my head. As habitual as breathing. But how it restricts my heart - like a tight bandage.