What goes up…

Go on. Just a little further. You can do it…

The previous post put me in mind of the last time the old man went upstairs, so I thought I might relay how that, and he, went down.

Not long after a hospital stay, the council carers seemed to have a handle on things so I went out for the evening to a friend’s. I hadn’t been there long when mum rang and told me to come home, “He’s fallen over.”

Experience has removed the questions “why?” and “how?” from my instinctive vocabulary since: a) the quantum, parallel universe of the elderly mind to that of the younger observer can result in a powerful disconnect that does no one any good — failure to communicate, if you will — also, b) these things take time. Sometimes one must simply, act, accept, move on. This is the Tao of the tail-enders, the octogenarian ‘om’. So home I go.

What confronts me indoors resembles a kind of tableau – you may be familiar with the work of the artist Jeff Wall or the Clevelys end of Blackpool illuminations, you may not — either way, that kind of thing. A graphic set piece, dense with symbols and players.

“I’d help you, mate, but there’s health and safety.”

Dad is sprawled on the landing,  comfortable he says, but somewhat crazed-looking. The man from next door, a gallant figure who, with his wife, provide a neighborly safety net I would not want to work without, is scrubbing blood off the stair carpet.

Tonight’s carer, a stranger to us, as is often the way, is shuffling about near my dad on the phone to her supervisors. “I can’t pick him up and I can’t go upstairs behind him and he just… fell.” she says, somewhat coldly. But I know she is right. If you have to lift a person, you must come in twos.

Mum meanwhile is on the phone to 111, the non-urgent emergency service. She’s pretty deaf, so I take the phone off her. Dad will bleed in a stiff breeze, so I know things likely aren’t quite as bad as they look.

We are on hold. I notice that the bloody stair is the same one our long-dead cat would claw at years ago. My dad had to take her to the vets to be put down and spoke then of his sense of foreseeing his own end approaching as he did so. Now here we are, ish. Same staircase, different demise.

cat heaven
You find an image like this, it’s hard not to use it.

Me and the neighbour get dad to his feet and into his bedroom for what turns out to be the last time. The neighbor goes home, cold-but-correct carer goes on to their next call until it’s just me and the old man and the voice on the phone.

The operator asks questions which I relay to my father. He answers with a series of untruths he think will keep him out of hospital. Sometimes I think he’s lost the plot, but when it comes to it he knows and can still master the game.

Now, you can intercede in this stuff and have an ambulance come (which can be hours sometimes, if they’re not on a blue light) or you can relay the self-effacing fibs that belie the severity of the situation, and spin the wheel at home. I choose the latter. He deserves a break, he seems OK, ish. And I don’t want to wait around anymore than he does. Besides if things get worse, sometimes worse is what you wish for. So we reassure the earthly powers we need no intervention tonight and consign ourselves to forces unknown.

In the morning he feels better, but it will be the last time he comes upstairs, sleeps in his bedroom or takes a shower at home. As I shepherd him down the wooden hill with the morning carer I step over the bloody cat step and wonder when my time will come. It’s a heriditary thing morbidity, in every conceivable sense.

5 thoughts on “What goes up…

  1. A fantastic blog which has allowed the author to keep it real and tell it like it is. I have had similar experiences over the last 20 years but in my case my mother was 51 when the first episode of care struck which leaves me to wonder how long this will go on. I have struggled with blame and regret over the last 2 decades as my20-something ambition, funster spirit and libido has ceded now to mere survival and cooking Sunday lunch when the parents go to church (to come back beasting the sermon and modernity in general).
    What a lot of family GPs don’t realise is that when someone on the brink of dementia or suffering a critical illness which precipitates a psychosis-like event because of a background of catatonic pain and fear, the elderly parent may make allegations and threats which cause great harm to the adult child who is caring for them. I have had mental health professionals threatening me with a Mental Health Act assessment and potential inpatient treatment based on unfair allegations and third party reportage. I’m really not trying to kill or harm my parents but their knee-jerk reaction is to blame someone close to them for feeling ill and being scared of shuffling off the mortal coil.
    It is so hard sometimes to care for those who have no idea that they are eating into their adult child’s life. I have been single for 18 years and my parents’s attitude is that they have a son to carry on the farm, a daughter (my sister) to give them grandchildren and myself….to care for them and to be the surrogate spouse when one of them passes away. My elderly parents do not recognise that each of their decades of life has had a flavour and texture including separating from their Victorian parents, courting in the 50s, the swinging 60s or the troubled 70s and the rise and fall of Thatcherism, the onset of the 21st century and the technology age. For me, most of my adult life has just been a monotonous blob cast in shadow as I struggle to fit in the caring and the aftermath of their illnesses around my so-called life. I have no landmarks to call my own as my 30s, 40s and soon 50 are all enmeshed in my parents’ respective cancers and critical illnesses.
    My parents cannot comprehend or reflect that I too will reach old age and suffer the same indignities. But at this rate, I will do so alone and with no support network.
    I do love this blog and the subtlety of the Shakespearean dramas that unfold from, for example, necessary Amazon purchases or the state of an incontinent person’s bathroom (which only gets air-freshener when the Vicar comes – not for personal self-respect.)
    You love them and you also fear the resilience of your parents. But their wonderful resilience borne from a difficult childhood in WWII is the downfall in your ability to stick up for yourself.


    1. My word… what you’re sharing here is remarkable but perhaps not uncommon. You are in way deeper than me, my friend. I hope there’s some place you can get to between acceptance and escape (if not just respite). There has to be a balance, something more than the outright consumption on new lives for old. I wouldn’t worry about youthful ideas fading (those dreams fade I think regardless of how close we get to fulfilling them) but what you can do for yourself right now. I wish I could tell you… Anyway, all strength to you. Thanks for reading. I’m hoping to write more soon. Best TRC x


    2. also, I have no kids either. It’s not been easy but I don’t sweat that anymore, seriously. I am lucky in that I have plenty of other people and nieces and nephews etc around me. Do check some of comments on The Guardian piece, there are a few people on their without kids who talk about how surprised they were about who did come forward and what was available to help them. If we keep talking about this stuff then we can build a better culture to help each other through it, without depending on those not even born yet… (or ever). TRC x


  2. You are an amazing writer. I care for my mother (though I don’t live with her ….. yet …..thank God) and your writing makes me vicariously feel as if I’m preparing to do something creative.


    1. Thank you, Adele! Good luck with your mother. Make no mistake giving up part of yourself to another person is creative in so far as you are fashioning a new shared reality (even if they don’t seem to notice). And absolutely write about it, paint about it, talk about it, it works for me… TRC


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