Holding On…

When I walked into the hospital ward this afternoon to visit my 85-year-old dad, he looked astonished. ‘How did you know where to find me?’, he asked, before frowning and adding a little forlornly – ‘I’m just baffled, I don’t know where I am…’

Dad has been in hospital for almost four weeks now, and sadly does not seem to be getting any better. If anything, he seems to be deteriorating visibly. His level of confusion gusts and lulls with the wind but his mobility is consistently a lot worse and to cap it all he’s now not eating and drinking properly. This is in spite the best endeavours of all the wonderful staff at the hospital who try so hard to coax him and cajole him to eat and drink and stand up and walk. But dad is having none of it, so today he was put on a saline drip to bring his fluid levels up.

Dad has vascular dementia, the result of several past strokes, and was admitted to hospital at the end of October after a bad fall at home resulting in a bash on the head, which has now healed beautifully. With the help of home carers coming in four times a day and additional weekly respite, my 79-year-old mum has been caring for dad at home over the last five years but it is clear to all of us (except dad) that this arrangement simply cannot continue any longer. Dad needs proper 24-hour nursing care now, and so we are working behind the scenes with dad’s Social Work team to find an appropriate Care Home for him.

And in the meantime dad has better days and worse days, sometimes knowing where he is and others not, sometimes chatty (though confused) and sometimes all too quiet and uncommunicative. When I visited dad this afternoon my mum had already been in earlier in the day, so I knew dad had been up sitting in his chair when she first arrived but was sound asleep safely tucked up in bed when she left. So I asked him – Have you had a wee sleep today? And he answered quite animatedly ‘No I haven’t had the time, I’ve been too busy trying to get my brain to work!’. Poor dad…

And so I continue to visit him for my allotted hour as often as I can, and just be with him. Sometimes he looks sad, or fed-up, or puzzled, or tired, but I just let him be in whatever frame of mind he is in, and sit with it. I sit with him as he sleeps, or talks about things that confuse him, or most recently as he just looks at me, holding his gaze for ages. I too keep eye contact and see him looking deep into my eyes for answers to unasked questions he can’t even begin to fathom, and I know I can’t help him find what he’s looking for.

But I can be there with him and for him and hold his hand and hopefully let my being there bring him some little comfort to his lost word, however momentary. Because I am still his daughter, his first-born, and he is still my lovely dad. Thankfully for now he still knows me and I will always know him. Within me I carry his genes and have inherited his high cheek bones and blue eyes, and amongst other traits his quiet nature, his love of the outdoors, his brick-wall stubbornness and dry sense of humour.

So I sit with him and I treasure every moment because I know I am so lucky still to have him here. He is still very much part of the fabric of my life, however unravelled and frayed and worn his memory threads may be these days. Right now I feel as protective of my dad as I do of my children, as if in his vulnerability I love him even more than I did before. Dementia brings such an urgency to love, a need to make the most of what you have while you have it because you never know when, in the blink of a vacant eye, it will suddenly be gone.

I do realise that one day dad will no longer know me, no longer know any of his family, but until that day comes I’m holding on with all my heart to letting him know quietly and constantly how much he means to us. It’s not much but in the circumstances it’s all I can do, and so I try to do it with as much patience and understanding and comfort and love as I can… ❤

Finding My Feet…

To be honest I’ve never really found it easy to find shoes that fit comfortably but I’ve usually had fun trying on plenty of potentially promising contenders over the years, even though our perfunctory podiatric interactions regularly result in discarded dreams and disappointments all round.

I’m like a bare-foot Cinderella in reverse in the sense that it’s me going round every shoe store in the kingdom asking ‘Does this shoe fit? Nope’… Does this shoe fit? Nope’… Even shoes in my ‘correct’ size are often too tight or too unforgivingly stiff or in some other way just too wrongly shaped for my feet… Without the benefit of finding a magical store called ‘Glass Slippers R Us’, shoe-shopping for me has often been an insurmountable quest with questionable success.

My UK size 4 feet are technically short enough to fit into the bigger sizes of kids’ shoes, and when I was younger this sometimes proved to be a far better option for me than shopping in the women’s section. But nowadays although my heels are still narrow I have rather a high instep and a steadily-broadening middle-aged midfoot, and when I’m walking my toes far prefer to splay out comfortably rather than be crumpled into a too-tight ill-fitting toe-box, so sadly the days of me finding kids’ shoes that meet my specific criteria are long gone.

Mind you nowadays as even the smaller sizes of adult women’s shoes can be far too narrow for me I often find myself either searching out so-called ‘wide-fit’ designs or alternatively buying a whole size bigger in an attempt to accommodate the specific spatial needs of my fussy feet. And on top of all of the frustration of slim-line form-over-function design derailing the whole process for me, the painful pull of plantar fasciitis has created additional restrictive requirements in my futile search for the perfectly fitting shoe – namely good insole cushioning, proper arch support, and neither too high nor too low a heel.

And now it seems I also have to start to accommodate the needs of an increasingly arthritic hip when considering my footwear choices on into the future, although to be fair what works best for my plantar fasciitis also works best for my dodgy hip as long as the resulting shoe is reasonably lightweight too. Fashionable trends – not that I’ve ever been a dedicated follower of fashion in footwear or any other wear for that matter – have necessarily taken a complete back seat in my recent deliberations and decision-making.

Nowadays I simply wear whatever fits that I can walk in comfortably that doesn’t offend the eye. Still, I might not be in the slightest young and trendy any more but I don’t necessarily want all my shoes to be boringly bland – where’s the fun in that? Maintaining mobility may matter more than anything else but I’d still prefer funky over frumpy footwear any day. So I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that all things considered, finding my feet when it comes to choosing comfortable footwear that looks good too might take me even longer than before to get right… Sigh… Good job I like a challenge!

From Buxom Blonde to Menopausal Matron

For years I was a natural buxom blonde. Natural in that my boobs are big without any intervention and my hair is blonde at source. In the past I suppose I had a reasonably nice curvy figure (although having three kids by 21 left their mark) and as I got older I used to dye my dulling dark blonde hair lighter to try to re-capture that youthful brightness. For the longest time I looked young for my age, too, so people would see me and judge accordingly. In many people’s eyes big boobs plus blonde hair equals bimbo – vacuous, dumb, shallow, whatever the particular stereotype du jour.

It used to be quite fun to see the look on people’s faces when I surprised them with the reality that I’m actually quite smart – I gained a first class honours degree at 40. Or parents would say to me in a patronising, parental tone ‘Wait til you have kids, then you’ll see!’ and I’d point out I already had kids, I’d been a mum since I was 18. My voluptuous soft curves often belied my underlying physical strength – beneath my layer of fatty tissue I also have well-built muscle. On initial acquaintance for various reasons I often simply wasn’t the person people assumed I was, and for many years that social dissonance almost became part of my identity – I was often able to use the stereotype to my advantage.

But as time passed it bothered me more and more to so easily be dismissed by others as irrelevant in a snap judgement just because of how I looked. It stopped being fun and instead I found it increasingly frustrating. In my late forties I stopped dying my hair and deliberately lost that ‘blonde bombshell’ look I’d kept for so long. And now I’m in my late fifties my once-shapely figure is more menopausal matronly than sexy hourglass, my dark blonde hair is greying and it seems the old stereotype no longer applies. So am I taken more seriously now? Nope, not a bit of it – it seems I’m still routinely dismissed as an irrelevance in society at large, but now it’s because of my advancing age rather than being a buxom blonde! 🙂

Weekly Prompt: Advantages

PS After publishing this post, it was brought to my attention that it would be a suitable answer for this week’s Fandango’s Provocative Question, which asks:

What impression do you think you give when you first meet someone?

So I’m cheating and using my post to answer this challenge, too! 🙂

Bare Faced Beauty

As I pluck my old lady moustache
All this tweezing burns hot like a rash
Each hair follicle brings
Sharp eye watering stings
Yank it quick and it’s gone in a flash

Now I’m sporting bright pink upper lip
Nicely hairless but painful to strip
And each delicate pore
Smarts all angry and sore
In my quest to feel trendy and hip

Next my eyebrows need brought into line
Errant stragglers plucked one at a time
This close up I can’t see
Shaping’s not clear to me
Do my best and just hope they look fine

Ow, these tweezers keep nipping like hell
Cause more redness and soft tissue swell
Vision blurs as I pluck
Each small hair – WTF
Eyes all blotchy and puffy as well

Think I’ll give up on trying to look nice
Ragged eyebrows will have to suffice
No-one cares anyway
Past my best, had my day
At my age no one looks at me twice 🙂

Fifty Seven and Counting

 My fifty-seventh birthday is today
 I just can’t help but ponder growing old
 Retirement is one short decade away
 I picture what my future life might hold
 Imagining myself in years to come
 No longer working for my daily crust
 I’ll potter in my garden just for fun
 And spare some time for housework if I must
 But hopefully my hobbies will expand
 To fill my days with things I love to do
 Creatively I’ll find my promised land
 Artistically I’ll flourish through and through
 I look ahead to far horizons clear
 A distant ageing world that holds no fear… 

Growing Old…

Do not regret growing older, it is a privilege denied to many’

Fandango has asked us to reflect on something that brings us joy, and considering I’ve struggled so much with ongoing depression over the years, even off the top of my head the list is surprisingly long. Family, friends, music, creativity, hobbies, homemaking, learning, loving… and it made me realise that there is so much in life to bring me joy that the longer I live, the happier I seem to feel.

So for me, the thing that brings me most joy is probably the gift of growing older. I have a fridge magnet that says ‘Do not regret growing older, it is a privilege denied to many’. It is a sobering thought, and every time I see it I am reminded of my best friend’s husband, who died in his early fifties of kidney cancer. Only six months after diagnosis he was gone, but he will never be forgotten…

Fandango’s Dog Days

One Liner Wednesday

No More ‘New Improved’

At what age should you stop fretting about what you are not, give up on your ideal identity that only ever exists in a delightful dream of the perfect self and accept the rubbing-your-nose-in-it reality of who you actually are, warts and all?

I mean, I’m fifty six years old. I have a husband, three adult children, six grandchildren. I achieved a First Class Honours Degree at forty, and after a lifetime of wondering what I might want to be when I grow up, the realisation has slowly dawned that I’m so beyond that building-towards-the-future stage of life it’s no longer even funny to joke about.

My whole adult life to date feels like it has been layer upon messy layer of unremarkable mediocrity, muddling along invisibly in the middle-ground somewhere, qualifying neither as a fully-fledged failure nor a sparkling success. A boring jack of all trades and master of none. Why oh why can’t I just be OK with that, what’s wrong with just being average?

Forgive me, I’m feeling decidedly old today. Past it. Yesterday’s news. Fat and frumpy and over the hill with a vengeance, well beyond my ‘best before’ date. It hurts like hell to admit, but it feels like it’s time to understand once and for all there is no more ‘new improved’ potential waiting on the horizon for me, that ship has long sailed… Sigh!

Meh-nopause

Let me start by saying – my blog, my experience, my opinion, so I understand that other mature women will probably have very different ideas on the topic. In fact I know I might feel very differently about menopause myself in a year or so, once I get more used to it – but right now this is how I feel about it all.

Right now I’m finding that menopause feels meh. And when I say ‘menopause’ I don’t mean that whole extreme peri-menopause period which felt a bit like puberty in reverse – all dramatic hormonal upheaval and irregular bleeding and mood swings and hot flushes and night sweats forever and a day. I mean the what comes after that, the ‘pause’ bit.

Without a doubt peri-menopause was difficult enough to deal with in that I found the long-term erratic disruption of my natural, familiar bodily rhythms both physically and emotionally draining. Because for me, forty-odd years of monthly menstrual cycles only ever interrupted by three straightforward pregnancies didn’t go at all gently into that good night, but most definitely raged and then raged some more against the eventual dying of the light!

It was certainly a tough time, which coincided with several other tough times in life, and emotional upheaval was the name of the game for a good few years until my now-you-see-them, now-you-don’t hormone levels finally gave up the ghost for good, and at the end of last summer we marked the end of that extended period of life turmoil by selling up and moving to where we live now. So now here we are, happily living in the house we intend to make our forever home, able to settle down properly at last.

And then only a few months later coronavirus came, and now here we are in lockdown… And lockdown feels meh too. So for now, for me, the combination of getting to grips with the realities of menopause and the too-much-time-on-my-own-to-think closed-in-ness of lockdown means life feels altogether a bit too meh for my liking right now. Don’t get me wrong, I love that we live here, and I love that all the practical upheaval of difficult stuff is over at last.

I love that I don’t have a diary punctuated periodically by coded symbols indicating bouts of bodily bleeding. I love the money I save in not regularly having to buy sanitary products any more. I love no longer having unsightly hormonal skin breakouts every month. And I really love that I don’t feel like a screaming banshee on steroids anymore, or end up dissolving into floods of tears every five minutes or so for no reason at all, just because my huffy hormones are in a strop.

So no more up-and-down-in-mood menstrual cycles for me, and no more all-over-the-place peri-menopausal symptoms either. Instead I’m simply left with the interminable flatness of menopause, made all the more noticable right now by the interminable flatness of life in lockdown where every day for me feels like groundhog day. I spent so long wishing for a peaceful life, inside and out, and it feels like now I have it, I don’t actually know what to do with it.

I know I’ll get used to it eventually, the flatness, and no doubt in time I’ll find it liberating to be free of the stormy upheavals of hormonal fluctation. I’m sure I’ll come to love the internal peace that such a flat calm brings to the previously undulating turbulance caused by the natural ebb and flow of female life. But right now, for me menopause feels meh, and there’s nothing I can do to make it feel better but wait until it does… 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Mature

Older But Not Necessarily Wiser

Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks:

‘How old are you and how old do you feel – older or younger than your actual chronological age? Do you generally act your age? And what does ‘Acting your age’ mean to you?’

What a fun question! I’m 56, and will turn 57 towards the end of the year. And do I feel my age? Well, yes and no.

My body is clearly ageing, especially since I hit menopause – my depleted hormone levels also seem to go hand in hand with the depletion of whatever lubricaton allows my joints to move smoothly. Additionally I’ve got a growing collection of niggly ongoing health problems I didn’t even imagine existed when I was younger.

And my skin has visibly sagged and wrinkled quite a bit, my hair is greying and my eyesight has deteriorated so badly I need reading glasses to see anything at all close up. I know in general I definitely look as well as feel my age these days. Or rather, I suppose I look and feel just like an overweight, post-menopausal middle-aged grandmother, which is exactly what I am!

But on the other hand, my husband and I have known each other since childhood so can often be found giggling like teenagers at something stupid we find amusing, and somehow the years just melt away. It does feel strange sometimes to think back to when we were kids and realise just how many decades ago that was. We watch history programmes about stuff we actually remember happening, and look at each other and think – shit, when did we get so old?

I suppose I act my age in the sense of being a repsonsible adult and behaving in ways any responsible adult would – I don’t have to think about putting any effort into ‘adulting’ anymore, it just happens that way automatically. But then, I’ve been a mum since just before my 19th birthday so having to behave like a grown-up has been part of my life for a long time now.

But do you know, the thing that surprises me most these days is that I just don’t care if anyone else thinks I act my age or not – I have three grown up kids and six grandkids and I’d probably be the first to admit I may be older, but not necessarily wiser, and that’s just absolutely fine by me… 🙂

Age-Old Dilemmas

Dementia and delirious,

High fever and forgetfulness –

Such stressful times I must confess,

Hope nothing more nefarious?

With virus deadly serious,

Clear diagnosis undefined

Leaves worry keeping pace behind.

No matter what my dad has got,

Infected catheter or not,

Bewilderment meets rambling mind…

My dad’s been in hospital for the last three weeks. He turns 84 in the middle of next month, has survived four strokes and has vascular dementia with a noticably progressive deterioration over these last few months.

He was initially admitted with a bad UTI (urinary tract infection) and after a course of antibiotics to clear the infection was fitted with a permanant catheter to help make things easier for him to be back at home with my mum, where he desperately wants to be. But in spite of the excellent care he’s receiving he’s now developed another high temperature along with another UTI, so has started on another course of antibiotics but for obvious reasons has also had to be swabbed for Covid, although it’s highly unlikely he has it.

He’s already been in a room on his own in the hospital and has been barrier nursed from the start so for dad, the only real immediate change for him will be there will now be absolutely no question of him going home for at least the next two weeks, just to be sure. And at this rate it seems he might not even get home for his birthday. Or for mum’s birthday a few days later. And the thought of my mum and dad each having to spend their birthday on their own after nearly 60 years together makes me feel so sad.

It’s tough enough not having been able to see either of my elderly parents for a while due to lockdown, but now with dad in hospital it feels even harder. I’m torn, because I know he’s in the best place for now, but I know he hates being away from home and in unfamiliar surroundings. And I know it’s giving mum a much-needed rest from it all, but still I can’t help but worry about him all on his own in hospital.

I know there are many families across the world separated from their loved ones just now, some in truly dire, life-threatening circumstances. I know that in the midst of a world pandemic, my dad is just one increasingly frail old man with dementia who’s already lived a full life, who now finds himself stuck in isolation in hospital because of ongoing problems with his waterworks, but he’s still my dad and I love him more than I can say ❤