Being There…

Today’s one hour visiting slot at the hospital was taken up by me sitting quietly, watching my 85-year-old dad sleep.

Dad’s usually up and dressed and sitting in the chair next to his bed, but apparently he was feeling really tired this morning so after his breakfast, instead of getting him washed and dressed as usual the nursing staff let him go back to sleep. And sleep he did… in fact he slept, and he slept, and for the full hour I was with him (between 11am and 12pm) he didn’t wake once. Not when I carefully placed a metal-legged hard plastic chair next to his bed and sat down, not when a friendly nurse spoke to me and we discussed how surprisingly deeply dad was asleep today rather than his usual on-and-off dozing (resting his eyes, he used to call it). Dad didn’t even stir when the domestic assistant inadvertently knocked his bed while mopping the floor underneath, or again when dusting the top of the curtain rails around his bed.

So rather than disturb dad’s rest I just sat with him, next to his bed, and watched him sleep. I watched his ageing face, eyes tight shut, not a flicker of movement to suggest he might be about to wake. I watched his lower jaw lying slack within his weathered skin, his top denture sitting too loose in his slightly open mouth as he gave a soft snore every now and again. I watched his chest and stomach rise and fall gently and rhythmically with every inhale and exhale, so peaceful in his repose. I leaned over and held his hand for a while, and although he didn’t stir from his slumber dad’s fingers intuitively folded around mine too. I felt such a surge of protection towards him, this vulnerable old man with dementia and minimal mobility. Because underneath this confused old man exterior, he’s still my lovely, loving dad.

So for a full hour I just sat in a hospital ward and watched my dad sleep, watched him with the same loving scrutiny as when I watched my children and grandchildren sleep when they were babies. He may not have known I was there, but I knew, and the precious time we spend together with dad asleep matters just as much to me as when he is wide awake… ❤

Ragtag Daily Prompt: Watched

Limbo…

For the past five years my elderly dad, dealing desperately with the ongoing difficulties of vascular dementia, has experienced an ever-moving mix of three potential states of being – fully aware of existing in the here and now along with the rest of us, stuck happily in some time-warp parallel universe where for him the past is strangely superimposed onto the present, or suspended scarily in an unfathomable limbo…

When dad was first diagnosed with dementia, of course he was mainly present in the present but with the odd random serious lapse of memory that was certainly more than one step beyond common-or-garden forgetfulness. The first real sign of dad’s depth of confusion came a few days after he returned from his brother-in law’s funeral. Dad was chatting to us about people he’d seen there who he hadn’t seen for ages when he suddenly said – I think I’ll give Ian a call to see how he’s doing. We couldn’t get dad to understand that it had been Ian’s funeral he’d been at to see all those people from his past in the first place…

And then dad started doing the occasional odd thing in place of the everyday thing he’d been doing for years. Like when making a cup of tea, dad would have the cup sitting on the counter upside down but not understand why he couldn’t put anything in the cup. Or worse, he melted the plastic bottom of three electric kettles before we finally stopped him trying to do things in the kitchen. On two occasions dad had filled the kettle then sat it on the hob to boil – the acrid smell of melting plastic had brought my mum running. And on the third occasion dad filled the kettle, balanced it on top of the toaster, and switched the toaster on.

Dad’s dementia is the vascular type, brought on by several small strokes, so as well as cognitive difficulties dad also has worsening mobility issues. In the past he has forgotten how to walk when half way across a room, standing precariously, leaning on two walking sticks and unable to move further because he doesn’t know what to do next. He has forgotten where he was in the process of walking to the bathroom, confused and bewildered and agitated because he needed to go to the loo but couldn’t find his way through the family home he’d lived in for 40-odd years. And we soon found that when dad was in a more lucid frame of mind again, he consistently forgot that he had been unable to do these things. When he was lucid he wouldn’t believe that he’d been so incapacitated, in his mind he was still fine which was so frustrating for him.

It was almost more difficult in the early days when dad was far more aware of his surroundings and what was going on in his brain. In a sense it has become easier as the dementia progresses and dad is spending less and less time in the here and now. We get the occasional glimpse of grounded reality but on the whole these days much of dad’s day is spent reliving random memories of his past in real time, often including people and places long gone. Knowing his family history we can join him there, and have perfectly enjoyable conversations that leave dad feeling visibly content. The other day dad was convinced I was his sister Edith, not his daughter Ruth, so we were chatting happily about going to visit an uncle and aunt along the coast. Everyone dad mentioned has been dead for years but his memories are so real they carry him through.

At other times, though, dad seems to lose his visual and experiential link to the past, but at the same time cannot quite reconnect fully with the present. These are the days where dad just looks lost within himself. He’s neither here nor there, stuck in limbo, and you can see the confusion in his eyes, traced on his furrowed brow. His speech loses its clarity, slurring a little, and often the wrong words come out so communication loses its vibrancy and leaves dad feeling even more lost. He says sometimes he hears my voice and knows I am talking to him but cannot quite understand what I’m saying, everything just sounds jumbled in his head. He looks intently into my eyes trying to make sense of everything but then soon he looks away, despondent.

It’s a horrible situation for him to be in but in spite of all of this, on the whole I find dad is still very much dad. Somehow deep down he has retained some of his dry sense of humour, which always fills me with such an overwhelming feeling of warmth and love. I asked him the other day how he had slept the night before, and he said with the merest hint of a wry smile – With my eyes shut! Oh, how many times over my lifetime I’ve heard that same response, and how wonderful to hear it now. I’m not in denial, I do know that dad’s mind is slowly disintegrating, but personally I prefer to focus on what we can still share together rather than on what has been lost between us.

Dementia really focuses me on the importance of spending whatever time I can with dad, while he’s still with us, while he still knows us. So I visit him, and sit with him, and chat with him. I hold his hand, and hug him and let him feel the familial security of the father-daughter bond that has always been so strong between us. We are where we are in life, but he’s still my dad and I love him as much today as I always have done… ❤

The Gift of Love

To be honest when it comes to adults we’re not big on giving fancy expensive presents in my family – we prefer to go with smaller, thoughtful gifts that have some meaning attached to them…

Today is my 58th birthday, and my husband has given me beautifully designed hardback copies of two of my favourite Jane Austen novels – Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. My original well-thumbed paperbacks from my younger years fell apart years ago and in time were replaced by very similar regular paperbacks which by now are also a bit dog-eared and worse for wear. So I’m absolutely delighted with my new copies… I suppose I’m going to have to read them again now, just to make sure they’re just as good as I remember… 🙂

But the best thing is that in showing that he knows me so well by finding such a thoughtful birthday present for me, my husband has given me so much more than just two relatively inexpensive hardback books, he’s given me the gift of love, and that is something that is truly priceless… ❤

Word of the Day Challenge: Prejudice

Fusspot and Clart

Fandango asks an interesting Provocative Question this week – he asks:-

Do you feel that people are more attracted to one another by their differences or by their commonalities? And why do you feel that way?

Looking at my own relationship with my husband, which so far has lasted for 48 years as friends, 21 as a couple, and 9 years married (concurrent, of course!), my answer is – both, in equal measure.

Starting with our differences, ooh, there are so many! My husband is a gregarious American by birth and heritage, I’m self-consciously quiet with understated British reserve. My husband is an extroverted night-owl, I’m more introverted and usually up with the lark. My husband is tidily organised in all things; order and method are his watch-words. With him quality over quantity wins every time, he’s a real perfectionist always. He’s always excellent at finding the exact right size of dish in which to store leftovers but has absolutely no natural sense of direction.

And me? Well I’m not a total disaster in the tidiness stakes, just not a neat-freak in any sense; I’m far more comfortable living with a little creative chaos and in most things ‘good enough’ is good enough for me. I’m totally rubbish at judging small volumes or areas but nevertheless have an excellent perception of larger-scale distances and directions. We joke with each other that as a couple we’re complete complementary opposites and often call ourselves ‘Fusspot and Clart’ – my husband works hard always to keep things ‘just so’, whereas I’m definitely more slapdash and messy in my approach to anything and everything.

Our similarities, though, although far fewer when listed on paper are nevertheless just as important to point out. Looking from the outside in, physically we are of similar height and build (short and stocky), and both look young for our ages (as in other people are usually surprised to hear how old we are), so in all practical ways we fit together well as a couple. We’re both first-born children of young parents, and were both brought up with a strong work ethic. We’re of similar ages and are both educated to degree level, achieved under our own steam as mature students.

We both have had our struggles with ongoing mental health issues over a lifetime so are able to provide each other with much-appreciated mutual understanding and support at all times. Our political views and values match closely, as do our moral standpoints, and our attitudes to money and family and friendship and the importance of looking after the planet are really closely attuned. We are both natural home birds at heart rather than party animals, both enjoy preparing and eating good fresh-cooked food, and both love spending time in nature.

So although on the surface we may have many differences, deep down the fact that we share the values and attitudes in life that matter most to us means that overall we both keep each other on our toes like any other antagonistic pair in nature, yet at the same time feel wonderfully safe and secure in our lives together. For me it’s the perfect combination of give and take, of similarity and difference, and to be honest I wouldn’t change any of it for the world ❤

April A-Z: H is for Hugs

Say hello to my Mother’s Day Hug from my youngest daughter and her family!

Thankfully Mother’s day fell on the very first weekend we were allowed to meet outside in the garden (hooray!) but sadly we were still not allowed to touch or stand too close (boo…!) so they all arrived outdoors with this perfect heart shaped hug cushion as a Mother’s Day gift for me. Its arms are folded across here with its fingers entwined but it can open out to a full, love-you-this-much stretch.

My grandchildren each gave it a big open-armed hug then gave it to me and then I gave it a big open-armed hug too – it was the nearest we could get to sharing a real hug, and my lovely red hug cushion is a permanent reminder of this never-ending Covid pandemic and the loving sacrifices we’re all having to make. We’re usually a very huggy family, so for us this not-touching malarkey is a bloody nightmare.

Still, needs must… 🙂

For this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge I’m aiming for an alphabetical exploration of my personal thoughts and feelings on the continuing Covid 19 pandemic one year on, using a mix of poetry, pics and ponderings…

How Do I Love Thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

To be honest I’m not a great fan of crude capitalist consumerism at the best if times, whether it be centred around the mass celebration of Christmas, or Easter – or Valentine’s Day. I truly believe it’s possible to mark all of those special days on the annual calendar with an appropriately appreciative level of tradition and ceremony without either breaking the bank or filling the world’s landfill sites with cartloads of cheap commercial crap just for the sake of it.

Because surely if you love someone, you can show them every day, quietly, and very personally, just how much you care. Small impromptu gifts of flowers and chocolates and suchlike ‘just because’ are a regular enough feature in our house, both in the giving and receiving, throughout the year. And in a similar vein hugs are never far away, several times a day, as is holding hands when we go out together. And of course small, thoughtful, random acts of kindness never go astray in life and love.

So this year as usual I’ve bought my husband a perfectly lovely and loving standard-sized Valentine’s card, and I know he’s bought something similar for me, and we may well exchange small meaningful gifts of mutual appreciation, and enjoy a nice meal (usually home-cooked) with a nice glass of wine in honour of celebrating our love on Valentine’s Day, but nothing over-the-top ostentatious or showy or extravagant – that’s just not who we are as a couple, and never have been.

Overall on a continuum of overtly romantic to not romantic at all, my husband probably scores a bit more highly on the sliding scale than I do, but that just makes me try a bit harder because I know how much it matters to him. He’s more of an extrovert and I’m more of an introvert, so it just comes easier to him than to me to wear his heart on his sleeve. Although I must admit the longer we are together, the more comfortably open my heart becomes when it comes to displaying my innermost feelings more readily.

The most silly romantic thing I’ve probably ever done was to get up early one Valentine’s Day to cover the entirety of the kitchen cabinets and counter tops of our flat with a whole pad of pink heart-shaped sticky post-it-notes and also one of flower shapes, just for fun – it took me ages but the look on his face when he came through to be greeted by such a profusion of pink hearts and flowers everywhere he looked was absolutely priceless!

Hmmm… Maybe I’ll try that again this year… Bigger kitchen in the house than the flat though, so I’ll definitely need a lot more post-it-notes… ❤

Fandango’s Provocative Question: Valentine’s Day

What is Important

For this week’s Stream of Conscious Saturday prompt Linda wants us to open the nearest book or paper or whatever, close our eyes and point, and write about whatever word we land on. Hmmm… OK… so the nearest thing to me is a brown envelope sitting on the coffee table that arrived in the post this morning. It contains a public information leaflet from the Scottish Government and relates to the current Covid vaccination programme.

Close my eyes, open to a page and point… and the word I land on is ‘important’… OK, here goes nothing…

Covid seems to be everywhere just now. I mean, not just the virus itself of course but the dire consequences of it all, lockdowns and restrictions and facemasks and constant hand cleaning and the drastic effects on the economy and society and families and individuals and… well… just about everything. And with so many negative issues surrounding this pandemic it’s hard to look on the bright side but one thing that has become ultra-clear to me over the last year is my view on what is really important in life.

What was before a dream-like, fuzzy, amorphous idea that kept half-coming forward before being pushed to the back of my mind due to the ongoing business (and the sheer busyness) of ‘normal’ everyday life has suddenly come into sharp focus with dramatic effect. What is most important to me in life is the people I love. Knowing they are OK. Making time for them. Seeing them in person. Hugging them, holding them, touching them, and being hugged and held and touched in return.

That’s it, that’s all I have to say right now, that’s what is most important to me in life… the people I love most who love me too ❤

Pastel Roses

Who Won the Week for me this week is my lovely husband, who trudged home from work in the snow late last night (he finished his shift at 10.15pm) with a beautiful bunch of roses for me, just because he was thinking of me and he loves me.

Sometimes he chooses strong vibrant colours, but yesterday he decided on a delicate pastel pink with palest green-tinged outer petals, which really suited both the hushed snowy weather and the soft, subtle wintery feel of the world.

I love that he does little things like this every now and then,. Occasionally he’ll bring me something chocolatey, and sometimes something flowery, just because. What’s not to love in being brought such touching little tokens of love? ❤