Or: A Tale of Two Care Scenarios
Dutiful daughter embraces caring for her elderly father and overcomes the problems of distance and her own fragile mental health. Problems are faced, but there are also fun times involving trips to the seaside and a fascination with ducks and furry toys. The family, scattered across the globe, pull together – but the weather is still better in Australia than the UK!
Dysfunctional daughter jeopardizes the care available to her father with her erratic mental health and tendency to confront the system when there is no chance of changing it. The under-staffed and somewhat disorganized care agency struggles to provide the care paid for and to cope with distressed daughterly demands. Family relationships disintegrate as dysfunctional sibling goes into meltdown.
Life is never straightforward. My life is probably less straightforward than most and I’m the first to hold my hand up to it. It’s harder to hear it from others.
Recently, a family member let rip and told it like it was. This involved them losing it during a phone call when we were discussing the care package for my dad. The family member shouted that it was all my fault, and that my father’s care agency came closer to sacking us than we did to sacking them. This is true. And, in as much as our fragilities affect our reactions and also other people, it is my fault. It was hard to hear it but it was fair, even though the method of delivery probably wasn’t.
The difficulty is in finding a balance in the way we view the truth. Looking at my life and the way I’ve tried to care for dad you could say that both Scenario A and Scenario B are accurate, but of course neither gives the full picture of the actual situation. It’s that age-old political trick of what we leave out rather than what we put in.
Writing out these scenarios was intriguing. It was like writing out the summary of a plotline for a book. And, unlike when I try to summarize my novels for a query letter, it was easy. Perhaps this is because I was deliberately descending into clichéd pictures taken from one particular angle. It’s simple to present just the rose-tinted view of caring, or the doom-and-gloom version, but much harder to get the subtle balance of reality.
So what is the reality? For me it is a very strange mix of love and duty. Of facing the unfaceable and yet finding joy and ease in dirty and difficult tasks. Of course what I find ‘unfaceable’ is very different than what most people do. A simple phone call floors me, and dealing with the system and bureaucracy causes my stress levels to soar. I don’t handle things well – as my family member pointed out so forcefully.
But there are things that I handle better. Understanding dad’s headspace and need for routine is a doddle, and we settle into a very comfortable companionship when I don’t have a long ‘to do’ list of tasks sitting on my shoulders. I’m good at day-to-day caring tasks – cleaning dad’s shoes and glasses, ensuring a good supply and change of continence pants, clean clothes, cooking nice meals, maintaining a stock of hearing aid batteries. I’m good at connecting with people, at building links with dad’s neighbours and friends. I just wish I lived close by so that the balance of tasks fell towards the ones I’m comfortable with rather than the ones that I’m not.
Writing the above list has been good for me. It’s reminded me that I am not only about dysfunctionality. Like the characters in my novels (hopefully) I am more rounded – contradictory for sure, but with positive traits as well as negative. Yin and Yang. Grunge rock and classical side-by-side. It’s why I struggle to get plotlines that I can write out simply – life is complex, and people are, too. But that is what is fascinating, and what, ultimately, makes us human.
My cat having a daft week! Big emergency vet bill because he was bitten by some unknown assailant, then the presents of a headless mouse and a live goldfinch in the space of two days. He never was a hunter, but it looks like he’s getting into his stride…
Psychadelic blues at my local pub. Proper throw-back music and brilliant, too.
© Anne de Gruchy