APRIL 12, 2013

I’m going away for a week and Ian is going into respite for the period. We did this for a week last year and it worked well enough, though Dad was pleased to ‘get back into the real world’ at the end of it. This year he doesn’t want to be in the same home as Mabel. I quite understand that while he likes to be in Mum’s company, I have to be there as well in order to mediate. Dad doesn’t want to be put in a position of observing Mum’s helplessness while being able to do nothing about it.

So instead I’d arranged with the very good ex-manager of Mabel’s care home, who now runs a care home in a nearby village, that Ian stay in its plush and spacious respite room. A single email followed by a pleasant telephone call and everything was set up. I’ve even seen the room, since Ian, Mabel and I have stopped by at Bernie’s place a couple of times since she jumped ship.

Unfortunately, I’ve just learned this morning that that home is having problems with a flu virus. No new admissions are being taken for now and Bernie can’t be sure what the situation will be like when Ian requires his room and board. So I’ve now made another provisional arrangement with a third care home. Its manager quickly understood the situation and is quite willing to leave the booking as an open one to be confirmed or cancelled by Saturday, a couple of days before Dad’s respite begins. I haven’t seen the place myself. I know the home has got a good reputation and I will have a look around on the Saturday if it comes to it, checking that the room has a TV and good access to lift and lounge. The manager herself won’t be around until the Monday morning to finalise the formalities, which will have to be done with my brother.

In some ways it would be easier all round for me not to go away. Making these arrangements takes time. But then we all need a break now and again. I need a break, my partner needs a break, and Dad needs a break. And although his break will seem more like a week in prison than a holiday, it does serve to remind him that he’s lucky to have an independent set-up for the vast majority of the year. Actually, ‘lucky’ is not the right word, whatever good stuff Dad’s got going for himself, he’s earned.

What about Mum? I mustn’t leave her out of the equation. Indeed, I can’t leave her out of it. She’s sitting beside me in the car and her right hand keeps falling down between the seats where it shouldn’t be. I keep lifting her hand onto her lap. She keeps groping for something to grab hold of. Better it’s my hand than the gear stick or the hand brake, so I’m driving around in third gear for now, holding Mum’s hand.


Let’s stop here and have our tea. When I switch the engine off. Mum seems to be breathing heavily. Has what may have seemed like our tussling been stressful for her? Does she imagine she’s been part of a battle of wills for the last ten minutes? I hope not. Anyway, I’m talking soothingly to her. And feeding her cake while the tea cools.

Perhaps it will do Mum good to have a week without any trips out. She doesn’t enjoy being moved into her wheelchair or transferred from wheelchair to passenger seat. So perhaps she will have a more restful time as a result. She won’t be seeing anyone she knows, apart from care home staff and fellow residents, for a full week. But to be honest, I don’t think she’ll notice our absence. Actually, she will get a visit from Ian in mid-week if it’s the third care home he ends up in. It’s feasible to get a mini-cab from that home to Mabel’s and that’s what Ian has suggested he’ll do, with his trusty Zimmer stowed away in the boot of the taxi.

Following more arm wrestling on the way back to the home – if this continues to be a problem, Mum will have to travel in the back seat in future, beside Dad - we pull up in the car park. I go through the usual palaver with platform, wheelchair, and transfer board after which Mabel is sitting in the lounge. I’ve removed her hat and the transfer belt and I’ve unbuttoned her coat. There is no sign of heavy breathing now so perhaps that was just a bit of temporary stress. She’s not responding to my words though. Just gazing blankly into the middle distance as she’s been all afternoon.


“What have you got in the bag?” asks Edith.

The 92-year-old’s voice comes as a welcome distraction. I stand up from Mum, open my bag and pull out the book I had intended to read a few paragraphs from when we were having our afternoon tea. Something I didn’t get round to.

Edith tilts her head in order to be able to read the title of the hardback. “Bright Young People,” she says clearly. Then she looks up at me and says “If you’re a bright young person, God help us all!”

Out of the corner of my eye I see a carer trying not to laugh. “Oh, what are you like, Edith Turner?” she says in gentle admonishment.

“You’re a B.O.P., aren’t you?” I say to Edith, who gets no visitors but who manages to hold on to her spirit.

“What’s a B.O.P.?” asks Edith.

“A Bright Old Person,” I say.

Her face lights up. She raises her hand and makes contact with mine. Oh, not in the same way that Mabel’s hand makes contact with mine, but there is still a connection.

“Yes, I suppose I am,” says Edith, joyfully.