Turning the Tables on Mum and Dad
- May 22, 2017
I light-heartedly and affectionately refer to my parents as ‘The Olds’. Usually when I do, my tongue is pushed firmly into my cheek. But it has occurred to me more and more in the last year or two that it’s actually true. My dear ol’ Ma and Pa are no longer in the middle age of life (it seems that term best describes me, more’s the pity), but are in fact in their twilight years. After the last few months my sisters and I have had with them, I have come to the steady realisation that they are both in fact antique (look up the definition, and draw your own conclusions)! That said, I’m not sure either of them would fetch much at auction.
It feels like just a few short years ago that The Olds were regularly playing squash and my Mum playing hockey. My Dad would take me road running, finishing with sprints down the alley across the road from our house. He would give me a head start, and just as I was about to make it to the finish line, he would come whooshing past me, pipping me to the post. These days my Mum can barely walk more than a few hundred yards without having to give up through back pain, and my Dad doesn’t walk so much, as shuffle.
My Mum is 3/4 bionic, having had both hips replaced in her late 50s, and a shoulder replacement in March this year. Her physical health is also impeded by the fact that she suffers with high blood pressure and Atrial Fibrillation. Dad is in the last year of his 70s, and his health has also been a source of worry for us all, as he has Type 2 Diabetes and has just recovered from Prostate Cancer, the treatment of which left him frail. That frailty caused him to fall over at the end of last year, badly breaking his wrist which needed surgery, pinning and plating.
So it was all a bit of a learning curve this year, when myself and my two sisters, Lynne and Clare, had to take on the parent/child role reversal, and temporarily move in with The Olds (taking it in turns, so that they were never without one of us there) to help with my Mum’s shoulder surgery recuperation. All of us were conscious of the fact that we needed to pull together, and not slip into our childhood roles of Dopey, Sleepy and Bashful. Lynne was proactive in her organisation and created a rota, so that each of us knew when we were on duty. And ‘duty’ to Lynne meant purely the ‘nursing’ side of things. You see, Lynne has a chronically severe allergy. To housework. The very thought of it brings her out in hives, and it’s so severe that I think she might carry an EpiPen, just in case she’s exposed. Being medically minded and trained, she is always the best person to deal with blood, shit and puke and the like, but anything domestic was left to Clare and me.
Having grown up as a three, we were certainly no strangers to the saying “three’s a crowd”, so we really should have been prepared for the inevitable squabbling that ensued. With none of us having lived at home for the past 25 years plus, it was easy to forget how the clash of personalities can have an effect on your emotional well-being; how when you’re so tired another person’s very breathing can make you feel murderous; having to accept that things had now changed and that the family dynamic was now entirely different; how expectation Vs reality was akin to being put to bed by Florence Nightingale only to have Nurse Ratched (unless you’re of a certain generation, you might have to Google her!) wake you to do your Obs, and that all in all those first few weeks post op were bloody hard on everybody. We three siblings were fine; it was The Olds that were struggling to adjust!
We all did our share of ‘nursing’, having to help Mum in the first couple of weeks with just about everything; showering her, dressing her, dispensing her medication and pain relief, putting those bloody flight sock thingies on, helping her undress ready for bed, and then settling her down and tucking her in. Between the three of us, we had everything covered, and Mum was a good patient, despite the immense pain she was in, doing the exercises she was given by her surgeon, and resting as she was told, which pleased ‘Nurse Ratched’ no end! Dad meanwhile mostly did as he was told, being allowed out now and again to go and buy milk, and when he was really good, his friend Clive was allowed round to take him out to play. One of the most important things to remember with old people is they like nothing more than a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit, and their dinner at 6 o’clock. Everything else is just gravy.
Spending so much time back in the fold, one important point was reiterated; the one important thing I know about my family. When the shit hits the fan, we all rally. We stand together. We support one another. Some crises divide other families in the most unimaginable ways. But not us. My Aunt once said how she admired our family unit; that we were a formidable force to be reckoned with. She’s not wrong.
Mum’s now 2 months post op, and for the time being The Olds are getting on with things, pretty much independently of us three daughters. They’re managing by themselves most of the time. There are certain things that they’ll probably never be able to do again (changing the beds for instance. Those bloody fitted sheets are the stuff nightmares are made of), but they know that they can call on any of us if they need help. I think too much has changed now for the original status quo ever to return and that Lynne, Clare and myself will always remain in the parental role to some degree. And as they’ve now given us lasting power of attorney over their affairs, they had bloody well better behave, otherwise we’ll be finding them a place at Shady Pines!
If your parents are not yet at the ‘old’ stage, just bear this in mind for when they are: having an ageing or elderly parent is a bit like owning an old banger. Things go wrong. Regularly. You just have to repair the worn out parts as best you can and hope they don’t fall off. You might even have to replace one or two of those broken parts now and again, but at the end of the day, when your ol’ banger passes its MOT, you’re pretty sure that you’ll get at least another year out of it!
My name is Jane. Parent to Anne, 73 and Peter, 79.