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Lockdown by Live-in Carer

6 Minute Read

There’s being a live-in carer when you can get out and about, visit a friend, see your kids, indulge in a spot of raving from time to time and generally remain connected to the outside world. Then there is being a carer during the lockdown. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done and I review my situation often, surprised that I ended up here. I’m also grateful when I think about where I might have found myself when the orders were issued globally to ‘stay at home’. It could have been anywhere, considering I’ve been wandering the planet, home-free for the best part of seven years. I know what’s going on in the world right now and am aware that there are millions of people suffering greatly during these ‘unprecedented’ times so any challenging aspects of the job I write about please know that I’m not complaining, only describing.

I’ve always been a fundamentally caring person, but when I retired from my last career, I imagined I’d be doing less caring, not more. For nearly 20 years, I had a successful career as a Tantric Sex Goddess – a healer, therapist, relationship coach, masseuse, group facilitator and author. Upon retirement, I changed my name – a kind of magic spell to manifest more freedom in my life and took off to the other side of the world to write the memoirs of my tantric sex years. Falling in love with New Zealand, I returned three times over the next three years. It was a relief to be far away from the responsibilities I’d carried and to finally live the dream – travelling while writing. As is often the case, the book took longer than expected and I wasn’t earning much as I flitted about. As exciting as Tantric Goddessing had been, I had no desire to return there but I did need to start thinking about producing some kind of income.

On one of my trips back to England, a friend begged me to go to Kent and look after his 99-year-old mother. It wasn’t long after my own mother had died. She had suffered from Alzheimer’s for ten years and spent the final four of those in an upmarket care home. I couldn’t look after her myself for too many reasons to go into here but I visited regularly. If truth be told, it was too close, we had been too close and I could hardly bear witnessing my beloved mother’s slow and inexorable deterioration. Her relatives wanted to be in charge of her care and I was happy to step back, supporting the team with some distance between us. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I’d not taken on the role of my mother’s primary carer. This job with Cynthia was a chance to give something back, make amends perhaps. Human emotions are complicated and I’m not inclined to spend a lot of time trying to make sense of that particular tangle of feelings.

I agreed to test the waters for three months and thought I’d just about tolerate the work. Unexpectedly, I loved it and stayed for six months. Cynthia and I bonded. Perhaps it was because I was hired directly by the family and felt a confidence I may not have felt had I started my caring career thrust into a random family through an agency. My friend and his siblings were so grateful to find someone they knew and trusted, they were behind me every step of the way. I felt free to ‘be myself’ – mostly patient, kind and funny and sometimes emotional, impatient and grumpy. I was Cynthia’s first carer and for the first month or so she was resistant to having me there. I won her over but not with charm. I realise now it was by being authentically me. We would laugh together, cry together and watch Zoe Ball on Strictly Come Dancing every single day. We felt at ease. When you do everything for someone – feed them, wash them, walk them to the toilet – for days and months on end, unless you are an automaton a symbiosis occurs, one becomes emotionally- entangled. Love happens.

My time with Cynthia came to an end (she got a new carer and is still going strong, now a 100 years old) and I flew back to New Zealand for the final furlong of my overseas adventure. My oldest son and his wife were expecting their first child and I knew when I returned to England, it would be to settle for good.

Another friend pleaded with me to look after his mum and dad. There’s a lot of need for it out there, it seems. So here I am now in my ninth month of caring for a couple who’ve been married for over 60 years. They’ve become like family. Valerie and Thomas both have dementia to varying degrees, diabetes, a fair few health issues and wear accident-proof pants. They move slowly, with walkers. Valerie, who is 84 is sweet, bright and easy. Thomas, 86, is mainly sweet, bright and easy but can also be infuriating, bullish and can drive me crazy. He went to Cambridge and has an impressive brain on him, which shines through in some of our conversations. I can only imagine what it must feel like to lose control of one’s mind and body, basically one’s life, so of course I have compassion. But I hope don’t live to the point where somebody’s telling me when I have to go to bed and how much chocolate I can eat.

We’ve been locked down together in this house for four months now. Thomas has raised his voice a number of times. I’ve managed to raise mine only twice, a fact of which I’m proud. I’ve learned to become less emotionally reactive and more stolidly patient. The only exercise they get is shuffling back and forth between the three rooms they’re confined to inside the house, with the occasional foray out to the garden. They need me to get them in and out of the door. They need me for most things.

Before COVID, I would drive them out to local restaurants where they were loved by staff, some of whom had known them for years. They had rather a lovely life. The threat of the virus has rendered them house-bound with no visitors. Lockdown was the point at which their carer also became their cleaner, hairdresser, entertainer and full-time chef. We’re all aware that they’re in a comparatively fortunate situation. I do my best to keep us all from going mad, but it’s the Groundhog Dayness of it that gets to us all. Their food preferences are limited, as is their concentration. Toilet accidents are regular occurrences and there is a lot of frustration and apologising on their part, with me saying, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not your fault’. Fortunately, all three of us have a sense of humour and laugh often.

Although the end of lockdown will be welcomed by Thomas, Valerie and I – being a carer is about taking the bad with the good, going with the flow and being responsive in the moment. Of course, I miss certain aspects of my Tantric life but although my days are pretty unsexy right now, caring for the elderly isn’t that far from what I understand to be the true meaning of Tantra. The transformation of poison into nectar. Yin and Yang – the light and the dark. Hey ho. Namaste.

Nursing home looks normal on outside – Inside is designed to be a familiar 1940s neighborhood

2 Minute Read

The Lantern of Chagrin Valley, located in Chagrin Falls, Ohio is only one of three amazing facilities designed specifically for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. report this ad Designed to look like small houses with porches leading out to a golf course, the living facility feels like a community in the 1940s. With incredible attention to […]

Read the full story here: Nursing home looks normal on outside – Inside is designed to be a familiar 1940s neighborhood

Finally, I love my mother

1 Minute Read

It never used to happen like this. I’d arrive home – my former family home, a detached 1970s house in the West Yorkshire village of Menston, not far from the quietly salubrious and much better known inclines of Ilkley – immediately my mother and I would have to jump in the car (one of my eternal old bangers) and travel to a town.

Were we trying to avoid the gentle space of actually being together? Probably. My mother – she was 82 at this time, she’s 89 now – and I occupied polar positions re our ways of living, for much of our relationship. She was in the all-knitting, all-gardening, verbally restrained corner; whilst I was in the all-partying, all-reading, (not at the same time, obviously), hysterically over-expressive corner. And rarely did the twain meet.

However, over the last decade, a welcome blurry middle ground has appeared. I’ve witnessed her courageously battle and overcome cancer, then get over the death of my father, and then how she learned to live her own freedom without him. I’ve come to admire her Yorkshire feistiness (I’ve noted that she’s passed it on to me) and I’ve observed signs of her all-dancing side too. On those frequent cruises where she is apparently keen to rumba every evening.

I’ve also started to understand more about scented stock seedlings and composting. I’ve got to know and like her friends in the village. We’ve also taken to going on little adventures together, for instance exploring the savage beauty of the Northumbrian coast and the quirkiness of Whitby. Yes, there has been a mother/daughter melting. Although I, thankfully, have yet to learn to knit.

We’ve also started to re-visit old family walks. Now when I get there from the urban madness that is Harlesden, we have lunch and simply step out of her front door and carry on walking. There’s no longer any need to visit a town.

At the end of August last year, we decided to go blackberrying. We’ve always been a blackberrying family. I remember taking French O level revision out with me, there’d also be the corned beef sandwich-centred picnic, the tartan rug and lots of empty Tupperware bowls for those juicy berries. Oh, the exquisite pleasure of mum’s blackberry and apple crumble as the dark, red juice seeped into the custard like a pudding version of bonfire night.

First of all, we wandered down the main street, past the distinctly non-contemporary Menston Arms – whatever happened to that handsome doctor’s son that I used to meet here? – and up the moor road. On the right, there is a spectacularly mundane, little park where I know my grandmother used to bring me in the pram. I’ve seen the photos. It remains untouched by modern park aesthetics.

We reach the beginning of Bleach Mill Lane on the right. Ah, the memories. Of course, it’s the lane that was dug by the owners of the 19th century mill so they could get their vehicles down here. But the mill never entered my head as a child. To me, it was simply the way to the pond where I’d find sticklebacks with exotic red bellies and three strange spikes on their backs. I’d fill a jam jar full of pond water and try and keep them forever as proof of the mysterious ways of the universe.

As we’re walking this time, mum says: “You know your grandmother used to walk down here as a 9 year old school girl. She took her father his sandwiches at the mill every day at lunchtime.” Maybe, she’s told me before but today, they seem now and shiny. Like coins pushed into my imagination’s slot machine. For a moment, I see my grandma skipping down this uneven track to the mill where yarns from local mills and linen were bleached. I’m reminded that my grandmother’s grandfather, William, originally came over from an impoverished Derry in the 1860s to work there. His son, Isaac, followed him into the mill.

As we walked and talked, I realised that six generations of our family have made their way down this track, but for two different reasons. My great, great grandfather, Isaac, my great grandfather, Ralph, my grandmother, Jane, then my mother, Nancy, and her three children, me, Rowena and Clive, then, finally my own son, Marlon. The first wave came to work, the second for leisure.

There’s something deeply reassuring about walking this often, muddy lane, which has been trodden by so many generations of my family. As my and my mother’s feet keep touching this earth in the same dips and puddles as our forbearers, I get a whoosh of permanence and stability in a world that seems to offer less and less of those particular qualities.

At last, we find a few blackberries but they’re dried up and hard. Victims of a bad summer. To the right are endless fields across to Otley – where I was born – and to Almscliffe Crag, one of the everlasting, gritstone boulders that marks this west Yorkshire landscape. Standing and gazing is an integral part of our walks.

Very little has changed. We walk for a few minutes, and there it is on the left. The pond. Where so often as I child, I’d bring my fishing net and scoop out squirming tadpoles as well as those enchanting sticklebacks. And when my son was a toddler, I’d bring him to this same Bleach Mill pond to encourage him, to appreciate and understand more about nature. To be able to distinguish flag irises from king cups and milkmaids.  But this late August Monday, there are bulrushes and water boatmen instead.

Inevitably, my mind’s eye casts itself back to carefree summers. Both my mother and I experience a frisson of recall delight.

The lane ends at the still existent, 19th century Bleach Mill House. We peer over the hedge to see speckled hens and the disorder of a smallholding. The house itself looks a little rundown. They used to do B n’B and cream teas but it seems no more. There’s a solitary sign for freerange eggs.

Now we’re on the narrow footpath, which takes us up the glen. Just round the corner, in a place where the tinkling beck turns into a flat pool, there are one or two millstone grit stones. These are probably from the mill’s chimney, incidental reminders of a big past.

Today, we’re more interested in finding some decent blackberries. We’re in luck at last. Next to the holly bush  – this is the very place we used to visit every year every pre-Xmas to gather its very special, red-berried branches – stands a bush with a late summer treasure, succulent blackberries.

For half an hour, my mother and I stand amongst the cow pats and thistles, immersing ourselves in the job at hand. These juicy jewels fall into our hands mostly without bruising. We chat about the 1930s holiday homes in the next field, little wooden huts, which meant so much on these walks. Magical little houses in the nearby Hag Farm’s fields where people from Leeds and Bradford would spend weekends in the countryside. During my childhood, they were still there, proud and tidy. Now, they’re falling apart.

It’s 24 years since my father died, but here we are, mother and daughter, former enemies, now firm friends, continuing this family tradition. I’m sure William and Isaac must have sneaked over and sampled some of nature’s best gifts a hundred years ago.

I smile as I notice the look of contentment on my mother’s face, and as I realise that blackberry and apple crumble with custard is definitely on the weekend menu.

Rose Rouse has written a series of pieces on her relationship with her mother. This one charts earlier changes when they were still walking together. She will next explore how her mother’s Alzheimer’s has transformed their intimacy levels once again.

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