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My Mother


1 Minute Read

Valerie Blumenthal, is a critically-acclaimed novelist and author of ten books – her first four were published by Harper Collins and a further four were published by Sceptre/Hodder & Stoughton.  Sadly, she was diagnosed with Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA), a rare form of Alzheimer’s affecting the visual, motor and spatial parts of the brain.  More recently, PCA has rendered her illiterate – which, to quote her, is a cruel trick to play on a writer.  Using voice recognition software, she has just published her memoirs Please Remember Me As I Was about living with PCA, which are now available to purchase on Amazon from here.

The year was 2012. My eighty-nine-year-old mother was terminally ill with Parkinson’s and dementia.

It is a mild, spring day, and my mother and I are circling around the garden at a snail’s pace. She leans heavily on a walking frame, gripping it
so tightly from the effort that the veins of her fingers protrude like claws. She had such beautiful hands once; long, elegant fingers without a blemish.

As we walk I point out various things which might be of interest to her: the red kite in the distance; buds that had burst into flower overnight; the clacking sound of a disturbed pheasant. She disregards my efforts.

“I want to go home now,” she tells me. “It’s a very long way home.”

I do not contradict her. Slowly, painfully, we re-trace our steps.

Back indoors I settle her in her usual chair, and she slumps into it, as though she has just completed a marathon. Absently, I glance at the large clock on the kitchen wall; I had bought it for her a few months previously, to enable her to read it more easily; now, however, I found that I was unable to decipher any of the digits. Only by squinting was I finally able to tell the time. It remains etched in my memory: 12:10. Had that been the beginning?

Disconcerted I made tea for us both, and switched on the television for my mother. She was staring at me in a strange manner, as though she were troubled by something.

Ignoring the television, she continued to gaze at me, frowning in that same, assessing manner. Then, in a lucid, gentle tone, she said, “Darling, I do hope you’re not getting the same illness that I’ve got”.

I was stunned. What had prompted this remark? Had I said or done anything stupid, without my realising it? She and I had always been exceptionally close; had she sensed something in my demeanour? Had the remark been prescient in some way? I shall never know.

There is so much I remember about my mother: her beauty, of course; her kindness; her humour; her wisdom; her pride in me when I became a published novelist; and – much more recently – her stoic bravery when my father, the only man she had ever loved, died. He had been a brilliant, charismatic man, of great intellect and humour.

I commented to her one day that she had not cried.

“I can’t cry. I have never been able to cry.” She tried to explain. “I was brought up to have a stiff upper lip, and not to talk about my feelings. It was a different era then.”

We played dominoes together, and snakes and ladders. I bought her a writing pad, so she could write about her feelings; but it remained untouched. I watched her condition deteriorate. One day I broached the subject of death: did she believe in anything? Was she afraid at all, I had asked her?

“Oh no darling,” she replied, with conviction, “I shall see your daddy again and everyone I love.”

It gives me such comfort to know that she had not been afraid.

It has only just struck me that I have a kind of affinity with my mother: we have both experienced dementia, and I recognise myself in her. If anything, I feel even closer than I did when she was alive. I understand her. I know what she went through. I hope I can be as stoic as she was.

In the earlier stages of her illness, I used to see her at least four times a week and I would phone her twice a day. On the other days, I had organised for a carer to come. I recall an amusing incident: I had phoned in the morning, to speak to her; the carer had passed the telephone to my mother, then left us to it. “I can’t talk now,” came my mother’s surprisingly youthful voice, sounding agitated. “I’m very busy.”

“Oh”, I said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I’m sorry to disturb you; what are you doing”

“I’m selling the house,” my mother said. At this point, she was in her usual chair and was watching television.
I thought quickly: “I mustn’t disturb you then.” I paused. ”Are you by any chance watching one of those interesting property programs,” I asked. “Yes darling,” she affirmed, “it’s really interesting, I must go.” And she hung up.

A day after this little incident, my mother requested that I read to her. The book that she asked for was one of my own and had been her favourite. I made her comfortable and started to read. I stopped, almost immediately. The words were dancing before my eyes, like witches. I knew the beginning by heart and began again. I made another attempt, but the same thing happened. I could not read a word. What was happening to me? I could not read my own novel, which had once meant so much to me.

Meanwhile, my mother had fallen asleep anyway.

GHOSTS

In this soulless place of lost dreams
and fragmented memories,
these are the ghosts of my future,
from which there is no escape.
With gentle cruelty the past nudges me.
Your turn soon, it whispers.
Trembling fingers, like broken wings,
stretching out for help:
What’s wrong dear? What do you want?
The ghost does not reply. It wants too much.
Most of all it yearns for youth.
And in this sterile place of lost dreams and blank faces, the television plays on and on and on without remorse. But from a far corner of the room comes a faintest of stirs; I notice, then, the tiny, wizened, figure; a smile flickers on the edge of her lips, like a tiny beacon.
For a moment it seems as though
she is embraced by a halo of light.
Is she remembering the many times she lay in a damp, coital pleasure, and she would turn to him beside her, with illuminated eyes?
Then the light dims,
and the ghost of my future tiptoes away.

Lockdown Story – Living with my 92 year old Mum


8 Minute Read

It’s April 18th 2020, somewhere around week four of Lockdown in the UK. Life has taken on a reassuring and at the same time, unwelcome routine. A glimpse of institutional life perhaps. A distorted vision of freedom.

Mum has been living with us since two days before lockdown began. Uprooted from her cosy flat where assisted twice a day by experienced carers, she lived a semi-independent life. We all joked about her being an evacuee for the second time in her life. Alhough this time, it’s not as a result of a war, it’s simple biology in action and we humans are on the wrong end of the equation as hosts to an unwanted viral guest.

It made sense for mum to move in with us (that is me and my husband of nearly forty years) because we are both shielding – she, because she is a frail 92-year-old with early dementia and me, not yet sixty, living with a rare autoimmune disorder for the past eight years, which requires a regime of drugs to subdue an over keen immune system and to support less than effective kidneys that have endured the battering when the body goes on the rampage against itself. Neither of us would fare well with a dose of Coronavirus so staying safe together in a small unit of three people was the sensible thing to do and this situation demands good sense doesn’t it?

Hubby, Mark, is our stalwart and steadfast gofer – collecting our weekly provisions and, because he enjoys the creativity of it, cooking for us every day. We have decided that we will venture out for a daily walk, it’s quiet in our part of the city. Mum clings to her Sholley, determinedly teetering onwards as we plough our furrow around the block. Roads are almost silent and streets mostly empty.

We have the same conversation each time, we observe the silver birch trees that mum can barely see (macular degeneration having robbed her of most of her vision), then she asks me if the trees have been painted white. I respond that, no, it’s the pale, papery bark that she is seeing. I peel a little away and press it into her hand to confirm the veracity of my words.

Each day, we mention the magnolia tree that sits proudly in a front garden. Each day we comment on its slow progress towards spectacular bloom that is certainly followed by disappointingly drab foliage. Is it worth taking up that much space? We both muse, again.

It’s spring and, although the gardens are verdant and bursting forth, life has a treacle like viscosity, like the slow, dusty dog days of summer, the ones where you are itching for autumn to arrive, to get the heat over with and for time to speed up a little.

Mornings have the same routine, helping mum to get up, to reorientate herself in both space and time, to understand, albeit temporarily, that, yes, the virus is still here and, no, we don’t know when it will end. Each morning we put on the TV news, so loud that I swear you could hear it from space (did I mention that mum is also deaf and hates wearing her hearing aid?). We enjoy breakfast, meals are somehow always life-affirming, and we laugh at the magazine programmes that show others and their various lockdown antics. We do our daily ‘exercise class” with Mr. Motivator and I take photos of mum to put on Facebook under the legendary “Team Eunice”. Mum has come to love seeing how many likes she gets and hearing me read the comments from her many fans.

The afternoons are often less light-hearted as mum’s mind wanders off down one of the many rabbit holes that trouble her each day. She tires as the day progresses and often becomes tearful and confused, wondering what it is that she has done wrong and why she is living here with us instead of in her own home. We mobilise family and friends to make contact via Skype, Zoom and telephone in an effort to both reassure mum that we are all in the same boat and to give Mark and I some respite from having the same conversation on a seemingly endless loop.

The evenings are enlivened with laughter from unexpected quarters; Mum can still be sharp as a tack in dispensing a witticism or wickedly caustic comment. At bedtime I tuck her in, as if she is now my child. I let her know that all is, and will continue to be, well. I make sure she is warm and bestow hugs and kisses so that she knows she is safe and loved. I put out the light. Then I go upstairs to join Mark in his bedroom (we have taken to sleeping in separate rooms, not only to follow the shielding advice but also, if we’re honest, to have some precious space to ourselves, to breathe). We hug, laugh, cry, rant in whispers, rage under our breath and openly question our sanity, terrified of how long life is going to be like this.

We feel robbed of our wonderful, globetrotting, family and friend filled retired life and then immediately are wracked with guilt for even daring to feel this way. After all, there are millions of people who have a genuinely hard life: full-time carers, often on the breadline and managing alone; parents cooped up in tiny high-rise flats with children who are longing for an outdoor play space; those whose livelihoods are ebbing away; those who have no choice but to risk getting infected everyday – the key workers who have, by and large, been invisible and are now being afforded super-hero status (But not the wages that go with it).

The list is endless and I feel that I must temper my urge to scream with a very big dose of gratitude because my lot could be a great deal worse. Even so I remain deeply sad and in a state of grief.

Each day Mark and I take it in turns to walk our dog, a welcome time of solo exercise in a lovely green space not too far from home. A time to be with our own thoughts, to observe the natural world just being there and to decompress. It feels strangely dystopian.

Whichever one of us stays indoors tends to entertain Mum out in our garden. Mum loves being outside, enjoying the scents of emerging flowers and herbs. Each day one of us walks her around our tiny, much loved plot.

Gardening, growing, nurturing and tending has proved to be such a balm, such an act of defiance, optimism and hope for the future. Before lockdown the garden was predominantly my preserve, now it is a sanctuary for us all, one where the seasons move while time stands still.

As we enter the second month of lockdown, a switch seems to go off in mum’s head and she begins to withdraw, turning away from meals and only speaking to ask when she can go home. It is clear that in striving to protect her physical health her mental health is suffering so we begin to make arrangements for her to go back to her flat. Luckily it’s been possible to continue to pay Mum’s carers throughout her time with us and they are both ready and willing to pick up where they left off. Mum is overjoyed at the prospect of going home, although she is now worried that I have contracted the virus because I often have a croaky cough in the mornings. I reassure her that I’m OK. Mark moves back the items of furniture that we bought from mum’s flat to our house in an effort to make her feel at home. Both of us now reflecting on how home isn’t actually about possessions but is in fact about the place where you can be yourself. The transition back to mum’s flat takes place on a Saturday morning when mum’s favourite carer, Linda is there to greet her. Later that day I call mum on the phone and it’s almost as if the past weeks have evaporated, we have the same phone conversation that we always have, she has little recollection of the details of her stay with us, preferring instead to reminisce about her time working at the Admiralty in London after the war.

It is now July and the virus lingers in the background like a bad smell and I find myself bouncing between feelings of relief and spaciousness and a vague sadness.

I continue to rant at politicians whenever I feel the need to let off steam. At the same time, our garden is bursting at the seams with fruits, flowers, vegetables and anything we can grow. I have been swimming in the sea several times a week since the end of May and that brings me more joy than I thought possible. Mum comes here for afternoon tea in the garden almost every week and I have no idea where all this will end or what the world will look like in the future. And I’m beginning to think I’m fine with that.

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

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