Telling Beautiful Lies


“There is a way of being wrong which is also sometimes necessarily right.” 
~ Edward Abbey

Ah, lovelies, I’m so tired just now.

We’ve been travelling endlessly back and forward between our farm and Brisbane the last two years as one of our elderly family members has become more and more incapacitated. Advancing dementia, mobility issues, deteriorating hearing and sight. We tried to keep her in her home as long as we could by sharing her care among family members, and then one day she went into hospital and the staff told us she couldn’t go home. We needed to find somewhere she could be looked after 24/7. When she went into care it was bittersweet – we cried that we had failed her but it was also such a relief to have that burden of her care lifted from us. It took weeks for her to settle in and then suddenly she was happy again and that new place became home.

Foolishly we thought life would go back to normal a little more. And then she fell.

Since then it has been an endless round of visits to her in the aged home or to be beside her bed on hospital stays where we try to visit daily to ensure that she is eating, and is comfortable and is not frightened or lonely.

Her mind is slipping. She asks us the same few questions over and over. The stories of her youth, once clear and well remembered, are merging into each other. She was a seamstress when she was young. Had loved dancing. Was courted by a young American soldier during the war, but married a local boy who played football with her brothers. We don’t correct her any more when she gets the details wrong. It just upsets her, and us. So we agree with what she says.

Even more than that we actively participate in the space she is in. In recent hospital visits she became distressed, aggressive, distrustful. All she wanted to do was go home. To the home. To her friends, she kept telling us. We could only calm her by telling her she would be released soon. Maybe tomorrow, we would say.

When she was delusional and told us she had been walking around (when she was actually lying in a hospital bed rigged up to countless machines and devices) we asked questions about where she went and what she did. Her mind created elaborate stories to explain what was happening and who these strangers were in her life. In the stories were tiny shreds of truth. We went along with it all if it seemed that it helped her to feel safe and at peace.

When the nurse came on his rounds, the same one who she said had been sent to torture her earlier in the day (she had thrown things at him, and at his fellow nurses, and threatened to call the police if they didn’t leave her alone), I introduced him as my friend – as someone new – and said he was the best and most caring nurse in the hospital. Suddenly she became polite and compliant and sweet with him. Every lie I spoke was worth it. For her and for us all. It broke my heart to see how trusting she was in what I told her. But it helped and she went to sleep calm again and comforted.

Last night she was back in hospital, less than a week after she was last discharged. For a new problem. She was in a lovely emotional space, calm and happy. The conversations we had were lucid and engaged. But she wanted to go home. Not to the nursing home, but her old home. It soothed her when we told her it was all ready for her, that it would be there when she was ready to be discharged. Even her doctor played along. Yes, she could go home soon. He was attentive and patient and repeated himself over and over with kindness and care.

Such beautiful lies. After the doctor left we talked about taking her shopping to buy a new dress or to help me choose one. We talked about Sunday roast lunches at her house and the whole family coming to visit. We talked about her independence when she gets out of the hospital. And none of it is true. And all of it made her smile and helped her settle down and go to sleep.

Such beautiful lies. And we will keep telling them until she goes to her final home, and all the loved ones who are waiting for her. It comforts her, and it comforts us, and that is all that matters.

Holding Hands Because It Matters


“Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible.” ~ Tia Walker

We have an elderly family member in hospital right now. It’s a place she has visited frequently these past few months after her the first major fall. She is old and frail and her health is failing. Things keep going wrong. And so she finds herself alone – a tiny body in a big bed in a big empty room, far from the friendships and care of her usual environment.

She has dementia. Everything is more confusing, more confronting in this space. Each time we visit she is surly to start with. Emotional. Sometimes there are tears. Sometimes there are sharp words. We don’t take it personally. It’s just the time of day. Her mood is always worse at nightfall and in the evenings, but that’s just part of this awful disease.

We’ve learned to ignore those displays of hostility and to keep being loving and kind. We reassure her, and sit close by her, and we hold her hand. We repeat the same stories over and over, and answer the same questions over and over, and somewhere in that space she moves from distress or anger to laughter and a warm, open discussion of life and happy memories from the past.

I have learned that there is nothing like human touch to calm someone who seems otherwise unsoothable. I have learned to take lotion to rub into her hands and face, her arms and legs. To brush her hair. And always, always to hold her hand.

I have learned that she may not eat because the food is too hard to see, or she doesn’t know what it is or how to open it, or it’s too hard to cut up, or she can’t get the drinking straw or juice cup to her mouth. So an uneaten meal may not mean she’s not hungry but that she simply needs help to eat. I have learned to feed her like you’d feed a child. She opens her mouth like a little bird and I pop morsels of food in, and she smiles at me and makes me promise not to tell people I am feeding her when she could really do it herself. We pretend that is true and I keep feeding her until the food is gone or she is satisfied.

Every visit becomes a blessing. Something that soothes and restores something in me as much as it calms and reassures something in her. Once upon a time she was a woman who held herself apart. I am grateful that this illness has allowed me the chance to become close to her, and for us to find a way to say things that might not have ever otherwise been said.

Sending much love to you, especially all of the carers and those who are looking after elders, Nicole ❤ xx

When Love Keeps You Up All Night

“One day you will do things for me that you hate. That is what it means to be family.” ~ Jonathan Safran Foer

I’m late blogging today. We have an elderly family member in care whose health deteriorated last night, and it has taken precedence over everything else.

There have been endless phone calls back and forth in the middle of the night between family members as possibilities are explored, facts gathered and decisions discussed.

We haven’t had much sleep.

It’s all okay in the scheme of things. This is just part of loving someone, part of caring for elders, part of being a family.

So now I’ll make a pot of tea and some breakfast toast, and Ben and I will sit on the verandah with the dogs while the morning still holds a trace of cool. And we’ll wait to see what happens next. That’s all we can do.

Sending much love, Nicole xx

That Day We Always Knew Was Coming…

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” 
Robert Frost

I’m feeling achy and sad inside today. Late on Monday afternoon, we sent Ben’s elderly mum to hospital. She’s in her nineties and has always been stubbornly independent. And she’s been able to stay at home on her own with help which is just the way she wanted it.

But she’s been in increasing pain from a degenerated hip. Her vision is failing. She’s moved into dementia. Bit by bit we’ve watched as she’s stopped driving, stopped shopping, stopped cooking. We’ve all worried over her, and what to do for her, and what might happen when she moved into that place of no longer coping.

Now, over the past few days she’s not been eating, not drinking water, and all she’s done is cry from pain no matter what we’ve done or with what home doctors have prescribed. So off she went in the back of an ambulance – with a small bag packed with nighties, a hairbrush and toothbrush, a dressing gown, her house keys.

We met with hospital staff yesterday and we realised we’d reached that time we’d always known was coming. She won’t be able to go home to her own home. The hospital will do their best to manage her pain, and to find the best options for her. But when she leaves hospital it will be to go into care.

So last night after we left her in her hospital bed, Ben and I went over to her house to take the perishables from the fridge, water the pot plants and put out the bins for her.

We didn’t think we’d cry, but of course we did. It’s hard to believe that she left in her pyjamas with that tiny bag, and now she won’t be coming back to her home and all the memories and everything she loves.

The only thing that matters to all of us is that she is safe, well cared-for and most importantly that she is not in pain. So she’s in the right place, and this is the right time, but oh, I didn’t think it would be so terribly hard, so terribly sad, or that we would be this emotional.

Maybe it’s better like this. No big dramas, no long-winded goodbyes. No big scenes about putting her into a place she said she’d rather die than have to end up in. She’s happy to stay in hospital or ‘medical places’ until they can get her pain under control. It was a blessing to say goodbye to her yesterday and see her face a little less drawn, and watch her burrow down under the covers and go to sleep in clean sheets, a hot meal in her tummy and kind nurses checking in on her.

Still, we’re struggling with it. Still, we’re wishing there was another way.

Love cracks you open, doesn’t it? But isn’t it fiercely, beautifully worth it to feel it all so deeply.

Biggest hugs to you, my lovelies, from your slightly broken-hearted friend,

Nicole ❤ xx

 

It’s a day of Family First for me!

“I don’t care about whose DNA has recombined with whose. When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching–they are your family.” 
~  Jim Butcher

 

Ben drove us to the city yesterday so I could finally have some decent internet connection. We’d planned a million things for the next few days but suddenly that’s all changed.

Just as we arrived at our front gate we had a phone call to say that Ben’s mum was vomiting, confused and about to be transported by ambulance to hospital.

And Rufous our young pup has taken a tumble and hurt his back leg, which now requires a vet visit.

So last night and today and perhaps the days ahead for us will be family first. Ben’s mum is 92 and frail. I need to pop around to her home early this morning to clean. We need to take Rufous to the vet. We need to go up to the hospital. We need to be with our family.

Hugs yours today, okay? Or give them a call. Whether they are blood-relatives or animal friends or people who’ve come to mean as much to you. We’re all each other has, and in the end, we’re all that matter.

Much love to you, Nicole  xx