Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Swirling thoughts and mixed emotions
My three younger sisters and I spent several days visiting our older sister, who has dementia. The gathering of the sisters is now over, we are all back home, picking up all our usual threads of life. We arrived at our sister's farm on Friday and returned home on Monday. There are so many experiences, emotions, thoughts and memories that I do not know where to start. While wanting to write, it seems essential to let things settle, and thus, perhaps, to lose some of the immediacy and reality. Dot points occur, rather than complete thoughts. There are things which must remain unsaid.
What stands out for me is, essentially, a deep sadness, arising from our sister's illness and frailty, and our worries and doubts about whatever remains of her life.
MM looks very frail. Seeing her was a shock. Her husband and son brought her to the station to meet us all. My train arrived half an hour before the other one. I had not expected to see her until we arrived at the farm, and the sight of her in a wheelchair, looking so frail and aged, brought a rush of tears to my eyes.
We had all brought food, to provide all the meals during our stay, and to allow us to spend the time talking and being together. The second youngest sister, AM, who is a nurse, devoted herself to being the main carer, and MM's husband could thus attend to his work as well as to her care. MM needs help with showering and toileting, and she cannot walk unaided. Her balance is very poor and if she stands she is likely to topple over. She was much more lucid than we expected, and better than she had been a month ago. She always had an excellent recall of people, events and conversations, but this is no longer so. Her memory has huge holes in it now.
While she was mostly quite biddable, and accepted our care, especially that of AM, there were times when she became embarrassed and annoyed. At times the dementia became evident, and this was distressing. A hand extended to prevent her from falling can be interpreted as assault. And the old dynamics of the relationship, unsurprisingly, appear to be unchanged, and remain painful memories.
Most of our time was spent eating, talking, and watching DVDs of old shows - including many episodes of Father Ted (which they all find absolutely hilarious, but I find it only moderately amusing). The son and his wife and children came around, and we had a wonderful big family dinner. We did a lot of housework, washing and ironing and cleaned all the silver.
We were all glad to have that precious time together. It could be the last time we are able to do so. It was so very sad to see. We wonder for how long the family can manage to care for our sister at home.