Let it snow

It is 9 pm and I am sitting in the snug and warm kitchen of my clients home. It snowed today so there is a wonderfully serene and calm sense of quiet. It is amazing how snow can do that. It seems to serve as a welcome buffer to sounds, especially at night. I thought it was just my imagination so I googled it and discovered that unlike rain, snowflakes have an open space in their six-sided crystalline structure. This open space acts as a sound buffer, helping to reduce noise so I learnt that it is indeed a fact. Snow does make everything seem quiet. The silence is exquisite and I savour each minute of the perfect calm.

All I can hear is the gentle breathing of my client on the monitor as she sleeps. This is the only time she enjoys a little time of peace. It doesn’t last long though and her every waking moment is spent in a state of utter confusion, fear and anxiety.

The stunning snow today made me think of how blessed a person is to make it to the ‘winter’ of their life here on earth with their dignity and all of their faculties intact. It is rare and makes me think of ‘The curious case of Benjamin Button’. Would it not have been kinder to be born old and grow younger? During four years of caring in England, I have been exposed to the tragedy of Dementia. It is tragic, not only for the person afflicted with this debilitating disease but for everyone around them, especially their family.

My client is resting well now. She had a bad day. Her memory of some of the worst things which could happen to a child, including going blind at the age of five has now come back to haunt her. I so badly wish I could erase all these awful memories to save her this constant terror and anxiety. These memories with a timeline in total disarray are so real to her and she is reliving it all. The memories are all jumbled, so remembering the war to losing a cat, all become intertwined in ghastly recollections and the fear in her eyes leaves me questioning so much about our life here on earth. I know this sounds dramatic but what could possibly be the purpose of this?

I don’t have the answers and I can only hope and pray with all my might that somebody will find a cure for this abysmal disease soon.

Family is so important. My client has a wonderful daughter who had a less than perfect childhood herself but came to the realization as an adult, that her mother had done well considering the life she had had. She made a promise to make her mother as comfortable as possible during this phase of her life. She often sends postcards with snippets of happy memories to help us carers bring these happy memories to the fore when her Mum is plagued with so many devastating and traumatic events which took place in her life. If it wasn’t for her daughter passing this information on to us, we as carers would have nothing to take her back to.

This is the first time since I started caring that I am ‘officially’ on night duty. My days have turned into nights and my nights into days.  My client has slept for one hour. There is no point in trying to reason with someone in this stage of dementia. It is a pointless exercise to remind her that it is the middle of the night. Time simply doesn’t make sense to her anymore. What intrigues me most is that she wants to go home to a place she spent the unhappiest days of her life as a child.

The silence of the spectacular blanket of snow in the garden outside is now marred by the sound of fear as she wakes to memories which come flooding back to torment her. My heart aches.

I have found myself in the very fortunate position of caring for this lady along with two other delightful carers. They are both on duty during the day because one carer has to be with her for every second of the day. For me at night, it makes coping so much easier because I know that there are two beautiful souls upstairs (trying to sleep right now) who would jump out of bed in an instant if I needed them. We get together every evening for a little while to provide that bit of ‘normality’ for each other. Three of us, all in a different set of circumstances in our lives, the common thread –  we ‘care’.

I stumbled on this article written by a daughter who bears witness to the terrible decline of her beloved Mum with Alzheimer’s written by Noreen Sadik  

I will leave you with this to remind you that life is short, the promise of a perfect tomorrow is never guaranteed. Create beautiful memories and treasure each precious moment. Always.

To my dear mother…

There is an image in my mind of you that does not leave me. You’re wearing a turquoise shirt, tucked into that turquoise and black-flowered skirt that you loved. You’re standing at the dining table, your hand resting on the back of the chair. Your hair is slightly dishevelled and you look confused, maybe even angry.

It suddenly crosses my mind that I didn’t say goodbye to you. I should have grabbed the chance, but it just did not occur to me that each day I was losing more and more of you? How could I know?

I’ll never forget the morning that I took you to the neurologist. ‘I don’t know why I have to go to the doctor. I feel fine,’ you said as we crossed the street. ‘It’s nothing, Mom,’ I told you. ‘At your age, you should take a few tests.’

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I hid my shock and held back tears when the doctor asked you a few simple questions. I wanted to whisper the answers to you, but this test was about your awareness, not mine.

Until then, I had not realized that you had lost all concept of time, you had lost track of the seasons, and you could no longer compute simple arithmetic.

The doctor later confirmed Dad’s suspicions. We already knew that something was terribly wrong, but his words turned into a painful reality the fact that you had joined 36 million people around the world who suffer from dementia.

We knew that dementia is a degenerative condition for which there is no cure. We realized that we had embarked on a long journey of heartbreak. We knew we would have to watch you fall further and further into the hands of this debilitating disease.

At this point you were in the middle stage of the disease. I wondered, ‘If this is moderate dementia, what is severe?’ It was not very long before I found out.

Journey into the world of dementia

Dementia is a cruel disease, Mom. You are its victim. It snuck into your – no, our – lives and took over your mind and destroyed your physical capabilities. We, your family, the unsuspecting bystanders, are also victims, and we carry a deep sadness within us.

A wise friend told me that you entered a new phase of your life, and that I should embrace the new you without sadness. But it’s hard, Mom. It’s so hard.

Our journey into the world of a dementia patient began a long time before that visit to the doctor. As you began each phase of the disease, totally unaware of what was happening to you, our awareness of dementia grew.

Do you realize how many house keys you lost? Do you remember the days when the house filled with the smell of gas, and you had no idea how it happened? Do you remember the restless moments when you wondered aimlessly around the house repeatedly arranging things? I laugh now as I think about how often I followed you around, rearranging your arrangement. Your moments of disorientation and obvious discomfort around people and unfamiliar places confused me.

Of course you don’t remember any of that.

But I remember that and more.

I long for the rainy days when the smell of your pastries and freshly brewed coffee filled the house. You liked to experiment with new recipes. One day you excitedly showed me the recipe for a ‘new’ rice dish. ‘It sounds good,’ you said. ‘I’m going to try it.’ I didn’t tell you that you had made it hundreds of times over the years.

And then there came a day when you stopped cooking. You just stopped.

We knew that dementia is a degenerative condition for which there is no cure. We realized that we had embarked on a long journey of heartbreak

In spite of your on-and-off confusion, you continued to spend hours sitting on the couch in front of the television knitting. ‘I have to do something with my hands,’ you would say, as the ball of yarn got smaller and smaller.

And then one day you put the needles down and you stopped knitting. You just stopped. ‘Mom, why aren’t you knitting anymore?’ I asked. ‘I don’t feel like it,’ you said, not willing to admit that your hands could no longer create.

I tried to jog your memory by placing the knitting needles in your hands. ‘Do you want to try, Mom?’ You nodded, but how could you try to knit when you did not even remember that you had made the colourful afghans that lay on the backs of the living room chairs?

‘You just stopped’

You are now 78 years old. The dark, thick hair of your youth is grey and thin. Your blue eyes, though sometimes distant and faded, are still clear. This terrible illness did not steal your beauty.

What it did steal is your body. You’re so thin now. You were not very steady on your feet so we would stand by your side as you took baby steps. We were so proud of you because even though it tired you, you still walked. But then it became difficult to hold you up. We gave you a walker, and everything was better.

But then your hip broke. Not only could you not explain how painful it was, but your legs stopped carrying the weight of your body. I can’t remember the day you stopped walking. But you did. You just stopped.

How can I forget the evening you and Dad went out, and I stayed at your home to clean it. You were wearing a beige suit. Two hours later, you came home. You knew I was tired. ‘That’s enough, Noreen,’ you said. ‘Go home and rest.’ You thanked me. ‘You don’t have to thank me,’ I said. ‘I’m your daughter.’ You answered, ‘And I am your mother, and we help each other.’ Tears rolled down my cheeks while I finished cleaning the bathroom.

And as I sit opposite you talking about this terrible journey into dementia, our conversation is one-sided. You were always a quiet person, but this is a different kind of quiet. A long time ago mumbles replaced clear speech, and now silence is your vocabulary. I never expected this kind of silence from you. Not from you, my mother. Talking – it is yet another thing that just stopped.

And now here you are, after a lifetime of worldwide travel, back in the place of your birth. You’ve come full circle. When you left your old life behind, you left your memories, and your house filled with your treasured collection of knick-knacks and dolls with their empty stares. Is it a coincidence that you often stare, just like they do?

I ask you to say my name. Noreen! Noreen! I want so much to hear you say my name again. You just look at me. ‘Do you love me?’ I ask. You nod. I smile – a little girl who still needs her mother.

What hurts so much, Mom, is that I failed to understand what was happening to you. I’m sure that you never felt my anger, frustration and confusion, but can you forgive me for feeling it? I’m so sorry that I didn’t understand your own confusion.

You always said you never wanted to burden anyone. You’re not a burden, Mom. And just as you carried us, we will carry you on the rest of your journey. We will not stop.

Choices

It has been a while since I last published a blog. My excuses now all sound a lttle feeble. In my defence, I have not been entirely lazy. I spent hours and hours writing a blog on ‘How to spot a narcissist’ and since I was speaking from a personal experience at the hands of a narcissist and or psychopath (probably both), I decided in the end that I should not publish it. The fear instilled in me for the safety of those nearest and dearest to me is still there after 7 years so why scratch something which does not itch? Suffice to say, I am older and wiser and all you have to do is google ‘narcissist‘ to read similar horror stories to mine, these people are easy to spot once you are aware of the signs. Thankfully a chapter closed and no need to go there. ‘Onwards and Upwards’ as they say.

I had a month in my sunny, spectacular, splendid, superb and stunning South Africa and time simply flew by in a flash! I will come back to you if I think of any more adjectives beginning with an ‘S’ describing my beautiful home.  I flew back to England and treated myself to a lovely day and two nights in London which included an evening at the theatre to see ‘An American in Paris’. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I never stop in London but rather head straight for the beautiful countryside. I so enjoyed the theatre though, it was a combination of dancing, singing, great acting, brilliant ballet and some good humour. My evening at the theatre was preceded by a ‘scampi and chips’ which was the cheapest meal on the menu and it was delicious! I enjoyed a lovely long stroll back to my hotel in the vibrant, colourful and rather exciting streets of London. I think often we are so focused on our goals that we forget to ‘stop and smell the roses’ and yes, for someone who does not usually enjoy big cities, the roses even bloom beautifully in London!

   

South Africa & Mozambique

I was so fortunate to spend an awesome weekend in the Kruger Park with my gorgeous family whom I adore. I don’t take any of these amazing relationships for granted. I know how blessed I am to have both my parents, cousins, a brother & sister who I adore, a niece who is like a daughter to me, a son who is my rock and of course all their significant others who I love dearly. I even get to just love my ‘in-laws’ to bits, who could ask for anything more? The love of family – I believe it is defined by commitment, not just by love alone and I thank the Lord every day of my life for this family of mine!

Time in the bush in Mozambique with two of my favourite people in the world with return flights from Nelspruit to Mozambique with Richard Fair as our Pilot, how lucky am I?  Anti-rhino poaching was a real eye-opener for me and I was amazingly lucky enough to fly in a Bat Hawk with one of these incredible young men who put their lives on the line every day of their lives in order to try and stop rhino poaching. I don’t very often find myself at a loss for words, however, I find trying to describe this experience almost impossible and really worthy of a story all on its own. All in all, I had the most unforgettable time and I got to meet ‘Varkie’ who I instantly fell in love with. The sights and smells of the bush and time spent with one of my dearest friends – Col are all etched in my memory. It is these memories which I draw on for strength to carry on when I feel so homesick I could weep.

I would like to share these two links with you. No longer is anti-poaching something I just gag at annoyingly and scroll past the hideous photographs of the butchered animals on Facebook. It is real and it is very frightening. I am in awe of these people who are so passionate about conserving our precious wildlife. I salute you all. I also discovered that Andrew Pappas manufactures Bat Hawks in Nelspruit! ‘They are ideal for game reserve aerial surveillance where the type is particularly well adapted due to its very slow forward cruising speed, relative silence and stealth characteristics’ (extracted from their website). I cannot remember when last I felt so free, so exhilarated and so alive!

www.iapf.org

www.showme.co.za/nelspruit/lifestyle/bat-hawk-the-family-business-that-really-took-off

 
I spent two of the most enthralling hours of my life up here. They do a grid every day of the entire area to count the rhino
 
Richard Fair – gives so freely of his time to this worthy cause
 
“Varkie” I fell in love
      It is quite hard to believe I have been back in England for 5 weeks already. I have a week break and then head off to Northern Ireland for a month. As I sit here writing, I think about my life and the choices I have made and how all these choices ultimately landed me right here in this sleepy little hollow, in the middle of the Cotswolds in England.  As I look back, I know that they were all MY choices and apparently lessons I needed to learn, I cannot blame anyone for any of the wrong choices I made along the way. The secret of being free is not revenge but being able to let it all go. Healing doesn’t mean it did not happen, it does, however, mean that the damage no longer controls our lives and yes, sometimes the first step to forgiveness is understanding that the other person is a complete idiot. (oops that just slipped out)   Till next time! x    

 

Chicken or beef?

The novelty will never wear off. I love traveling. In October it will be 4 years since I left my enchanting, beautiful South Africa with its exotic combinations of landscapes and people. Visits home always seem to pass too quickly. I now feel as though I perhaps belong in two different countries. I have made such good friends in England, a country which can have 4 seasons in one day. I love the quaint red post boxes and when used always guarantee the delivery of your post the next day, the roundabouts (not circles), the traffic lights (not robots) and the lovely friendly people. I have learned to talk about the weather like a real Brit. There have been a few really hot summer days and while it is always quite unexpected, I think it rather funny when they warn you of a heatwave when those are the average temperatures at home. It IS hot though with humidity to make the coolest cucumber ‘glow’.

I have learned so much about caring in England. The NHS is constantly under scrutiny and there is so much negative publicity. My client had a seizure in the bathroom and the emergency services were in the bathroom and administering oxygen within 10 minutes. They were efficient, friendly and had my lovely client in the ambulance within half an hour. I cannot say enough about the hours in the A&E which followed. It was a long day but the nurses and doctors were amazing. Extensive blood tests and x-rays were done and I felt that she was so well taken care of. Well done NHS!

It is chaos at Heathrow this evening. It has taken me 3 hours to get through check-in, customs & immigration and I am now sitting at Cafe Nero with a ‘Coffee Grande’ and watching the hustle and bustle of people passing time on their phones and laptops or frantically rushing around shopping, buying things they don’t necessarily need but it is ‘duty free’. I love people watching and guessing how happy they are, it is one of my favorite pastimes.

I find that time flies when you are at an airport. All queues took hours though, traveling during high season is not great fun. I was so relieved to finally sit down and even more relieved to take off! Homeward bound! I love going home!

 

Window or aisle seat? I love the window seat so that I don’t have to fight for the armrest on both sides of me. Sitting in the centre would be pure torture, a serious invasion of my personal space. Sitting on the aisle seat means you have people climbing over you to go to the loo throughout the flight. I chose the window seat on my flight from London to Dubai. Big mistake! A lovely couple from ‘down under’ sat next to me. I couldn’t help but notice the amount of wine they consumed and the little pills which they surreptitiously swallowed after dinner, winking at each other as they pulled their eye masks over their eyes and pushed their seats back. Cute. I always keep myself well hydrated by drinking loads of water before and during my flights so that I don’t land up with ‘cancles’ (no difference between calf and ankle). I had six hours of trying to devise a plan on how to climb over these two comatosed strangers. Do I try and climb over my seat to the back but what if I fall onto the person behind me? I definitely could not do that very gracefully. Do I try and squeeze past them? The slightest bit of turbulence and I could land on one of their laps. Eventually, I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to climb over them so I started with a little nudge…nothing, a bigger nudge…nothing. Clearing my throat rather loudly…nothing. Mind over bladder (I mean matter) was going to be the only way to survive this flight. Aisle seat wins!

Since I started caring, every time I come home I seem to catch a cold and my first week at home is spent trying to recover from a little bit of exhaustion AND a cold. Most carers spend their first 24 hours after leaving their client, in very close proximity to loads of strangers in queues, on trains, in buses and most of all, in an airplane falling prey to dubious germaphobic behaviors. Mysophobia: – the fear of germs (who knew?). Caring has definitely intensified this fear as I am sure anyone who has done caring will understand…trying to flush a toilet with your foot, using tissues to open bathroom doors and slathering on antibacterial gel are common little idiosyncrasies for carers. Apparently looking for something at the bottom of your handbag with your whole head in your bag after someone next to you has coughed or sneezed is a pointless exercise. Once a cough has already occurred, it is probably too late. The particles travel very fast. Once germs are in the air, holding your breath will furnish little to no benefit. It might reduce your exposure to the pathogens floating directly in front of your face, but particles could still land inside your nose or on your eyes and lips. Apparently, the one way to almost guarantee that you won’t get any influenza in your lungs is to not breathe. But if you don’t breathe, you will be dead eventually. The cons definitely outweigh the pros.

I now up my vitamin C intake at least 10 days prior to my departure and have discovered a natural antibiotic called Septogard which I take as a preventative measure. I am very happy to say that I did not get sick after this journey and I am ready to enjoy my family and friends!

Till next time! x      

Carers ‘stories’

I belong to a closed Facebook page of carers in the UK. An amazing group of people, both men and woman who all have great compassion and empathy for each other on so many levels. Most often as a ‘carer’ there is nobody to talk to and no shoulder to cry on when we are living with and caring for our clients.  We definitely do not have the luxury of calling a friend to pop in for tea and a chat, most often there isn’t anybody nearby and there is a strict policy against inviting anyone into your clients home. (understandably of course). So many carers have clients who cannot carry out a normal conversation so one can feel terribly isolated at times. There are ‘events’ in our day which only another carer could understand and more often than not, an awful situation becomes something you can actually sit down and have a good giggle about (with all due respect). I will not elaborate on this, however, if you are a carer you will know exactly what I am talking about and if you are not a carer but have a good imagination…imagine the worst case scenario and you will probably have an inkling.I wondered about the reason so many people are caring so I posed the question on this Facebook page to all the carers out there. I was overwhelmed at the response I received. I know my ‘story’ was one which left me little choice and a huge feeling of gratitude for my British Ancestry but it broke my heart to read some of their stories.I found the common thread to be one of enormous strength of character and tenacity to endure emotional pain, trauma and abuse and come out smiling and spend their days caring for someone else. I was gobsmacked to say the very least. I felt humbled and blessed and it certainly made my own load feel lighter, I hope it will do the same for you.

With their permission, I would like to share these stories with you. I like to think that they are not just sad stories, they are awe-inspiring and as always, my wish is that if this blog reaches only one person whom it could make a difference to, then I will be well pleased.

“Instead of wishing you were someone else, be proud of who you are, you never know who has been looking at you and wishing they could be you.”

 

For obvious reasons, the ladies felt more comfortable remaining anonymous. I have not included all the responses to their posts. As always responses were genuine, heartfelt and encouraging. There certainly is an amazing amount of mutual respect and caring for each other.

S wrote:- Left me husband lol

E wrote:- “Sold my flat in Sandton, used funds to build 2 bed house on daughters property in Table View – 3 years later they evicted me – no reason, paid me R100k. No option but to come home to the U.K.”  ‘E’ added after many comments… “OK ladies, Thanks for commiserations, over it now – been here for 7 years now and no regrets”

S responded to E:- “my heart goes out to you. I had a similar experience with a daughter. One of the reasons I’m now here. I miss my relationship with her and especially my 4 grandkids but I’m as happy as I can be”

M wrote:- “My husband was made redundant and we had put all our money into saving our house.. but had to sell it anyway. So we then needed money so came to do caring”

C wrote:- “Haha well my hubby moved my stuff into the maids’ room then, years later just upped and moved from rented home to a bedsit without consulting me. I’m now homeless”

F wrote:- “2 sons passed away within a year of each other, husband left me with nothing, I had a good corporate job, survived from month to month, but in the end, depression and finances got the better of me, so I am here for possibly good. So 3 countries I have paid my taxes to, and no one can look after me… (homeless I am). I do have another’s 2 sons, (same Dad)… so I am blessed…”

M responded:- “I feel for you. Can’t imagine it. I have been blessed with 2 healthy boys. Nearly lost my eldest in a bomb blast but he survived to run 3 Comrades Marathons and is now into body surfing. I can just thank the Lord”

R wrote:- “Always planned to be a gypsy once my 2 divine brats were old enough, now I’m living my dream of being a gypsy and following the sun. Lots of traveling in between working and home for summers where I once again open my office as a Kinesiologist.”

S wrote:- “Was married for 17 years, left my husband who was wealthy, but bipolar and a womanizer … long story short, I didn’t take a tenth of what I was due because he was so unpredictable but I was convinced he would look after his two children’s educational needs (he didn’t!) he then committed suicide within 3 years after losing all his money and canceling all policies … I came to the UK to pay for my daughters tertiary education, both kids have done well, and are happy, they’re 23 and 26 now and I love the UK, almost 5 years later I think I’ll stay here forever .. I see them at least once a year, but that’s my only gripe, he managed to separate the three of us.. but we survived thanks to my ancestral connections with this country! I have my moments of being angry but I really do understand that he wasn’t well…I also believe we are always exactly where we are supposed to be at any given moment…this is my path with my own life lessons.

O wrote:- “Had a business for 26 years but the stress was killing me, I still have a bond to pay so had to look for work elsewhere and through a very loving and kind friend I came to do caring. I am grateful to God every day that I have a job. I owned a Florist, but after all those years and staff problems mainly driver, wrote off two cars in a few months I had enough of all the stress. Then a friend of mine was doing caring I just decided to jump head and feet into it. I’m into my second year and haven’t looked back”

J wrote:- “I was living in Cape Town and my boss was transferred to Oman so I was made redundant. A friend was doing caring so rented out flat in Cape Town and came over. I am originally from Sandton. Living here now permanently and rent a flat in Surbiton. My sister lives in Brysnston.”

J wrote:- “I too left NZ to work in the UK caring mainly due to my eldest daughter alienating and estranging me on and off from her life and my grandchildren’s lives after me being their mainstay for many years. I went home every year to try again (just wanting some contact) but eventually was denied any access or contact once they moved into a house on my ex’s farm. After my 4th visit to the UK for a year, I eventually came back to NZ as my second daughter was having another child and is much nicer to be around. Although finances are hard here doing community elderly care work, I am reasonably happy and settled under the circumstances but it’s nice to know I can go back to the UK to live and work anytime I like.here is not much money in community care work in NZ. Very hard to make a living especially if you are on your own. There is very little live-in care work as small population and not a lot of wealthy elderly. Also, care homes are the usual choice when needed, especially if no live-in family. Both kiwi and SA carers all over UK. At least we’re making the world our oyster, it certainly has given me some confidence to have another string to my bow

J wrote: – “I did caring in rest homes in NZ for yonks. I worked 18 years in one home ( Maranatha Liz Olsen) and after returning from my first trip to the UK worked in another that was mainly hospital level care. Caregivers have always been at the bottom of the heap re wages but as from July, there are going to be some significant pay rises which is fantastic. Live in care is very rare in NZ. I have a private live-in job at the moment and am very well paid so can’t quite believe it . Especially as it’s 7 days a fortnight so half of each week I’m in my own home.  Some of the stories I’ve read on this post are just so sad. I admire these ladies who pick themselves up and carry on. I was widowed at 48 but have 4 awesome kids and 4 grandchildren. Finding out at age 50 my grandmother was born in Scotland was the best thing, I’d never been able to afford to travel so being eligible for an ancestry visa was amazing. I’m now on my 2nd one. Caring in England certainly has its highs and lows particularly the good old British class system but I’m thankful for the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met.”

D wrote: – “My husband passed away 17months ago. We sold our house and never had much money over. He was ill and living in Joburg, white and 60 something could not find work!… He succumbed to a stroke in Sept 2015 and died in the December….I miss him, 32yrs of am a wonderful marriage. I am now rebuilding my finances to buy a little cottage of my own!”I miss him, he was my light. My daughter was here for 2 weeks and we scattered some of his ashes in Cornwall….a place he always wanted to go. It doesn’t matter how long you are married, always hard. He is looking down and protecting me, and guiding me! Bless you!”

J wrote: – “My husband had Alzheimer’s for 11 years, I took care of him until he had to go into a care home. Had to find a job to pay for the care home so starting caring. He was only in the home for 3 weeks when he died, carried on caring as I still had to pay the mortgage. 6 Years later and I’m still caring. Time to retire methinks….but where???”

M wrote:- “Gosh just reading all your stories makes me realize that I am not the only one with problems and I need to stop feeling sorry for myself. I lost my husband of 33 years 3 years ago. My son aged 32 committed suicide 5 years ago and I too have a daughter who will have nothing to do with me. She has a little boy who is 2 now and I have never met him. Fortunately, I have one daughter who loves me and she has the most beautiful little boy who will be 4 this year. I am blessed that her home is my home so return to SA every 6 months or so. I can truly thank God that he continues to guide me and walk with me on this journey called life.”

P wrote:-  “First ex gay, 2nd ex bled me dry and affirmative action sent me on a one-way ticket to England. Damned hard work and have grown soo much. Still hurdles but I’m happy.”

D wrote:-  “This is the saddest post to read for all the reasons you so painfully shared – yikes I feel for all of you and I am incredibly sad that such awful circumstances lead you to a job that’s more often than not thankless, brutal isolating and soul destroying ( can a person endure soooo much just to make ends meet )”

M wrote:- “I believe as we are “broken” we make the best carers, I’m caring cos I can pour my heart n soul into my job “

J wrote:-  “Although it took family troubles to send me packing to the UK, I already loved care work and was a diversion therapist for the elderly and loved the UK, it is my home away from home and the idea of doing live-In care for the elderly whilst exploring new sights was intriguing as well as scary”

P wrote:- “Caring is a natural gift for most of us and feel it goes without saying. I cared for both parents when palliative and a very dear friend who suffered years and has now passed.”

S wrote:- “I agree none of us seem to have come caring because we’re Mother Teresa’s , but I also know we wouldn’t have come if we didn’t think we could do it all with compassion, I have loved this job at times and hated it at others.. it really depends on the client, I know we all try our hardest to be nice to most people… I love the client I’ve been with for over 3 years and I know I can go above and beyond the call of duty for her, but boy oh boy I have had a cow too, who I begrudged even making tea for, and learned quickly to get out of there fast … I’m not sure Caring is a job that is a calling for anyone but it’s oh so rewarding if you click with your client..”

L wrote:-  “We may not always get into caring for the right reasons but once you start it can be beneficial for your wellbeing too” and posted this image…

 

T wrote:-  “My fiance died 3 years ago back home in SA, went from having everything sorted to just knowing nothing. Have worked with people my whole life, am a psychologist and later worked as a life coach, did some more studying after he died. Literally spent a year in bed, when I finally left the house I couldn’t take how my friends looked at me and how awkward it all was. So had to make a decision on what to do, whether to reopen my practice, travel or do something else and chose traveling. When I first got here all I knew was that I wanted a break from people and decided a nice office job would be so much better….was the first time in my life I have ever been turned down for a job. Doing a Skype with one of my best friends she asked why I wasn’t working with people like I should be…and that’s what I started doing again… first au pairing, then working for a programme that worked with special needs children and young offenders and then someone suggested caring (at that point I hadn’t decided to stay here yet), and have loved it…but now the decision has been made to stay, I will start again with my psych practice next year, with exception of my one regular whom I will find a way to fit in.” … It is long and sad and beautiful and I miss him every day and I ache for him every day. He was the best thing that happened to me, the best part of me… and also the hardest and despite everything I love the story of us. I turned 35 last week, the age he was when he died – I have been dreading it the last few years, growing older than him but him dying has also made me live a much fuller, and bigger life, a life big enough for 2″

D added:- “Thinking of you ‘T’, you made a good decision..it is Not easy. No one can tell you how to grieve. Take as long as it takes. I take each day as it comes. Thank goodness I love geriatrics!”

M wrote:- “Golly. When I read these stories I realize just how blessed I am. I still have my husband of 53 years, both my son’s and my grandchildren. Also my brother and his family in Australia. You girls are heroes. We have a problem with FNB who have not paid us out for our property which is our pension but we are still waiting. Thanks to caring we have been able to save a bit. Just hope I can retire soon so hubby and I can be together permanently. Strength to all of you. God bless”

L wrote:- “After splitting from an alcoholic partner but still living in the same house, I was unemployed and on a benefit because I was too old to get work. I wanted to travel and was unlikely to do that on a benefit. I took cleaning jobs to get money to come here so I could get away from a dead end situation and I now travel and I’ve met some lovely people here. Never looked back. I go back to NZ once a year to see family.”

J wrote:-  “just couldn’t make it financially. My second husband died leaving me with two kids at school. I battled through till they were both old enough to leave then came over to pay for further studies. And of course to feed myself and them. Been here going on three years. But it is soon my time to travel and see the world. I just wish I could get them over here.”

J responded:- “Wow. Incredibly awesome and powerful stories here. So many strong, courageous people who just keep on trying despite the obstacles en route.”

C wrote:-  “I am a widow. My husband was shot in a burglary at our house. I was a single mom for many years working as a medical technologist. Put my daughter through six years of university and saw my son open his own business. (Doing very well) I decided to come and do caring so that I could have a bit of adventure before I got old one day. (Sometimes caring is more of an adventure than I bargained for) I try to travel as much as I can in between jobs. I plan to semi retire next year and spend half the year in S.A. And half the year here maybe working a bit if I need to top up the finances.”

M wrote:- “Goodness Cheryl This has been one of the most heartfelt posts ever I’ve always been picturing the UK filling and emptying of all the carers like migrating swallows and seeing most of them from my own perspective. At my initial training I realised there were girls who’d come over on borrowed money from friends and girls who were trying to fill the financial gap that either a dead marriage or sad SA had left them in – but hearing all the stories here has been heart-wrenching. I kissed the British passport my wonderful Scottish father made possible and came haring over to have fun and earn £’s and take them home to add great dollops of jam to the bread and butter my hubby provides. I felt like a squirrel and the nuts were in London waiting to be collected. He hates me leaving but it’s my way to thumb my nose at adding tax to the trough and we enjoy the reunions when I’m back. And seeing as no one will make me manager in a bank no more and I can’t work “under” anyone I now have a client who calls me Ma’am … if not Mrs Thatcher. I’d been a manager in a bank while my girls were growing up and my first marriage – and had gone from that to sudden total non-stop fun with my second of working in the Sabi Sands at private game reserves to an island in Mozambique just short of Tanzania and then the Canyon in Namibia working for Peggy Rockafella and then back to SA to watch BEE blooming E take hold … and now seeing all the other reasons girls have is so sad. I’ve got no properties or major investments or Retirement Annuities so my £’s and my Flexi Fixed deposits and my Money Market will tide me till the time of my choosing. I decided a while ago that I’ll never be one of those old people who slowly and extendedly have a dragged out end and will rather say “Cheers and Thank You” as I spend my last bean. Thanks again for the post … xx”

G wrote:-  “So many reasons why I’m here but mainly to get money to fix up my dearest late mum’s house and to try and save for my ‘old age’ Taking a step of faith and going to see a professional this week to help me deal with nightmares that are resurfacing regarding abuse from my father when I was a child, all kinds of abuse which have affected me through my life, it’s time to consolidate what I feel like is 4 different people (sometimes I struggle to remember who I am ) sounds crazy doesn’t it Fortunately I have been blessed with the ability to smile and no matter how hard this journey has been or is, I will smile and try and make someone happy with my disposition. Caring is definitely for the strong but oh how we learn and grow. So much respect for you all. For your pain, for your courage and your will to succeed on your very rocky paths. Much love from me to you and never forget to love yourself xx”

C wrote:- “20 years ago I wanted to travel a bit and couldn’t afford to do it on the rand. A friend was already funding just such adventures with live-in care here and as I had British ancestry, it was an opportunity too good to pass up. Live in care was supposed to just be a temporary part of my adventure, but it turned out to suit my character much better than I ever expected, and even when I took a break for 2 and half years to go back to an office environment, I missed the personal satisfaction I got from caring so much, I eventually went back to it. I absolutely adore my job (though I am very realistic about which placements work for me) and have had several long term clients I grew to love as my own family. The job was supposed to fund my adventures, but somewhere along the way, it became the adventure itself! It opened many different doors for me, amazing and inspiring clients with backgrounds very different from mine have expanded my horizons in ways I could never have imagined, and I have earned self respect through knowing what a practical difference I have been able to make to people on such a personal level. I honestly consider it one of the greatest privileges of my life to have been able to share such profound, deeply intimate friendships with my long term clients, to benefit from their lifetime of accumulated wisdom (not necessarily what they say, but just how they carry themselves through their final years), and to have been allowed to accompany them even through their very final moments. It feels to me as if they open the way for me through their example, showing me that there is nothing fearful or shameful about growing old and that life is there to be enjoyed right up to the very last moment! How could I not love them for that?”

S wrote:- Dear Cheryl Many thanks for this opportunity to tell my story. The loss of my relationship with my eldest daughter, Julie is still painful and this might help me with that. In 2012, when I turned 60, the company I had worked for as a secretary for nearly 20 years, required me to retire. It was a shock as I’d hoped to continue working for a few more years. In hindsight, it was a blessing. I have 3 daughters. The eldest, Julie and her husband Pierre, lived not far from me in Johannesburg, with their 4 children. I had a close relationship with them and loved interacting with my grandchildren. Julie has always been headstrong and difficult! She decided to buy a new house with a cottage for me. When I retired, I rented out my own home and went to live, rent-free, in Julie’s cottage in return for helping her with her 4 small children. In hindsight…always an exact science, I should have used my head and not just followed my heart and the dream of living next door to my dear grandchildren! I spent a good bit of money on renovating the cottage and making it liveable as it had been the office for the original show house, now my daughter’s home. Moving in should have been a warning alarm bell as, when I arrived with the removal people, with all my belongings, we couldn’t gain entry into the estate as Julie and Pierre were out cycling, despite having clearly communicated my moving plans. We just had to sit and wait. Whilst I was overjoyed at being so close to my grandchildren, there were teething troubles and communication problems with Julie and Pierre. Julie and I had numerous disagreements and I was told to give notice to my tenant and go! The initial problems were more or less resolved but after just 4 months Julie came to my front door and handed me a written eviction notice, giving me one month to leave. I was devastated! I really had done my best to make it work. I had an agreement with my youngest daughter, Katie who lives on a farm in the Karoo, to go and help her with her first daughter when her second child was born. Julie has always had jealousy issues and the timing in her eviction letter effectively ruined my plans with Katie. However, I assured Katie that I would keep my word and look after Samantha who was 18 months old when her sister was born. I packed up, put my things into storage and within only about a week of being evicted I drove to the farm where I stayed for 2 months. Prior to all this, a friend had suggested I do caring. I’d replied that I’m not the caring sort! Then another friend suggested it and I thought I should at least give it a go. I wasn’t ready to retire. However, I was in a difficult position as my rent-free cottage came with the agreement that I helped Julie with her 4 children, aged from 1 to 8 years. I agonized and prayed about how to manage both caring in the UK and fulfilling my role to Julie. Therefore, when she threw me out, I was free! After my 2 months on the farm in the Karoo, I returned to Johannesburg, garaged my car at a friend and flew to England. Fortunately, I have family in the UK, so I was warmly greeted and my sister opened her home to me, whenever I needed a room to stay. I joined Consultus, did my training with them and went to my first assignment in July 2013 in Sevenoaks which became like home to me. I loved my first client and returned to her regularly. I felt very blessed to be able to work and earn. I hadn’t been there long before I decided to move to the UK permanently. With my job in SA coming to an end and my relationship with Julie and my grandchildren ended, there wasn’t much to keep me in SA. I was very blessed to sell my townhouse in Johannesburg easily, quickly and for the right price. I was also very blessed to be able to use a friend’s new home, which she hadn’t yet moved into, to bring my things out of storage and sort them out so that I shipped only the bare essentials to England. Again my sister assisted me and stored my bed, chair and 10 boxes in her garage until I had earned and saved enough from caring to add to what I’d brought over from the sale of my place in SA, to buy my own home here in England. For months I dreamed of having shelves to put my clothes in!! It wasn’t easy living out of suitcases. Although I was blessed with always having a bed to sleep in at my sister’s home between assignments, it wasn’t always the same bed and I kept my clothes in my cases. I worked hard and loved caring. I’d always wanted to “make a difference”. That’s not to say that I didn’t have trying times and one nightmare client as I’m sure most carers have experienced. I was again extremely blessed to eventually be in a position to buy my own home in the UK. I moved in November 2014, just in time for my birthday! Once I had my own home, I just wanted to be there and sleep in my own bed. I became less and less keen to pack my case and sleep in other people’s homes. Again fortune favoured me and in September 2016 I secured a job caring in a local rest home, just a 30-minute walk from where I live. Now I am blessed to be able to enjoy my own home and sleep in my own bed. Unfortunately, even after 4 long years, my daughter Julie still won’t have anything to do with me and on my last visit to SA she refused to allow me to see my grandchildren. I still belong to various carer groups on Facebook and I draw much love, friendship and support from them. Thank you for allowing me to tell my story. Love S”

R wrote:- “Hi there, I am currently in Montenegro, it’s been amazing, so much beauty in such a small country, also so much history. Tomorrow I fly to Turkey for a month. Turkey is where my soul lives, its where I am happiest. This time is going to be very special as I’m treating my best friend to a holiday in Turkey and will be introducing her to all my favorite places. She takes on the role of surrogate Mom while I am away and without her being such an amazing support system I would find it much harder to live my dream.

I’ve been divorced 4 times, my brats have nothing to do with their dads, am very blessed to be exceptionally close to both of them. I am loving the flexibility and freedom that Caring gives me. Also, like the challenge it can be. I have always tended to live in the moment and this lifestyle enhances that way of being. I just trust the Universe will keep providing for me.

 Love your idea of capturing people’s stories,

Enjoy xxx”

(I just love this pic which accompanied the email, thank you for giving me the permission to share it here ‘R’)

My response to all these wonderful ladies is well done, you have risen to so many challenges, got up, dusted yourself off and have been incredibly brave and strong. Even though I am sure there are times when you don’t feel so strong. I admire you all. I am sure so many of you have had to work through some very painful emotions, some angry ones too, I have no doubt. You have done this all (and probably still are) while putting on such a happy face for your client. Well done! Every carer has this will to rise above devastating losses and disappointments and come out smiling. They say anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. Often so much easier said than done. It is amazing how one’s life can change in a split second, the lesson here, of course, is that no matter what happens, life does go on, no matter how difficult your set of circumstances. You are all amazing! Thank you for sharing.

Much love and respect.

Goodbye Mary

 

I have one more lovely story from Peter Lawson about his beloved Mary who had Alzheimer’s and it seems fitting that I should share this light-hearted story with you.

 

Mary left this world today. She has been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember. Selfishly I feel sad that she won’t be there for me to visit when I go home.

 

I remember her as a feisty, tough, brilliant, ‘say it as it is’ kind of lady, one who called a spade a spade and I can only imagine her sitting on HIS knee giving Him a serious mouthful. I can make sense of just about everything in my life. Most of it does make sense, it was part of a plan, but ALZHEIMER’S??? I so wish I could make sense of this awful disease. A disease which leaves the sufferer frightened and confused and leaves the family mourning someone who used to be a vibrant part of their lives, someone who is still alive. I think it must be the hardest thing in life, loving someone who has forgotten that they loved you.

 

We spend our whole lives accumulating memories and we develop a personality based on our experiences and memories. Alzheimer’s takes this away from you. It steals who you are from you and I can’t think of anything sadder.

 

I am in England, so far away from home. Today I wish more than anything that I was at home with my family. On days like today, I feel that I am not where I should be and I want to go home, I feel as though I am missing out on these good years with my own parents. I am counting the days until I go home.

 

I am so pleased that I have another one of Peter’s stories to share. Peter Lawson, this wonderful man who stood by his wife through so many years of Alzheimer’s, never stopped loving her and enjoyed precious split seconds when he knew that his dear wife recognized him. Once again, I have to say, I am in awe. You are all in my thoughts and prayers, Peter, Mavourneen, Bruce, Rob and all the grandchildren.

 

The last picnic

 A few days before Mary was due to be moved to the Herfsakker Alzheimer’s Unit I took her to Pretoriouskop in Kruger National Park for a final picnic breakfast.  We used to do this frequently as she loved these outings, provided they were of short duration. On this last occasion, we had finished breakfast and I took her to the ladies bathroom before departing. While she was inside I quickly went to the gents and then waited for her outside the ladies. She was taking rather a long time to appear so I asked someone to please check on her. To my horror, this person came out and said there was nobody inside.

 

I started to search for her and went to the shop and then the restaurant but she was not in either of these places, so I went to the reception area and told them what had happened. The manager was summoned and he was very sympathetic. He immediately rallied staff and told them to search throughout the extensive rest camp area and he took my cell phone number and said he would keep me informed whilst I too went searching for her. Then after some time, he phoned to say they had her in the reception area. I rushed up there and met two French tourists who knew about Alzheimer’s and they had found Mary and brought her to reception.

 

The story doesn’t end there because they told me they found her next to the road about 1km from the camp, talking to a huge bull elephant. They said the elephant appeared to be calm and was standing looking at her as if fascinated. Somehow they managed to get Mary into their car and drove back to the camp to report the situation. When I saw her she knew nothing about what she had done and there was no point in reprimanding her.  I couldn’t thank the couple enough and they told me that the woman had a mother back in France with Alzheimer’s and thus realized that Mary had a problem.

 

The camp manager and his staff were fantastic and they had gone to so much trouble and everyone was relieved to see us together again. When I drove out of the camp the elephant was still there. I stopped and thanked him too for being so kind to Mary. – Peter Lawson

I’m Free

Don’t grieve for me,

for now I’m free

I’ve left behind some misery.

My days of youthful agility

Were no longer a possibility.

My weak joints and cloudy eyes,

Were longing for the heavenly skies.

Don’t grieve for me,

You’ve set me free,

Just remember how I used to be!

Goodbye Mary

Teddies for Mary

It has been just over a week since I posted my last blog. In the meantime I have done loads of research, I have subscribed to various blogs to see how it is done and have completed quite a few online courses, mainly to do with the technical aspect of WordPress. I am feeling a little overwhelmed by it all to say the very least… Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook. Can you even remember a life without it all?

I felt that my life was being bogged down by bloggers doing too much blogging!  Some brilliant, some belligerent, yes, apparently the more controversial you are on your blog, the more readers/followers you will have. I am inclined NOT to agree.

I still have a slight technical issue whereby you are not automatically notified once I have published a new blog. Please subscribe anyway (if you like) so that I have your email address. I hope to sort this out soon and I promise never to post too much or use your email address for anything else.

Peter Lawson has graciously offered another little insight into his life as husband and carer to Mary. A few adjectives come to mind to describe this wonderful man… kind, compassionate, loyal, steadfast and selfless. I am quite sure I could think of a few more given the time.

Duty calls – it is now 6pm and my wonderful lady who I am caring for at the moment is about to rise from her afternoon rest. We have our daily crossword to do. (I must confess, I do cheat and use google for crossword clues when the going gets tough) Our British versus South African accents and use of the English language are cause for many a shriek of laughter! (she would call it ‘Guffaw’ I think) Crosswords are coupled with a lovely glass of Prosecco while the sky turns the most incredible shades of pink, red and orange as the sun sets on another beautiful summers day in the Cotswolds. “Pink sky at night – shepherds delight” No doubt tomorrow will be another glorious day! Heatwave warnings with temperatures rising to 25 degrees Celsius this week. Only someone from Nelspruit could find this hilarious!

CARING FOR MARY by Peter Lawson

In my previous story about caring for Mary I was limited in what I could say due to publication space. So much has happened, and is still happening, over the years since she contracted the dreaded Alzheimer’s that I feel I must write more in the hopes that others caring for a loved one may benefit or get some comfort.

I made no mention previously that earlier this year Mary had a fall which resulted in a badly bruised face and two black eyes. I was away in the Cape when it happened and got the fright of my life when the night Sister at the Home where she is taken care of, telephoned to inform me, and I felt desperate and guilty at being 2 000 kilometres away. A good friend went to visit her and put me at ease by telling me that the injury was only superficial and she was in good hands – “a friend in need is a friend indeed”, and how right that saying is.  There are wonderful people out there, and I could relax with this comfort. On my return to Nelspruit my very first duty was to visit my beloved Mary and my heart went out to her when I saw what her face looked like.

Shortly after that incident she went into a coma. Shock no doubt played a part in this, but also I knew it was the next stage in this disease with no cure. She was moved to the Frail Care section of the Home where good care was taken of her, but we thought we would lose her then and friends and family were distraught. My daily visits were sad times but also cheerful when I saw and appreciated how well she was looked after, and all the kind phone calls from people who cared were a comfort indeed.

I was told she may come out of the coma but not to put my hopes too high.  Mary did not have an easy life in her early years and had many a challenge to contend with. This made her strong in mind though and perhaps helped on this occasion. She did come out of the coma but had deteriorated in that she was now virtually bedridden, could no longer talk and needed to be spoon-fed soft foods. She has now improved even further and spends most days relaxing in a comfortable chair which she enjoys, plus the constant activity in the ward and the special attention she gets.

Her improvement is remarkable and she now is able to take some short walks within the building with the help of a nurse. She enjoys this and has even been seated in the Sisters duty room with the resident cat on her lap. It is such a comfort knowing that others also care. On a recent scary occasion another Alzheimer’s patient sharing the same ward took Mary walking without the staff knowing.  They found the two of them in the dining room, with Joey feeding Mary on peanut butter with a teaspoon. Mary was enjoying it too and we can see the funny side now.

On many of my visits I take her yoghurt which she really enjoys and which is easy to eat. I would feed her a teaspoon at a time, but one day she took the spoon from me and started feeding herself and she does this every time now. It may sound like a small incident but to me it is a huge, exciting achievement which means a lot. She also now drinks her tea and soft drinks by herself and that is amazing after her recent condition. I do understand however that it may not be long lasting though as improvement in an Alzheimer’s patient is rare.

When the weather is warm and pleasant I take her out in a wheelchair around the spacious grounds of the home. She doesn’t show it but I know she enjoys it. I show her flowers and pick some small ones for her. She holds them and examines them and carries them back to the ward on our return. There is a bird aviary in the grounds and we spend some time here. She loves watching the activities of the small birds. Incidents like this are occupational therapy for her and I just love helping her in this way.

Three small teddies are constant companions for Mary and are usually seated next to her in her chair, or tucked into bed with her. Someone not fully understanding what Alzheimer’s is about asked if I didn’t feel embarrassed giving her teddies, but if this person could see what pleasure they bring perhaps she would think otherwise. They are fondled and cuddled and she stares into their faces. Of course being nice and soft also helps and the slightest thing my Mary may enjoy gives me great pleasure too.  Something else she enjoys is colourful paintings on cardboard made by a small child. She holds them and gazes at them for long periods. The bright colours are obviously fascinating and this is a joy to see.

Little things mean a lot.

Peter Lawson. 

2 Questions: “How long has she had Alzheimers?” and “Does she still know you?”

I have known ‘Aunty’ Mary since I was in primary school. I remember her as a feisty, very intelligent, fun loving lady. A person who never minced her words, she called a spade a spade and I always admired her, she was my mentor in church many years ago. If you care for someone with Alzheimer’s it is so important to know who they were prior to this debilitating illness. It is SO important to treat them with the respect they deserve.

I am in awe of ‘uncle’ Peter, he has lovingly cared for his wife throughout these many years which began with a little forgetfulness to this stage of only a little flicker of recognition every now and then. It doesn’t stop him loyally visiting Mary every day and making sure that all is running smoothly at her care facility. Peter is a familiar face to all the Altheimer residents, he knows all their stories and interacts with them all, some of them have families who never visit.

How often these vows are broken but not for Peter Lawson and I feel so blessed to know this amazing man. “…to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

A heartwarming story written by Peter Lawson.

Caring for Mary

As a start, I should mention that what I am about to write applies to myself and my beloved Mary. There are differences with all people who have Alzheimer’s, as well as with their carers, so what I  say may not apply to all of you reading this if you too are taking care of a loved one with this sad disease.

Two things I am usually asked about Mary are:-

“How long has she had Alzheimer’s” and “does she still know you”.

To start with the second question the answer is, “she doesn’t know me anymore or at least doesn’t appear to, but that is not a problem.  I know her and will love her and care for her to the last”. Sometimes she responds when I am with her but most times not.  I do feel she enjoys company though, whether it is myself, another member of the family, a friend or even a complete stranger. The important thing is not to be sad when with her because even in her present condition she can be happy and at times we can even make her laugh.

The first question is always a difficult one. Alzheimer’s starts so gradually that at first it is hardly noticed – just a bit of forgetfulness which initially in my case was frustrating at times until I really knew it was Alzheimer’s and that it would not improve, but just get worse. Feeling sorry for myself was not on though and we still had happy times together and would laugh at some of the silly things she did. She was scared at times when doing something she hadn’t intended to do or forgetting where she put things and my heart went out to her when I could see fear written on her face. It would help me and her if I comforted her then and by changing the subject she would soon forget about it. I tried to be careful not to reprimand her as that only makes matters worse.  Not always easy though, like for instance when the house keys were lost or given away and locks had to be changed, or when she drove into vehicles whilst parking and I ended up paying for damages to irate drivers. I don’t always remember these things now, and that is not because I too may have Alzheimer’s, but because I have long since put such incidents out of my mind. There is no point in dwelling on them.

I cannot say exactly when the initial stages started, but I do know when she took a really big plunge. That was eleven years ago when our eldest son was murdered in Johannesburg. Her condition deteriorated rapidly after that, which in some respects was a good thing because in no time she had forgotten about that horror in her life. She needed constant care and attention, which was difficult at times as my work took me away from home fairly often. There was always someone who would stay in with her then and I was indeed fortunate in that way. I would worry about her when I was away but time meant nothing to her. If I was away for just one day, or two weeks she would react as if I had only been gone a couple of hours. Sometimes I would be reprimanded though but it would soon be forgotten.

Writing this is not easy because I have made a point of putting bad times out of my mind and concentrating on the good side. In my personal case, I do not find this difficult to do because I have hobbies and interests that are wonderful therapy and when concentrating on my pastimes they take my mind completely off my problems. I am indeed fortunate in this way and wealth is not just about money.

There have been many amusing incidents which I do remember, but on occasions I have been told, by people who do not understand, that I am cruel and unkind when I laugh about them. There were times when I could get Mary to laugh about silly things she had done as well, but I refrained from reprimanding her because that would not help her or myself.  One incident was frequent and sometimes embarrassing. She loved going shopping with me, but would ‘shoplift’ which resulted in me paying for items not needed, or she would put goods in other shoppers trollies, or just take items off the shelves and put them elsewhere. I had to keep watch constantly, but even then she would get away with it sometimes.  Most people affected were wonderful when the position was explained to them. On one occasion I was choosing something in a pharmacy and a young shop assistant was stacking goods on shelves nearby. When I looked around to see why Mary was so quiet I saw to my horror that as fast as the assistant was putting items on the shelves Mary was taking them off and placing them elsewhere. I apologized profusely and explained her position and the young assistant smiled and said it was not a problem because she had plenty of time. I could have hugged her.

The manager of one particular supermarket got to know Mary and her doings pretty well.  When we arrived at the check-out he would stroll over, give Mary a smile and a hug and say, “What have you stolen today Aunty Mary?”  Then he would reward her with a chocolate which she loved. There are many wonderful people out there and that makes caring a pleasure.

I could go on and on with amusing incidents, but I must just mention one other. A good friend of Mary’s used to fetch her on a Sunday morning and take her to church. Mary loved this and would sit with her blind husband, Dingo, while Louise joined the choir.  On one occasion Mary got up and walked out of the church and Dingo was unaware of this.  Half the congregation went looking for her and found her a couple of streets distant from the church.  Louise recovered from her shock and again took Mary to church the following Sunday, but this time she requested Dingo to hold her hand during the service. I went to fetch Mary afterwards and an elderly lady came up to me and said, “ It is probably none of my business, but I think Mary and Dingo are having an affair, they held hands throughout the service”. She was shocked when I couldn’t resist saying I was delighted to hear the good news.

It goes without saying that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and conditions deteriorate as the brain shuts down certain functions. This varies with different patients and in Mary’s case it has been a slow but steady process. She required more and more attention and care though and at times this was not at all easy to handle. I reluctantly made a decision to place her in a Home where she could have proper care and attention day and night and she has now been in this Home just over four years and is well looked after.  I still believe she needs my care as well and I see her almost every day and, although she may not always visibly respond to this, in my heart I know she appreciates this extra care from a loved one. She is now virtually bedridden, cannot walk or talk and has to be fed with soft food, but she still responds in her own way. I cannot take her out anymore, or for walks in the garden which we used to do, but she does look contented and happy and that certainly makes it easier for me as well. If anything, the bond between us is even stronger and I will love her to the end.

Peter Lawson.

Good-byes are never easy

I am sitting at the airport. I have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit in my life but the novelty of flying has never worn off for me. I do love it. Once I have done all my ‘good-byes’ and had a good talk to myself about all the positive reasons for my departure, I still experience all the lovely butterflies in my stomach. Summer in England is so beautiful and I cannot wait to go for my walks with my camera ready to capture all the amazing, vibrant colours of the exquisite British countryside, I just love it! My WordPress website is now up and running. What a challenge but at the same time, an incredible sense of accomplishment. At times the task ahead seemed almost impossible to achieve. I would love to take all the credit for doing it on my own but I have an amazing son who gave me the best advice ever…”Mom, breath and read your screen”…..mmmm, at the time I called him a cheeky brat but at the end of the day, I took heed, read my screen and paid $5 to a lovely lady in Pakistan https://www.Fiverr.com to assist me with certain tasks which proved impossible for me to fix. $5 very well spent! Now it is time for me to board. The fact that I will be back so soon made leaving so much easier! EVERY ENDING HAS A NEW BEGINNING!    

Going home

I belong to an amazing closed group of Carers on Facebook. All these amazing people share the good, the bad and the ugly of caring on a daily basis. In a group of over 1 603 members, there is always someone who is having a really rough day, someone having an awesome day and someone who simply needs to know that they are not alone in this life of a carer which can from time to time be heart-wrenching to say the very least. New carers to the page ask questions which the ‘oldies’ can answer and together we learn so much about life in England, life as a carer and loads about life in general.  We share loads of laughs, births, weddings, all sorts of celebrations as well as the heartbreak of losing a loved one. What an amazing group  of people! After caring for over 3 years now, I have realized that although it makes financial sense to stay and work for at least 6 months…half a year is a LONG time to be away from friends and family, the sights and smells of my beautiful country, biltong, a spanspek, a mango that doesn’t have to cost at least R36, a braai, sunshine, a thunderstorm and the list could go on and on….and on. I do love South Africa, I love that we are such toughies and love that we have this amazing ability to smile in the face of adversity, forever maintaining a sense of humor, regardless of the situation. Something happened to remind me of how short life is. What a cliche. But if you really think about it. Life IS short. I always look for signs and when I googled “cheap airfares to Johannesburg” and I found a return airfare for £398, I saw it as a sign. I had to go home. I booked and paid. All I had to do was get through the next one week of caring for a lady I had never met before in a place I had never been to before, keep the secret from my family and see if I could still sleep on an airport bench for an 11 and half hour layover.  One has to expect some kind of suffering for a cheap airfare. I booked my air ticket on KLM via Amsterdam using Travelup –  http://www.travelup.co.uk One of the best decisions I have ever made! I proved to myself that I am not too old to sleep on an airport bench (the airfare was worth it). Seeing my son on Facetime is one thing but a huge big hug is priceless and seeing the look of disbelief and surprise on my sister’s face was truly amazing. I needed to stop for a bit. When you stop and look, life is pretty darn fabulous!  

Going to a new client

I can find no other way to describe this other than to say that this must surely be what a sheep feels like, being led to the Slaughter. The ‘care report’ which I receive a week before I arrive at my new client prepares me for what I am in for to a point, however, the anxiousness a carer feels in going to a new client cannot be described. I arrived at this very large home in the most incredibly beautiful setting. It’s looking good, at least I am going to have fun with my camera. I can see the stables and the horses in magnificent paddocks, a mare heavily in foal, 2 yearlings and a few others in the distance. Gosh it is beautiful, 10 acres of pristine, perfectly manicured paddocks. My client was a very successful racehorse owner, breeder and trainer, she is now 100 years old and is one seriously tough lady. eeeek (apparently does not like chit chatter so I’m thinking my ‘charm’ is not going to get me anywhere here, oh dear.) Onwards and upwards as they say! The outgoing carer has picked me up at the station and as soon as we arrive home the ‘handover’ starts…talk about information overload!!! No time for lunch, a cup of coffee or even a glass of water. She has a 24 hour routine to go through with me and it is PRECISE! I feel that churning in my stomach, I want to run out the door screaming noooooooo, I can’t do this!!! I calmly listen and try and take in as much as I can. I am still stuck on exactly where I put the glue on her teeth to put back in her mouth and she is already 10 steps ahead! I haven’t watched tv in years and somehow have never actually found myself in control of the remote and now I need to program an entire night and days worth of various sports programs for her to watch. A piece of cake right? mmmm we will see. I am quite tired now, leaving my regular client today meant I had the last 24 hours of getting everything ready for my incoming carer. Fortunately we both know her really well so it does make it easier. I was packed, ready and at the station by 10h30 this morning. It is late now and I have read the carer’s notes over and over, trying to take it all in. An elderly person does not take ‘change’ of any sort very well and when your client has dementia it is even more important that the precise routine is followed. I managed the bedtime routine reasonably well I think and tomorrow is another day.