As I mentioned recently, Marion's mum Flo has been finding it difficult living alone of late and is struggling with every day things like visiting the shops and taking a shower. She has done extremely well for sixteen years alone but, at 86, is having to rely more on us and neighbours to help her out of minor scrapes. We don't want these to turn into major scrapes like leaving something on in the kitchen or falling in the shower so, on her doctor's advice, we took her to look around a residential home this morning.
The thought of elderly care sometimes conjures up images like this. I certainly experienced this sort of place (like God's waiting rooms), during my time as a bank manager and couldn't get out of them quick enough. But I also had good memories of my own Nan living on Lord St Southport in a fairly posh place where she had a whale of a time and even ended up with a 'boyfriend' (quite an achievement as the ratio of women to men was about ten to one).
The one we visited was a little more like this (albeit through rose coloured spectacles) and I have to say that we were pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere with only the occasional whiff of stale urine that totally pervades some residential homes. It was quite a lively place with plenty going on. While Marion and her mum were doing the tour I managed to speak to a 95 year old and ask him how he enjoyed things. He had only been there a month and, although it was not home, the food was good, he was being well looked after and he was happier than he had been on his own. A pretty good (and unforced) endorsement. We also managed to speak to a woman of our age whose mother had similar difficulties to Flo and she spoke very well of the home.
I suppose that in Spain, France, Italy and many other of our European neighbours the question of packing an elderly relative off to a place like this would not arise and it would be simply taken for granted that she would come and live with us. It's a dilemma isn't it? Nobody wants to see a parent unhappy but at the same time, other than a few saints out there, none of us wants a huge chunk of our retirement sacrificed to caring. That sounds selfish doesn't it? And yes we could devote hours every day to Flo if we gave up everything else as we have no excuse like work to stand in our way. But would that be the correct decision? I've thought long and hard about this and I don't think so. The home can provide support that we can't. Flo's dignity can be preserved by having a qualified carer rather than a family member help her to bathe and there is emergency medical support on hand 24 hours a day as well as daily activities, fifty others her own age and a varied and healthy menu.
After looking around the home we went to a cafe for a sandwich. Sitting opposite, enjoying a cup of tea, was a woman who lives in the adjacent flat to Flo. She told us that she was off to lunch and a concert in Southport and had a diary packed full of similar engagements and was disappointed that similar concerts she travelled to in Bootle had been hit by the cuts. She was well over ninety but told us that yesterday she had sorted out Flo's central heating for her. She strode out of the cafe and over to the bus stop with an air of happy independence. An air that Flo is sadly unable to emulate.
She has decided to give the care home a try. She's going to treat it like a holiday for a week while we are having a break in a cottage in Kirkby Lonsdale. We'll see how things go. At least we will not have to worry while we are away but if she decides that it's not for her we'll be back to square one.
On a lighter note, good luck to our friend Mark Jones who has just embarked on a very big adventure. Passionately patriotic, Mark enjoyed watching Wales win through to their World Cup semi final on Saturday morning so much that by Saturday evening he was so delighted with the result that he somehow managed to book himself onto a flight to New Zealand for the remainder of the tournament. It's amazing the lengths some people will go to to avoid an evening with me and Marion (dinner was scheduled for Saturday). If you read this Mark (we're sure that you will have more than a few free minutes alone in New Zealand for two weeks, especially if your match tickets don't materialise), good luck mate. We'll be rooting for you.