Following swiftly on from the last post which was, errr… two months ago, the stage was set for a fairly calamitous trip to a care home. To recap, we had been looking for somewhere mum could go for a few hours once or twice a week where she would have some stimulation other than Cash in the Attic blaring loudly from the TV. The idea was that this mythical venue would provide appropriate activity for mum (painting, singing, dancing) as opposed to pursuits more suited to the sharp-witted (Bridge, Chess, Scrabble). We were also hoping for a place where a few hours of day-care would blend seamlessly into the occasional overnight stay, thus allowing dad to go off and bellow at a series of rugby matches or paint himself in neon and leap around the mosh-pit at Glastonbury. After a couple of very dispiriting trips to local care homes (they all smell like cabbage and urine – I know, I know) dad found one that looked a little more appealing. It wasn’t hotel standard but it had a nice friendly atmosphere and a busy daytime schedule of activities for residents or day visitors. They would need to do an assessment first – yes yes, of course. Cue the daughters being lined up to introduce mum to this unchartered territory and spin it in a way as to appear exciting as opposed to terminally depressing (to be fair, I don’t think it was just dad trying to dodge the bullet here – he genuinely wanted our opinion of the place too).
After a week or two of dropping subtle hints in preparation (Me: “Hey! We might look at another place that does singing and painting next week!” Mum: slight eyebrow lift to indicate words had been heard but not necessarily processed) we agreed to meet the manager on site for a tour and introduction. We arrived in a rainstorm of biblical proportions and struggled to make ourselves heard as the downpour thundered onto the conservatory roof. The manager was a lovely chap, a retired Sargent Major, solicitous and charming but also older than mum and very deaf which presented some interesting challenges. His opening line which set the tone for the entire morning was rightly directed at mum: “SO!!! How do you feel about coming to look round a care home?!!”
Holy Shit – did he just ask that?
My sister and I exchanged frantic glances behind mum’s back whilst murmuring a series of appreciative noises and pointing to the soft furnishings in the hope of distracting her from the fact that this place was very definitely a care home. As is so often the case with mum the scenarios one finds oneself in are incredibly reminiscent of activities involving small children – this felt exactly like the sort of false bravado I had assumed when introducing my kids to a new preschool: “See darling? Look at the boys and girls over there! Don’t they look like they are having fun!!!! See them paint! See them play! Behold their unbridled joy at being in such a glorious establishment!!”
This was us, but more along the lines of:
“See Mum? Look at the very elderly gentleman nodding in the corner over there! Doesn’t he look cosy and well cared for?”
“See those ladies playing a card game? Yes they do all appear to be in their nineties but they are having fun!!!!! Yes, I know you don’t like card games.”
“Oh look! A lift! That’ll be useful!! All mod cons here!!!!!”
“What’s that round the corner you ask? A bedroom? No we definitely do not need to see the residential accommodation lest it destroy our carefully constructed fabrication that this in fact some kind of country club where people just pop along for an hour and groove about”.
And so it went on. We got the awkward questions out of the way (“Are you self funding?” “Yes we are” – “What is your date of birth?” “We’re not exactly sure whether it was 1951 0r 1952 and mum seems to be mainly focussed on the biscuits at this point”). We had a tour.
- It was clean
- It was cheerful
- The carpets were a little threadbare but they were at least carpets rather than lino and thus the feeling was more homely than surgical
- The Sargent Major was cheery and loud
- The staff turnover was incredibly low, clearly everyone who worked there was happy and had been there for years
- There was a varied timetable of daytime activities
- It was very, very obviously a care home
- All the residents were ancient
Mum maintained a neutral demeanour throughout. She made no comments and showed no signs of animation but this was not particularly unusual. We were unsure, was the silence ominous or reassuring? Did she understand where she was? Did she understand that we weren’t visiting a care home with a view to leaving her there but merely to partake in some of their activities? Every time we tried to focus on the noticeboard with it’s events schedule we were taken to see another ‘residential’ aspect of the building. Every time I asked a question about ‘just popping in for the live music sessions’ it was met with a detailed explanation of the daily timetable including what time residents got up and when ‘bedtime’ was. The emphasis was all wrong. We left with a copy of the weekly activities and a tightness in our chests that suggested trouble brewing. I phoned dad on the way back, my sister having been left with the dubious pleasure of taking mum home and facing the fallout. “Dad” I said “Just wanted to give you the heads up. There may be some awkwardness…. “ I wasn’t really sure what else to say.
My sister dropped mum off and reported back – all seemed well; no huffing and puffing, no tears. We breathed a sigh of relief, maybe that unsettled feeling we had was misplaced, perhaps it was just us projecting our feelings onto mum when in reality she had been blissfully unaware of our discomfort? However, further conversations with dad later in the week revealed the full extent of the damage. Apparently mum hadn’t mentioned our trip at all during the rest of the day but when she went to get into bed that evening there were tears in her eyes. Dad established that her distress was related to the visit and set about reassuring her – of course we weren’t going to put her into a home, we loved her too much for that (clearly promises you may not be able to keep, based on how much you love someone, are fraught with problems but we’ll park that issue for now). He repeated the mantra about only wanting to see what activities they were offering and suggested that he find out when the next music session would be taking place. She seemed placated and went to sleep. The next morning when he phoned the home as discussed she followed him round the house for the duration of the call and was in tears when he finished. Again the reassuring chat was trotted out but it was increasingly obvious that this was not a goer.
A visit later in the week to an entirely different, non-residential day centre proved the nail in the coffin – again nothing was wrong with the centre, the visitors there looked happy and entertained but they were all at least twenty years older than mum and were undertaking activities that she simply wouldn’t have been able to manage (bingo really does have all the joy sucked out of it if you can’t understand basic instructions, can’t use your dabber to block out the numbers and don’t even fully appreciate what numbers mean or look like any more). Mum apparently balked within the first ten minutes of entering the building and dad quickly made the decision to politely bail out.
A few days later my parents were both over at mine having a cup of tea (mum mainly looking at hers rather than actively drinking it) and my dad was talking to my husband about the recent general election. They mentioned manifesto commitments regarding social care and the associated funding problems (that’s the level of entertaining chat you get at my house – its a riot) and when my husband said the immortal words ‘care home’ mum got up out of her chair and started flapping her hands in distress towards dad. Clearly the trauma went deep and her radar was on high alert. A woman who didn’t even register her own granddaughter’s birthday (as it was that day) now seemed to have the most acutely sensitive nose for residential care and could pick up on the subtlest of references to nursing homes and social services. This was not ideal but then rarely has there been a moment in this blog where I’ve thought ‘Now that really IS ideal‘ so I’m getting pretty used to these little disappointments.
The trouble is we are faced with an impossible situation – mum needs entertainment in a safe environment, dad needs respite, my sister and I need to balance caring for the generation above with caring for the generation below and it seems there is no appropriate venue to cater for these specific requirements. Care homes are clearly terrifying for her and full of old people, Day centres are similar and often the activities are intended for those who’s bodies are frail but who’s minds are not. Education centres for adults with special learning needs are not really appropriate either – given the choice would mum rather be singing along with alert ninety year olds or younger adults with Downs syndrome? I just don’t know. She appears to be unique – which is a nice thing to be in some contexts – just not particularly useful in this one.
Cheer up though! It gets better in the next post:
When will there be good news? Wait… there is some!