Still wondering

When my monthly delivery of Lite n’ Easy meals failed to arrive around 8.30 as usual one morning, I assumed it was running late. A couple of hours later and still no sign, I texted my neighbourhood friend to see if hers had arrived.

No luck – she hadn’t ordered this week. I decided to wait until after Ken and I’d had our coffee before phoning the company.

‘They used to deliver to Hamilton Thursdays and Sundays’, I told Ken over the roar of the coffee machine. ‘But now it’s only Thursdays. The route might have changed with Sunday deliveries added to Thursday’s.’

‘Thursday …’ mused Ken.

‘Thursday!’ I exclaimed. ‘It’s only Wednesday!’

How embarrassing.

I confided in my friend, who assured me, ‘I didn’t realise it was only Wednesday, either. What a pair we are!’

Tuesday had been a heavy day for me, and I was exhausted by evening. I’d had in mind one last thing for Ken to do, put the empty esky outside the front gate for the delivery man. Only I was a day early.

I’ve written often about incipient memory issues, and this seemed another example of mine faltering. I excused myself by thinking I’d simply been overloaded, but that is only part of the reason.

Despite my meticulous event calendar, reminder system and to-do lists, occasionally a void opens before me. It’s dark, down there.

I’ve just read Susan Johnson’s latest book, Aphrodite’s Breath, about taking her mother to live on the Greek island of Kythera for a year. As their relationship turns itself inside out, exposing painful revelations, Susan ponders the word ‘housewife’. Seeking to understand the predominant role ‘things of the house’ play in her mother’s preoccupations, Susan realises her mother is truly ‘a wife of the house’.

I ask myself whether I too, am becoming a wife of this house. Increasingly, my time is spent organising groceries, meals, dishes, laundry; doing my share of the cleaning; transporting things upstairs and down in the faithful elevator. It’s not that I do overmuch – I am efficient but snail-slow; I need to rest more than most people my age.

It’s a spacious and light-filled house, perfect for my mobility aids with ample room for the two of us. Despite having help with cleaning and the low maintenance garden, as well as Ken doing what he can, I remain ‘the wife of the house’, organiser supreme.

I am also ‘the wife of Ken’, helping him hold things together as his cancer progresses, and ‘the wife of MS’, ever adjusting to its chameleon ways. At times, like now, all this ‘wifedom’ feels rather burdensome.

Ken’s solution is first, for me to decide to do less and ask him to do more, and second, to have less. Throughout the near-twenty years of our marriage, he has longed for just ‘two cups, two plates, two knives, two forks, two spoons …’

Ah, if only it was so easy!

Is this why we older people downsize?

Will that change our lives?

Or will we strive to fit all we owned before into a smaller space, clinging to old habits like a toddler to her beloved soft toy?

All the while, accumulating new possessions.

Of course, our pre-existing responsibilities come with us, settling around our shoulders like a comforting wrap.

Or perhaps our lives accommodate to their changed circumstances?

Discovering, miraculously, how to live differently, less encumbered in this smaller place?

I wonder.

Still wondering »

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12 Responses

  1. I still shop in quantities as if I am still buying for the family just like my mother did. I remember saying to her that I would come to her place if there was a nuclear war.
    I’m looking forward to reading Anna Funder’s new book ‘Wifedom”

    1. Jill, old habits die hard! I think the pandemic reinforced the mega-shop. And ‘wifedom’ must be in the zeitgeist. At my library, I am 61st in the queue for Anna Funder’s book.

  2. I find it very handy that my lock screen on my phone tells me the day and date. There is a lot to running a household, don’t ever feel it’s a small task, though it can get overwhelming when things go awry.

    1. Vicki, thank you for your reassurance ‘… don’t ever feel it is a small task’.
      I too have the day/date on my home screen. I just need to look at it more often!

  3. Interesting view of keeping a home functioning, Ruth. I sometimes ask myself if I have become a servant of all these possessions, the building itself, the garden. We live materially complex lives which take a lot of managing. I need things to be well organised, cupboards stocked, in case of sudden illness.
    It’s the unpredictability of health challenges that is demanding and exhausting. Not surprised that I too mix up the days, although I have to confirm time and date for medication purposes.
    You’re doing brilliantly, inspiring me to take the odd stumble or limp in my stride.
    Thank you, Ruth.

    1. Cecile, your comment reminds me how important it is to be compassionate towards ourselves. I too feel the need to be well organised, given past ‘out of the blue’ experiences. Thank you.

  4. I get the days wrong occasionally too, Ruth. Not very often, but every morning when I wake up I say to myself, ” Now what day is it today?”. Shopping is a weekly event with a support person- two hours from home to back again. It’s exhausting- but I like to go. It’s an outing, and we usually have a cuppa. I’m afraid I don’t do my own housework. That is something I never liked! You’re doing very well.

    1. That’s a good habit, Sue, checking the day/date. And you are fortunate to have home care services locked in. I know of several people who are unable to get on the first step of the ladder, with even basic services.m

      1. Ruth, I came to get home help through the traumatic event of having open heart surgery 11 years ago. I was approached in the rehab hospital by one and then another of the Aged Care Team, who said “When you go home, you’ve obviously got someone to help you.” I said no, I didn’t. They said “Oh but you must have!” After I explained that I had no nearby relatives in Sydney, they wrote a nice report about me and recommended me for help. So something good came out of that awful experience!

  5. Hi Ruth
    Glad you read the Johnson book. I find I have to constantly check my roster on my phone for my shifts. I check and then forget what my start time is. And then do it again!

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