Mixed bag

‘You look so well’, a friend observed, ‘even though you are under huge stress’.

I wasn’t so sure – perhaps it was just the make-up, a bit of extra care taken for our coffee date. But her comment made me think. Can stress be covered up?

I’ve lost my cool often enough lately. Not one transaction with the local pharmacist over recent months has gone smoothly. Ken’s medications misplaced, cancelled, or not ready when I’d been texted that they were. I’ve had to remind myself that staff are new; their workflow system is stuffed; and if I’m not careful, I’ll become one of those cranky old women staff dread to see approaching. The last encounter was enough to send me home to meditate on compassion – not just towards them, but myself too.

Mostly though, I’ve stopped fighting things I can’t change. I think that inner adjustment is more effective than any outer application of skin-enhancing product.  I allow time, ample and generous, for doing the essentials in my days.

As respiratory illnesses sweep in with winter, I hold back from booking new social outings. I turn inward, learn a new poem by heart, write, share my feelings on Zoom with Death Café friends.

Ken sleeps often and long, leaving me free to read nineteenth century novels. There’s something about the meandering, deeply immersive sentences of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy that match my mood, the grey, eerie weather and the abundance of time. For variety, I read to Ken, paragraphs from ‘Caring for the living and the dying’ by palliative care specialist Michael Barbato. We chat about what I’ve read. Written over twenty years ago, Dr Barbato’s knowledge and wisdom remain fresh and current. It’s like following a road map, only to find the landmarks are familiar after all.

I have thought about the future, what will happen after Ken dies. He and I have talked about it, too. What will I do with all my spare time? Will I buy new furniture? Will visitors come to stay? But I felt guilty when I allowed myself to imagine what might happen ‘after’. That was until I read Barbato, who assures the reader that such thoughts about the future are completely normal. Let them surface, he says, allow them space and attention, and they’ll dissipate in their own time.

Five mornings a week, I help Ken shower and dress. I am patient with him, noticing his skin’s ivory sheen as I gently towel dry his shoulder blades. He is so thin.

And at night, after we’ve watched some television together and he’s taken his last medications, some more free time opens for me. I shower with care, knowing that should I slip, Ken may not hear me call. I sit and massage my painful feet, reflective.

This day, grandson Cass has come for his fortnightly Saturday morning ‘job’. He’s peeled and chopped winter vegetables for Ken’s soup, operating the 30-year-old Kenwood food processor like a pro. Then popping on his pharmacy assistant hat, he’s allocated a two-week supply of Ken’s medications into a multiple pill organiser. After three hours, he’s ticked off all the chores on the white board and enjoyed a quick Indian takeaway for lunch.

Together we transfer his pay into his online bank account, where it is destined to reduce his debt to his mother. Ken slips him a cash ‘bonus’ for good work.

‘What are you going to do with that, Cass?’ I ask, meaning the cash.

Random thoughts flitted across his face.

‘I’m not going to tell Mum’, he decided. ‘I don’t have to tell her everything, do I?’

‘Well, no,’ I replied. ‘I guess we all have our little secrets’.

He nodded, satisfied.

A few minutes later, his mum walked in. Cass rushed up to her. ‘Guess what!’ he exclaimed. ‘Ken gave me a $10 bonus!’

So much for secrets, except when they burst out. That day, our grandson earned his bonus, triple. He made us smile.

Mixed bag »

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12 Responses

  1. The ending of this post made me laugh Ruth. Such a poignant topic and time for you, with so many aggravations on top of everything else, but you can still laugh at kids’ little sayings.

  2. What a lovely blog Ruth! And beautifully ended! We’ve arrived back in France. Haven’t had time to get the paints out yet which is unusual. We seem to be very busy. It’s lovely how we’re welcomed back by the circle of locals we’ve gotten to know.

  3. It’s usually on a ‘bad hair day’ that someone will say to me…Gosh your hair looks terrific. Have you just had a cut? It suits you.
    My bad hair makes me feel daggy and the colours I have on don’t feel right and I feel out of sync with everything I do.
    But maybe something else is shining
    through at those moments…something about our real self.
    You sound like you are using your time meaningfully Ruth and still able to appreciate those happy moments that spill out even when bogged down by stress.
    Wish I could give you a hug. Much love as always. Leonie

  4. Sending you a hug of thanks, Ruth, for the light you share with this blog from a challenging time.
    Such joy in the moments takes a lot of courage – thank you. Much love to all of you.

  5. You have given us an intimate picture of your current life, Ruth. Re- chemists- my pharmacy, though good (a discount pharmacy) gets things mixed up sometimes and so does that of a friend, also local. I keep my own prescriptions so I have some control over things. I don’t envy you your situation with looking after Ken though I looked after Hans- he and I were lucky, he was not sick for long. Still, his death came as a shock to me. It took me at least two years to recover. Your grandson was very productive- and amusing!

    1. Thanks Sue, good to hear from you. Two years to recover from grief and loss – not surprising. Cass is only 12 but willing to give any task a go especially in the kitchen – he’ll make a good partner for someone one day.
      And yes, definitely, I also keep our prescriptions under my control!!

  6. Thanks Ruth. An enjoyable read about matters which are not always much fun. And yes, the young! At times they and we, the older, seem to exist in separate universes, though maybe I’m exaggerating.

    1. Thanks Geoff. I’ve felt in need of a bit of humour – I sent Ken is search of Series 3 of the TV series ‘Colin from Accounts’ but still waiting …

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