I don’t know how typical this is for carers, but going to work is as good as a holiday for me.
For a few years now, my elderly mother has gone to a ‘lunch club’ on Thursdays. She gets picked up by a volunteer driver at around 10 am, has social time at the club followed by lunch at noon and is taken home again at 2.45. I’ve come to cherish it as my ‘day off’ because it’s the day Mum doesn’t call me in the morning wanting me to go and keep her company or take her out on some errand.
Except that in the last few months Thursdays seem to have acquired a podiatry appointment before lunch club and a hairdresser appointment after lunch club, meaning that my ‘day’ is actually just five hours from 10-3 because both of these activities require me to drive her.
Her vascular dementia is worsening at quite a pace in recent months, and she is now often confused in the mornings, although often by mid-afternoon she is completely lucid. So this morning – a Thursday – she left a message on my answering machine while I was in the shower, sounding befuddled and saying she didn’t know what to do today. There was also a text message from my brother to say she had called him but he was at the dentist. So, I called her back and had an impossible conversation with her like this:
“I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Your’re going to lunch club today; a driver will pick you up as usual.”
“But I don’t know where I’m going.”
“It’s OK, the driver will take you.”
“But I don’t know where I’m supposed to go.”
“You go to lunch club; it’s Thursday, and someone will take you, as usual.”
After several minutes of this, I said I was going to say goodbye and hang up. Then she said she didn’t feel well enough to go to lunch club. And this is what makes caring for her so hard. I don’t think she does it consciously, as a planned strategy, but she always manages to construct a scenario in which I am supposed to say ‘OK, I’ll come down and spend the day with you.’
But I have a life, too. And on Thursdays I usually do my own free-lance work.
So, I hardened my heart and said, “Well, see how you feel when the driver arrives. I’m working today, so I’ll talk to you tonight. It’s now 1.45 pm and I haven’t heard from either Mum or the lunch club leader, so I guess she must have gone…