Wednesday 17 February 2021

The shock of losing a robust elder

 When you’ve had a parent who has always been - or seemed - well, it’s actually harder for those of us who are left to adjust to their demise.

Captain Sir Tom Moore’s family believed that when he contracted covid_19 he would come home again. Others from outside the family might have thought that - as he was 100 - the chances of recovery were poor.

But when your parent has always been there. Rarely in hospital. Rarely on medication. Still walking about, getting taxis to the Pump Room, in the case of my mum, here in Bath, at the age of 89, it’s hard to believe they won’t recover.

I have great empathy with Captain Sir Tom’s family. When a robust parent reaches their nineties and their centenary their immune system simply isn’t as strong. I believe that is why so many elders die of pneumonia. The body doesn’t, or can’t, shake it off at that grand old age. 

My mother died from a series of mini strokes, not infection. They followed a massive brain haemorrhage two days after her final trip to the Pump Rooms, which she took, by choice, by taxi. She loved the pump room trio and quartet. And she didn’t mind standing in the tourist queue - at 89! 

But a massive stroke felled her three and a half months before her ninetieth birthday. We simply weren’t prepared for it. At the time she was medicated for stage 2 diabetes. (She lost the diabetes when she lost weight). But apart from blood pressure tablets and eye drops she was remarkably fit and able.

However, looking back, we can now see the small changes in her - following a heavy cold - were likely to have been the start of a series of tiny strokes which passed without recognition.

When I read of the wealthy and famous dying in their eighties I feel grateful mum lived as long as she did in almost excellent health. To live to 89 and still be independent and active is a great lifestyle to aim for. To live well and enjoy company also accompanied Sir Tom’s great age.

When a parent is so blessed it is hard to accept they are unwell let alone close to the end.

As one doctor put it to me ‘Your mother’s body has done its work.’ Simple but true words from someone I trusted. That was when I began to accept mum wouldn’t be around for ever. 

It’s so sad Sir Tom’s family have endured trolling owing, I believe, to their taking an overseas trip in December, in a pandemic. But hadn’t the old man earned what was to be his final holiday? Others, of course, have been less lucky. Many families couldn’t sit by the bedsides of their loved ones in a covid ward. That’s the problem with being in the public eye. If he’d raised the money quietly without any media interest they could have had that final holiday and very few would have known about it, I guess. But less charity funds may have been raised. Swings and roundabouts.

My mother wasn’t in the public eye but she enjoyed her last trip to the musical soiree in the Pump Rooms. Enjoying life. 

Let’s not get bitter.

Here’s to you Captain Sir Tom!

Saturday 13 February 2021

Lockdown? It may just have saved me

What have I been doing with my time during lockdown? I don’t have children to home-educate, although I have been a teacher and tutor. I don’t have an elderly relative in a care home, worried about the covid risk. Although mum ended her days in a very good nursing home. I don’t have to be concerned about getting an income, having retired over ten years ago. I don’t have to scrimp and save to pay my mortgage or rent. I paid off the mortgage years ago. But until lockdown I could barely cook. Ah! That’s what I’ve been doing with my time. Preparing meals.

It isn’t, strictly speaking, lockdown that has caused me to take to the paring knife, recipes and the chopping board. For forty years my husband drove, shopped and cooked. Then he got ill. He was improving before lockdown #1 in March 2020. But add the general anxiety of covid to an already anxious-depressive clinical diagnosis and my husband deteriorated. 

But we still had to eat. 

I watched The Hairy Bikers as I love their cooking trips and their enthusiasm and I was given Nigella’s ‘Cook, Eat, Repeat’ for Christmas. During April last year our local shop closed as it was so tricky to effect social distancing in their small premises. And it was hard to get regular supermarket deliveries to our house. But farm shops did deliver and with much flour and yeast making dust clouds in the kitchen I baked copious loaves of bread. I traded yeast for garlic. Bottles of red for ice cream. It was like being under rationing.

The farm shops also delivered fine diced beef, eggs and bacon. My go-to recipes were boeuf bourguignon and frittata. And those yummy dishes last about four days. At the end of the week, back in the summer, we had fish & chip Fridays, a fry-up on Saturdays and a roast on Sundays. 

Then, when I started gardening proper I got tired of the cooking/ washing up cycle and ordered a ready meal once a week. Richard always washes up or loads the dishwasher but it’s good to hear your meal is ready by the ping on the microwave.

As delivery slots became more plentiful I tried my hand at tiramisu, fishy stew and, later, Nigella’s fish finger bhorta.  I craft a good chicken soup but love parsnip broth even more than carrot and coriander these days. Some evenings we’ll have fish cakes or burgers from the butcher. And now I have an egg poacher we have another easy-to-cook tasty tea-time treat.

My repertoire is wider than the above, of course. But these are my staples.  

A roast chicken or turkey - with all the trimmings - is another standard. And I make sugar-free brownies with oats, red kidney beans and 70% chocolate every week. 

During lockdown I haven’t had time to get bored or fidgetty. In a cruel twist Richard’s illness may just have saved me. The very act of being a carer, especially mornings, and having to provide for our household has kept me busy. No time for dwelling on life before lockdown. We have to eat thus I shop and cook.

For years I was the major breadwinner and I was barely domesticated. For many women, especially those with children, the daily decision-making about what to eat will be routine. But for me it has been a late development. As I say the need to provide may just have saved me. Too busy to fret. 

Except for the obvious:

The more you cook, the more you eat, the less you swim ... the inevitable happens. ( It’s still better than getting covid or fretting, though.)