Parenting the Parent

I have been blessed. My mother is in her nineties now- that is as far as I am allowed to say and yet is still fairly hale and certainly very hearty.

My father passed away at seventy-nine with heart disease- he never smoked and seldom drank but by the time I was born and he was forty, my memory of him is of constant chest pains, breathlessness and the daily medications for angina.

He was a doctor and so I remember him phoning the hospital, asking for an ambulance and then going to lie quietly on the sofa until they arrived and then the paramedics would greet him like old friends, which they probably were. On one occasion, we were visiting him in hospital. He grinned at me, said, “Watch this,” and pulled the monitors off his chest, just so that the machines could shout that number four bed was having another cardiac arrest and for the nurses to come running. They always told him off and he would just laugh.

In their youth, both parents were manically active. We grew up with tales of them both cycling around Lancashire of a weekend and playing endless games of tennis, which is how they met. On their honeymoon, the first thing my father did was to take mum into a boot shop in Kendal and get her some boots so they could go mountain walking every day. She probably still has them somewhere.

When my father passed away, mum sprang into action and became an ardent fan of the Ramblers’ Association. They had emigrated to South Africa years before so every year, she would fly to the UK and then fly with the Ramblers’ to whichever holiday she had booked.

She has walked over most of Europe and the last one we did together was through a hurricane blowing across the Atlantic and arriving smartly and rather suddenly in Portugal. I think we only did twelve kilometers that day and she was about eighty-eight at the time.

So yes, I have been blessed. She has been able to remain in her home, living independently for all this time. Admittedly, my brother and his son have shared the house with her and kept an eye, driving her places if she needs something. She still drives and my brother has told me that the month my mum’s car does’nt appear in the panel beaters is a sad time for the owner.

But things change and we don’t like change. We like the comfort and security of pattern and repetition for the most part. My brother has retired and moved away, to live a life she wouldn’t approve of, I suspect. My nephew is still there but also due to move out, as he should. He too, needs to live his life.

So what to do about mum? All that spirit, determination and energy also has a downside and she is proving to be stubborn and unrealistic. Last week she heated cooking oil (who still does that?) and forgot and the whole thing caught fire. Luckily, my nephew was able to help. She has now forgotten that that happened and heated oil again this week.

Every week I ring her and try to encourage her, very gently to look at retirement villages. She would love one, I am sure. She would join in with all the activities and do her special tinkly laugh at the gentle flirting and banter between residents. I am also trying to encourage her to buy new inventions called ready-roasted potatoes and oven-chips. She’s resisting.

I know how lucky her three children have been- I used to travel 3 hours to see my father-in-law in a home and he would not recognise us. Mum has remained constant- so positive and happy but difficult decisions are ahead so I keep phoning from so far away, persistently asking her to look at retirement villages, getting a smoke alarm fitted, and buying some damn ready-roasted potatoes.

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