Tuesday 1 October 2019

Knocking the stuffing out

I sang about driving through Wales over the weekend. It's not something to be recommended unless you have sterling good company, as I did the first weekend in June when I made a road trip with my two grown-up daughters Dau.I and Dau.II. That expedition was driven by a Dau.I desire to visit my mother, who was born in 1920, while she was still in her own home withn her own marbles. In the evening we watched, with some trepidation, the old lady totter upstairs to bed . . . and down again, under her own steam rather than plain old gravity [bumpety-bumpety-Bang!], the following morning. This was plainly not going to be a sustainable solution to getting from kitchen to bedroom; and my sister, as primary carer, ordered up a stair lift. This "Elder Launcher" was present when I next visited on my own towards the end of July. The stair-lift solved one of the manifold problems associated with ageing which pile up on us all if we last long enough: hearing, sight, taste, blood-sugar, blood-pressure, balance, bone-density all seem to get sketchier as the years tick along.
  • It can be a perfect storm:  
    • erratic blood-pressure can make you feel faint when you stand up; 
    • your sense of balance doesn't compensate; 
    • slower reflexes and poor eye-sight mean you miss your hold on the bannisters;
    • the resulting fall means broken bones; 
    • broken bones put you in hospital 
    • where your feeble immune system is powerless against a hospital acquired infection.
  • That's more-or-less what did for my father anyway in 2001. 
My mother's stair-lift didn't get more than a couple of months use because she experienced another age-related event which delivered her to hospital. I'm guessing that is about the average life of such tools. It's like the life-time contract with the hearing-aid company that is often only months. It's like the average 12 minute life-time use for electric drills and/or single use plastic bags.  I was able to visit her there for a couple of days because classes at The Institute hadn't quite settled down into their relentless cycle of stand and deliver: M-F 9to5. In between visiting hours, my sister and I were at the family home looking at piles of papers, plates, pots, pot-plants, and paraphernalia. My mother's medical crisis was resolved by Mr Ng the Surgeon and after a short week she was deemed medically fit for discharge. In England, they don't push MF4D people out of the ward, and onto the street, until a suitable destination for convalescence is arranged. That might be back home; or home with additional help; or A Home. I may later feel strong enough to lay-out the discussion among those classes of care; but here I'll just state that the final option is the current solution to my mother's needs. You have to be careful how you bandy about the phrase Final Solution because of its Endlösung associations. But also because we have no idea how things will pan out over the next weeks or months.

One thing was clear, however.  Having made the decision to  leave her home for A Home, my mother pragmatically said that the house should be sold. She had no intention of showing any sense of sentimental attachment to the place she had lived for the previous 35 years. This was by far the longest time she'd spent living in one place: the previous 35 years having been married to a sailor who was obliged to shift his duff every couple of years. Things accumulate if you stay in one place like an unrolling stone gathers moss. And that's why I was back on the ferry and driving through Wales with Dau.II: so that we could all roll up our sleeves, pull on the marigolds [R], and get down and dirty with the kitchen cupboards, bathroom, beds and  <aaaargh> the garage to have them presentable to view. There's nothing to be done about the original living room carpet of peculiar 1980s hue and obvious wear. But no potential buyer needs to be confronted by a grubby fridge; if 20 minutes work can shift the composting mushrooms to the compost. That ancient carpet is going to be replaced anyway.

I spent the whole of Saturday afternoon processing boxes of papers into
  • trash: 
    • Christmas cards from people who are long dead; 
    • brochures for mail-order companies long eclipsed by Amazon
    • empty envelopes
    • rusty paperclips
    • crap holiday snaps of unannotated places
    • newspaper clippings from the last century
  • confidential destruction
    • bank-statements, bills, invoices; especially if recent
  • treasure: 
    • the letters I sent home from school in the 1960s; 
    • letters my father sent home from his first ship in the 1930s
    • whole issue of The Daily Express from one day in 1942 reporting his medal-winning exploit
    • a picture of my great grandparents
The ratio of trash to treasure is about 4 to 1. There is much to recommend this process. It can be brutal clearing a home, especially if you yourself grew up there. But it's much worse if your parent has just died. If the two quite separate tasks [processing paper and processing loss] get conflated, the grief for your mother can transfer to grief, anger, recrimination about your teddy with the missing leg. It would be regrettable if you started laying into your siblings for a real or imagined slight [or teddy-bear leg amputation] that occurred deep in the previous century.

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