Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: There are no points for pluckiness

17 Dec 2022 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

In her seventh instalment of ‘Midsummer madness,’ blogger Geraldine Durrant comes to accept that there are no points for pluckiness and that sometimes the helper must become the helped.

You can find the previous instalment of Geraldine’s column here.

When my mother was coping with my father, who had Parkinson’s disease, I would tell her off for playing the role of what, as a journalist, I dubbed “the plucky pensioner.”

No matter how difficult things became – and they became very difficult – she would put on a brave smile and assure anyone who asked that things were “fine”…

“But how are you going to get the help you need if you keep telling the doctor everything’s okay?” I would ask, torn between admiration for her bright smile, and irritation with her defiance of the facts.

But as Patrick deteriorated, I began to understand.

It is horribly exposing to find yourself suddenly counted among the halt and the lame, and humbling to accept you are now no longer the self-sufficient helper of others, but the helped…

We were, I came to realise, no longer merely our old capable selves, but “poor” Patrick and Geraldine…

And a smile too wide and a voice too cheerful became my own armour against unwanted pity.

But my resolve to remain upbeat was sorely tested one morning when we had a phone call from Carers Support – or Victim Support, as I thought of them.

My caller was kind – almost too kind – but I rapidly found myself irritated by her intrusive questioning into every aspect of our new lives.

In the interests of keeping the entente cordiale I stifled my instinctively prickly responses, reminding myself that “she meant well” (and is there any more damning a verdict than that?).

Then I realised who it was she reminded me of.

Many years ago a TV comedy called Dear John featured a newly-divorced man who had joined a club for others in the same boat.

The bossy and overbearing organiser knew no boundaries in her impertinent endeavours to discover why members’ marriages had failed, and always ended her enquiries by asking, with all-too-obvious relish, if there had been “any sex-u-al problems?”

My own inquisitor rang off assuring me she was available for advice “night and day” should I wish to consult her, blithely unaware of my resolve that Hell would freeze over before I enlisted her help.

But even as I hung up I knew my defiant thought was a foolish one – because the time would inevitably come when I would need all the support I could get.

However annoying it might turn out to be…

But Patrick, whose early morning mood was now usually ‘grumpy’, could still occasionally surprise me.

For a long time, whenever he had brought me tea in bed, I would ask “Have I had a kiss today?” and he would routinely reply “Do you deserve one?”

And like the oft-repeated banter between Howard and Hilda in Ever Decreasing Circles, I would come up with the expected answer.

“If I waited until I deserved one, I would never get a kiss…”

And we would both laugh…

It is with such companionable inanities that marriages are made – although we drew the line at matching Howard and Hilda sweaters.

But one morning, when I asked the old question, I got an unexpected response.

“Have I had a kiss yet today?” I asked out of habit and a cheeky look came into Patrick’s eyes as he handed me a cup.

“Certainly not,” he replied, “I make it a rule never to kiss the boss…”

Part of me was delighted that his confused mind had managed to come up with an original answer to my question.

But I was also saddened that, somewhere inside, he realised that I was indeed now in charge of the whole show.

Not all days started so well.

Our arguments had started to become more frequent and I was unable to decide how to avoid them.

One regular bone of contention was which day it was, a matter of huge concern to Patrick who had become obsessed with dustbin day – even though he no longer trundled the bin to the kerbside.

“It’s Thursday,” I told him one morning.

“Rubbish,” he said. “It’s Friday…”

We batted it irritably back and forth, and I mentally cursed the BBC whose weather forecast for the coming 24 hours was unhelpfully captioned with Friday in a bold font.

It was pointless to argue, petty even – but how would we ever sort fact from fiction if I started down the rabbit hole of confusion with him?

I recalled my father, who had insisted every upcoming birthday was his 80th.

This was not a problem – except he expected another huge family party with cake and champagne to celebrate his imaginary milestone.

So was it kinder to organise an “80th” birthday every year?

Or was it better to be firm about the facts in a bid to hang on to my own sanity?

Honestly, I had no idea…

But, for the meantime, I was sticking to Thursday…

Geraldine Durrant is a retired journalist, feature writer and children’s author who – since her husband was diagnosed with dementia a year ago – has kept a diary about her experiences as his carer. We have the privilege of publishing Geraldine’s incredibly personal story on our blog every Saturday, so keep your eye out for more on this series next Saturday.

If Geraldine’s writing resonates with you in some way, please do leave a comment to let her know.

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