SOCIAL WORKER AND COMMUNITY Psychiatric Nurse (professionals): CHECK. Brother, mother and me: check. Subject: father. Meeting: begin.
The realisation that he cannot cope with both his job and his own self-appointed position as carer has settled into my brother’s mind at about every level. After weeks of trying to prepare the house for my father’s return, he’s admitted to me (and himself) that it really isn’t practical at all. The professionals keep asking – especially my mother – what we want… it’s driving me nuts. What we want just is not going to happen. What we want is to turn the clock back 18 months to the start of this nightmare and to prevent it happening. We want Father to have his mind back, to be able to see a lot better than he can at the moment and to be able to engage with him at a level of normality that just is not going to occur at the moment – if ever.
Mother sits rather stony-faced and gives evasive answers. I’m trying to let the Professionals simply do their jobs, but I can’t let it go. After yet another 10 minutes of my brother combining supposition and recent history, I try to put it all in context. I try to say how I could have done more to keep an eye on things. I stress that the house always gets cooled and ventilated for their visits and usually it’s extremely hot in here. I point out that despite the compactness of the house, due to his own fragility and my mother’s frailties, the only room my father could occupy fairly safely would be the current dining room – but not only is it impractical, it gives him little privacy.
As a family, we who are living nearby, failed him. If I had indeed spent more time just popping by when passing and keeping an eye on things, maybe I could have raised the alarm sooner. Perhaps if my mother was not of the generation who habitually don’t ask for help for themselves yet will leap into action for others, they would have realised a few things and help would have been sought sooner. Then, of course, there’s my brother who heroically stepped up to service and did everything he could to hold things together…
It’s like what they say about a frog and hot water. They say that if you take a live frog and drop it into a pan of boiling water, it will attempt to hop out – of course it would – and that if you put it in cold water and heat it up slowly, the frog will sit there and allow itself to boil to death. When you’re in the middle of a situation which is slowly getting worse around you, you just adapt to each new day, taking events as they happen and generally not noticing (until it’s far too late) that something needs to be done about it.
The trouble is, that by this time, you’re so locked into the routines which have been established that you don’t actually have any time to go and get help. So you just keep on plodding on until the situation breaks down and descends into crisis. But after all these weeks, my brother finally tells the professionals that they can’t cope… and that he also wants me to be the First Contact in all things.
I couldn’t say what I wanted to say in front of my mother and brother, because it would seem I’m accusing them of neglect and borderline abuse. Far from it. Nothing of the kind: they just got swamped. They didn’t notice how things were – but I did because my view of it all had been staccato and with weeks between visits. You don’t notice your own hair thinning and greying until a certain point – and that’s because you see it all several times a day. You don’t notice how much weight you’re putting on until you no longer can wear your favourite trousers or skirt, the waistband just won’t stretch any longer: but the friend or relative from far away who visits twice a year would notice. And once I noticed, I screamed at my sisters and shouted and stamped my feet.
Now, I am tired… and I can imagine how tired my mother and brother feel. Yet they still are prepared to argue for my father to come ‘home’.
I don’t know how I can continue to put the case for this not to happen as gently as I have been; the time is coming when I will have to just open my mouth and jump in with both feet. They will be offended. There will be name-calling. But at least I know that I am to blame too.
It’s normal for people who live in the same town as family – or so I understand – to visit at least three times a week. There are reasons why I haven’t, but they are second place to the fact that I didn’t – although if I had, I may also have been blind to the situation.
The meeting ends and a sort of agreement is made: and I point out where would be better to place my father and why. The next problem, of course, will be my mother. Ideally, maybe, we could persuade her to go in with him so she can be with him and have her own support system. Maybe. Unlikely – especially as such things are called ‘putting away’.