What would your advice be for someone about to take care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s?
There’s a Zen Buddhist tenet, perhaps the central teaching, which goes like this: ‘Pay Attention’ Sounds so simple, and a bit harsh, doesn’t it? Like a schoolteacher! But it’s actually liberating if we unpack it…what it means in the context of care is this, to me at least:
There are no rules, there is only you and the person you care for and if you truly pay attention to both, you will instinctively know what’s best. Forget what should or shouldn’t ‘be’. Think only of what brings joy and satisfaction.
If pudding is fun to have before the main meal, why not?
If putting music on in the mornings and singing along together makes the chores go along a little more easily, why not?
And if sitting quietly and holding hands, paying attention to the birds in the garden, or the rustling of leaves in the trees calms everything, why not do just that?
There are no experts like you. No one who knows the person you care for like you. No one who can understand your reality better than you.
Believe in yourself. Trust yourself. And when you fail, as you will, learn from the experience, and above all, forgive yourself. When you succeed, when you do what you do with love, celebrate.
In the early days of becoming a carer what helped you the most?
A sense of humour would have helped me the most, and eventually did, but it took me a long time to have the confidence to laugh at myself and the situations that trying too hard got me into!
And music. Everything is better with music.
Did I mention cake? A magic potion!
In what ways has your relationship with your mother changed?
We’ve become a team. There’s no hierarchy anymore – no mother and son, no carer and caree. Just the two of us, doing what we do and doing it as well as we can, finding the joy where we can, facing the hard parts with some sense of my Granny’s old adage:
Tout casse, tout passé, tout lasse.’ Roughly translated from the French, it means ‘Everything breaks, everything passes, nothing lasts.’ If that sounds a little bit of a downer, bear in mind it refers to the good and the bad, and living by such a notion, reminds us that life is fleeting, change is the only constant, the living in the moment the only real source of happiness.
What helps you connect with your mother?
Music and food are indeed the wormholes to a shared universe and that connects us, of course it does, but there are also shared experiences available to us, everything from cooking together to going through old photos, to giving mum and manicure (fingers and toes) to sharing a sundowner. She’s become partial to a Margarita over the summer and I can recommend it myself! (Tequila, Cointreau and the juice of a lime…sometimes a bit of grapefruit makes it sweeter…ice crushed in a blender and a thin ring of salt round the rim of the glass. Put that in an elegant cocktail glass, open a packet of Quavers (easier to eat than crisps) and you can conjure a five-star hotel in your own garden.
How do you find time to look after yourself?
Ah! I have a terrible reputation for being what my sister describes as ‘a hedonist’, what I regard as a rather refined Epicureanism. I know how to find my joy. If I don’t know, or I fear I’m losing sight of it, I’ll try something new. At the moment for instance, I find that Covid and lockdowns are all too tedious and I’d love to travel…a Greek island like Paxos would be ideal…or France perhaps, to enjoy café life. I can’t have either, but I can cycle my (electric) bike, £400 off Ebay, to the common where there’s sand and a pond, and I can then head to the local shops and sit outside the Co-op at the café there. Takes a little bit of imagination, but less than you’d think!
I do all that before mum even wakes in the mornings, which makes it a low-cost option and perfectly doable. And at the other end of the day, is reading. My double bed is littered with books. I’m ridiculously prone to buying books, especially online where one click does it all. Kind of an addict, actually, but I’m working on reigning it in!
If I’m homebound in the day, I cook. I love to cook, anything from homemade soups to full roasties…music on, as always, and maybe a glass of wine too. I was brought up on Gordon Ramsay, long before the clean living Jamie Oliver!