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26 May 2007

Tired, cold, wet, hungry ... and sad.
I went to Manchester this weekend to see my aunt, for what is probably the last time. She is very frail, 91 years old, quite deaf, almost blind, but trying to be independent.

She lives in a warden-assisted place, so she has her own flat, but has a carer who comes in every morning to make sure she's up and about, make her bed and breakfast and prompt her to take her medications.

During the day her son or granddaughter come over to see to her, and they've just arranged for an extra carer to come during the evening too.

She's eating very little - instant soup, protein drinks, she loves ice cream - and she's also not drinking enough, which makes her disoriented and a bit vague.

She's lost a lot of weight and her energy levels are up and down. She walks with a zimmer frame and is able to get to the bathroom herself. As long as things are in familiar places, she's ok, so her little table on wheels has to have the remote control for the TV in the same place and her talking books CDs next to that, etc. We will not talk about the time my cousin moved the toilet paper, thinking he was Being Very Helpful. Oh noes.

Auntie Nellie was glad to see me (and I her) but - did I expect anything else? - she talked about my sister all the time. "Is Lesley coming? I'd love to see Lesley? How is Lesley?" Lesley last saw my aunt over eight years ago at my birthday party and has not bothered to contact her since.

Conversation is difficult, she can't hear much and her responses to what she thinks the question is can be quite comical at times. But she could remember a phone number without hesitation (two, in fact) and she still has her 'marbles' when it comes to some things, such as music (the family in Manchester has been involved in brass bands for generations) but on others, she's lost, and is vague and confused.

My aunt was a wonderful cook, and much of her identity and self-worth centred around preparing food - for family, as a wife, mother and grandmother, for friends and social events (her buffets were renowned in Blackley) and also as a wonderful cake maker (she made my wedding cake). She was always very adventurous in trying new things - she was making Tandoori Chicken in the 1970s, before Indian food was really popular. Now she can't even think about what she might fancy to eat, and it's so sad to see her slowing down, like a clock that's losing time.

We both cried when I left this afternoon, I think we both knew we would probably not see each other again. She is so physically frail, and is having tests carried out for various things, but she wouldn't be able to stand any kind of invasive treatment.

So I'm sad because I'll miss her, but at the same time, I know that she's had a rich and fulfilling life, loved, wanted and needed by many people. Her time to die will be soon.

I stayed at my cousin's house and last night he took me and his girlfriend for a drive into the country. Without my even realising it, I set foot in Yorkshire. We went to Marsden and Slaithwaite, up near Saddleworth. Beautiful scenery, sheep everywhere.

My cousin is a very heavy drinker, all he talks about is pubs, drinking, how drink takes away all the stresses of life, that he passes out drunk on the sofa every night, and he's still full of unresolved anger and resentment at his ex-wife (who he calls That Thing I Was Married To). Without breaking my own anonymity too much (I don't think he's ready) I did mention that I used to drink a lot but found that once I started I couldn't stop, so I packed it in. It went right over his head.

I made the trip up north by coach, and it was horrible - over hours each way to go 200 miles. Bank Holiday weekend, traffic, heavy rain ... if I'd driven, it would have been the same, only more stressful. At least as a passenger I could read, doze, look at fields of cows & calves, sheep & lambs, horses & foals and poppies ... fields and fields of poppies. And, as an antidote to being taken against my will to Yorkshire, we drove right past the Theatre of Dreams on the way out of Manchester.

I got soaked on the way home - no cabs at the station, the cab office said it'd be an hour's wait so I decided to walk. I got drenched. I'm so tired, it seems as if all I've done in the last week is go up and down motorways, what with visiting my sister, then having my Canadian friend for a couple of days, and this trip.

Monday is a holiday, so I'm planning on doing nothing for the next two days.
posted by essexjan 26 May | 16:04
It sounds like you had a very full visit. If I were in your shoes, as I have been and will be again, that's what I would hope for.

Treat yourself well tonight. And always.
posted by Elsa 26 May | 16:37
Seeing someone become lost and feeble is always crushing. All I can add is try to take some joy in knowing that a good person spent most of her long life in heath and with vitality.
posted by arse_hat 26 May | 16:39
Tea and a hot bath, stat! Sorry, essexjan. That'd wipe me out for 2 days, too. I'm glad you already have the cat angle covered. They're helpful for lying-around-the-house company.
posted by small_ruminant 26 May | 16:43
The only thing that's worse than making such visits, ej, is not making them, and then kicking yourself for years, when the well liked relative is gone. Today may have been a hard day, but it will make for better tomorrows. I tried, always to go, when I got the calls, and while they didn't always know me, I knew.

And you'll know that she knew. That's the payback you get for making the timely effort. You get to nuture conscience and compassion in your own heart.
posted by paulsc 26 May | 17:11
Ah -- Old Trafford.
posted by ericb 26 May | 17:13
You're a good niece essexjan. Your aunt sounds like a great cook and person. (I always go to pudding or ice cream when I have a patient that won't eat.)

Good wishes for a relaxing weekend.
posted by LoriFLA 26 May | 17:26
That sounds like a very emotional weekend, ej. (I love your gift of being able to describe emotional situations, BTW.)

I second the idea of tea and cat-enhanced laying around.
posted by BoringPostcards 26 May | 17:37
I last saw my 94 year old godmother 2 weeks before she died. I've written on metafilter about her a few times. So I can relate. Getting old can suck. Best thing I can say is to treasure the times you've spent with her, try to let the bad stuff roll off of you, and to do some things that make you feel good right now. A soak in the bathtub with some candles and a glass of wine might be just what you need.
posted by miss lynnster 26 May | 19:47
posted by danf 26 May | 19:59
It's definitely time to crash and treat yourself well.
posted by deborah 26 May | 20:05
My grandmother is nearing that point too i'm afraid...

posted by Schyler523 26 May | 20:29
((((hugs for essexjan)))

My father-in-law is on borrowed time, as well, and he won't eat, either. Just like LoriFLA said, we're trying pudding and ice cream. My husband goes to see him in the nursing home every day, and I usually go once or twice a week. It's draining to see him failing day by day. He's lost his voice for some reason (the doctors and speech therapists can't figure out why), and can't do anything for himself anymore.

I'm glad you spent the time with your aunt, since we never know just how long we or our loved ones have. There are times I regret not going to see my grandfather in his last months, but I was told that he often didn't remember family anymore. Since I always fancied myself one of his favorites, it would have killed me not to be remembered.
posted by redvixen 26 May | 20:29
Take care of yourself. As emotional your weekend was, you will always remember it. Your aunt sounds like an amazing and giving woman.
posted by typewriter 26 May | 20:31

posted by chewatadistance 26 May | 20:58
bunnyhugs from here, too, hon.
posted by bunnyfire 26 May | 21:17
I'm glad you got to see each other for what might have been the last time. You're a good niece. :) A laid back tea filled weekend sounds like a great way to relax and regroup. I hope your weekend is lovely. I'm thinking of you!
posted by viachicago 27 May | 01:01
The only thing that's worse than making such visits, ej, is not making them, and then kicking yourself for years, when the well liked relative is gone.
I have always regretted not going to see my grandfather 9who was more of a father to me than the one who fucked off when I was young) when he was dying in hospital. I went to see him once and was so horrified by what he had become that I never went back. The strong, fit, vital man that I had looked up to my entire life was gone and replaced with a frail old man who could barely lift his head from the pillow and I just couldn't cope with it. It is now eleven years that I have lived with that regret - I'm glad you will be spared at least that.

You're a good person, Jan.
posted by dg 27 May | 17:50
Just did a similar trip to Ireland and I feel empty, weird, guilty, shucks a whole lot of something. Best wishes to you EssexJan , you're my kind of people!!!
I'd love to have you down here in the summer.
We're trying to arrange a meet-up in my house and would love if you took part
posted by Wilder 28 May | 10:49
I would love that, Wilder.
posted by essexjan 28 May | 10:56
I just talked to my sister on the phone, who asked if I'd had a 'nice time' in Manchester. When I said no, not really, she was puzzled as to why. It hasn't occurred to her that our aunt is dying and that I was really upset about it, and she doesn't really care anyway, but she put on this fake concerned 'oh dear, what a shame' voice because that's the appropriate reaction when someone tells you about someone you don't know who's ill.

It was all I could do to not say anything to my auntie on Friday when she kept on and on about my sister, especially when she said how wonderful it was that Lesley had travelled 'all that way' (50 miles) for her 80th birthday a few years ago. I'd travelled 250 miles for the party, and the only fricking reason my sister went is because I picked her up and drove her there and paid for the hotel room and meals for us both.

*kicks cat*

posted by essexjan 28 May | 13:13
What qualifies a mental health therapist? || And just as i got inside the sky broke open.