2019 has been a time of big changes, births, graduations and the death of my remaining parent. Alongside the physical tasks required following these events it is surprising how such changes alter individual life patterns and personal reflections.
Our first grandchild arrived safely in May. What kind of grandparent I would be had not really entered my consciousness (I was not one of those who eagerly anticipated a baby anytime my adult children appeared to be in a ‘serious relationship’) and, to be honest, my main concern during my daughter’s pregnancy was that everything went well and mother and baby came through the experience alive.
Being a grandparent has brought changes, although our experience is not very ‘hands on’ as the new family live in Sweden. It is different in some ways – a different language and different child-rearing customs needed to be recognised and – similar in others, in that it is lovely to have a ‘little person’ in the family and it is good to observe the new parents growing into their role. And, very good they are too.
Modern technology/software such as FaceTime has shown itself to be invaluable as we happily disperse advice and answer questions whilst also being able to watch baby develop. Obviously ‘advice giving’ is fraught with danger so I consciously state ‘this is what I would do, other options are ……… ‘
Just as we were growing into this new role and embracing the ‘next generation’ my mother’s health declined, and she passed away one Sunday morning. Poignant timing as we were in Stockholm visiting the new baby.
Her funeral arrangements had been made some years previously – she suffered with Dementia so it was important that she was involved in the planning whilst able to state her wishes. Despite this there was still plenty of tasks to arrange and complete.
There was no will so assistance and advice was required from the Probate Office (https://www.gov.uk/applying-for-probate ). The estate is small and in good order yet still the process is time-consuming with many people to contact and numerous forms to complete. The wheels of bureaucracy do grind slowly, and I sympathise with anyone having to administrate a large estate. So once again, I encourage anyone reading this to write a will (https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/money-legal/legal-issues/making-a-will/# ) and to arrange a Power of Attorney ( https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/make-a-lasting-power-of-attorney)
As well as the practicalities there is also a grieving process to work through. No matter how expected the death of a relative or friend it still comes as a shock. Alongside the increasing Dementia my mother was 86 years old and becoming prone to Falls and Infections so her decline in physical health was obvious to us all.
As we worked through the funeral arrangements I became aware that I was dealing with the ‘tasks process’ and not addressing the ‘personal-to-me’ part of bereavement. Then, the realisation that I had not really addressed my father’s death 2 years earlier. At that time there was a lot to do and I spent many months sorting out a chaotic financial muddle and due to the family dynamics it was not straight forward. That had distracted me from acknowledging his death (links to Bereavement advice at end of article)
I had left home at 16 years old to begin a career in nursing (in the days of the Cadet Nurse) and had never moved back. I visited regularly and despite these visits declining as the years passed, I still phoned to speak to my parents most weeks – working life, marriage, children and living approx. 200 miles apart does impact on these relationships even with the best of intentions.
Yet despite regular conversations I was not aware that they were struggling with their situation – looking back I now realise that Mother was covering up her fears and concerns, making light of their declining years and not being open about failing health.
I understand that this is common with elderly parents. The need for independence, the reluctance to admit that handling difficult situations is now too much of a burden and it is easier ‘to let things slide’.
A sudden illness requiring emergency admission of my father to hospital was the eye-opener for me. Rushing to the hospital and meeting my mother at the entrance I recognised that she herself was not well. Then a sudden realisation that despite her claims of ‘everything will be fine’ we knew the time had come for interventions. I was glad of my NHS insights and knowing instinctively who we should talk to – hospital staff, Safeguarding teams, GP etc. Eventually both parents were identified as requiring 24-hour care and became residents of local Care Homes.
Although I hear negativity about Social Service departments I can only comment from my own experience which was very positive. I felt listened too and supported and they worked with myself and siblings to identify the correct care setting for both parents. This did result in them being in two different Homes although arrangements were made for regular visits and contacts.
Emptying the house was a mammoth task although as we progressed the evidence of a declining ability to cope showed itself – ‘how did we miss this’ was a question asked frequently. So, although not able to cope with what was happening to them, they were able to develop ‘coping mechanisms’ to hide this from us and they obviously did it well.
The positives that did come out of all the trauma was, once in a Care Home setting they both improved physically and as Mother’s Dementia progressed it was re-assuring for the family that she was safe, secure and cared for.
So alongside the conversations with Health Care Professionals we were also having dialogue with Landlords, Banks and Utility companies etc as well as the Office of the Public Guardian as there were no Power of Attorneys in place. Then before all this could be resolved Father’s health declined and he died – which takes me back to the origins of this tale.
I became so caught up in the practicalities of the events – funeral arrangements, accessing funds to pay increasing debts such as Care Home Fees and funeral costs and supporting the family that it never occurred to me I had never taken even 5 minutes to sit down, take a breath and reflect on his death.
It took me until my mother’s funeral, to acknowledge this. My parents were both in their late 80’s when they died. They had been young adults when starting a family so myself and my siblings were ourselves reaching retirement age. As a consequence their deaths were not totally unexpected yet their absence does alter the family structure and we are, to all intents and purposes, orphans.
Bereavement is individual to each person and we all handle such life events in our own way. Often this is an unconscious process and whilst for many loss and grief display themselves through tears and visible sadness it can also be evidenced through stress, anxiety and increased susceptibility to minor illnesses. Unresolved this can lead to longer-term illnesses and effects on mental health so obtaining information from local Bereavement Groups and websites etc can be supportive during the grieving process.
Yet life moves on and adjustments in the family relationships are made, consciously or otherwise. Meanwhile Baby is growing well, developing his own character and having visited us recently I have had very ‘hands on’ experience of the role of Grandma.
|Photo by Jean Gerber on Unsplash – Featured Image
Photo by Micheile Henderson @micheile010 // Visual Stories [nl] on Unsplash – Couple