Chrissie Gittins on Getting On 16th April 2018 – Posted in: Blog
As I got older, I didn’t bargain for my parents getting older ahead of me. There were gradual tell-tale signs that their world was curling up at the edges.
My mother kept a photograph of her younger self beside her in the sitting room. She was lounging on a beach towel in her harlequin shorts and off-the-shoulder top. She liked to remind herself of how she once looked. When her dear brother died, she decided not to travel to his funeral. At first I was shocked, but ageing cuts through convention, and why shouldn’t she remember him how she wanted.
My father stopped singing in the Rossendale Male Voice Choir. He said he would keep mum company instead. When he drove into a line of bollards with mum sat beside him and still refused to stop driving I wrote him a letter. How would he feel if he caused a serious accident? He took the letter to his G.P. who examined him and said his driving days were over.
It was his determination and persistence which drove him on. Despite vascular dementia and angina he insisted on laying new tiles in their small conservatory. In doing so he tripped over the uneven flags around their bungalow and broke two ribs. After six weeks in hospital his mental state had deteriorated to such an extent that he couldn’t return to live at home. He was barricaded into a chair on the ward to stop him wandering while we found him a home to move to.
So after forty-five years of married life together my parents were forced to live apart. For several months mum thought that dad would return home. She eventually realized that he wouldn’t. The staff at the home offered to look after her too. But she hung on to the vestiges of her house-bound independence – being able to plan her own meals, watch what she wanted on TV, answer her phone and entertain her visitors. She went on living at the bungalow alone, with an increasing number of carer visits per day as the years went by. My brother and I visited alternately, from Bristol and London, so that she had one of us to stay every three weeks. The carers always knew when I was visiting because the windows would be flung open and there were flowers in vases. My ever practical brother and I complemented each other’s roles.
When mum began to fall we fixed for her to have a red button pendant alarm so that she could call for help. But such was mum’s concern for others that when she fell in the night she stayed there till morning, not wanting to bother the staff. We had to persuade her that it really was alright to press the button at night.
Their fiftieth wedding anniversary was a triumph. Dad came home for the day, relatives and friends congregated, mum put on her finery and dad helped blow out the candles on the cake. One of their presents was a Golden 50th Anniversary Rose, which was duly planted out in the garden. The bungalow is now sold. The new owners have completely remodelled it and when I last walked down their cul-de-sac it was unrecognizable. They’ve widened the drive and taken part of the garden with it. I hope the rose survived.
Between Here and Knitwear by Chrissie Gittins, 22 linked stories about childhood, adulthood, parenthood and ageing, is now back in print after selling out its first run. Available from all good booksellers, online retailers, for your Kindle, and from the Unthank Books store,
“Gittins conveys not only memory’s tendency to focus suddenly and fully on selected moments, but equally the impulse that works to shape them into the narrative of a life.” K.J. Orr, Times Literary Supplement