It’s been a big day in transit for this little non-driver… Nana lives across on the other side of Sydney (it’s a four hour round trip before I’ve even bought her a pie), and the old girl is increasingly in need of care. That’s perfectly understandable at nearly 85 years of age, though god knows I spill more food down my front than she ever has, but in Sydney, I’m it. Being the sole family in situ can be tricky; I travel for work (I was overseas on a travel writing job during one crisis, and in Queensland’s Maroochydore during the last), whilst also living and working well north of her deep south. I’ve been a primary carer before, for my adored grandfather, and let’s just admit it: even if you’re a saint, the role is not without its challenges. And I am no saint. But we do the best we can with what we’ve got, don’t we?
My sister and I are starting a gentle relocation prompt based around the temperate climes of Ballina, where my sister and her kids live. My father and his wife live there too, and though I’ve long been estranged from them and shall remain so, Nana would get the grand old dame treatment from three generations up there and make no mistake. The best I can offer her is a day a fortnight, and though she’s got her little community over there of other residents and daily visits from the Meals on Wheels people and so on, even combined I don’t think it’s going to be sufficient supervision for much longer. Her short term memory is officially shorter than that of your average gold fish. She asked me to cut up her lunch for her today, and by the time I’d done it she was indignant that someone had handed her a pile of food that was all in pieces. I’m telling you, it’s scary stuff. And surprisingly draining for the person who still vividly remembers the very first time she talked about her favourite brooch. But it’s all new for Nana: as far as she knows, she’s got me on the edge of my seat with sparkling and unpredictable conversation and wit. And I’m glad for her that she isn’t aware, perversity that it is, that she’s forgotten, because she’d be so mortified by the many things she no longer remembers to do.
The wheels are in motion for an aged-care assessment, which will help determine whether or not independent living is still appropriate for Nana, or whether in fact we need to start investigating a hostel arrangement. I’m pretty sure they’ll spend five minutes with Nana and sign her up for assisted living, because her condition seems to be declining on a near-daily basis, but that’s not exactly an immediate comfort. Hostels can be pretty manky and depressing places in Sydney, maybe a function of any large city’s total refusal to drag its heels for the old and infirm (“Maybe if we just ignore them, they’ll go away…”, and lo and behold! They do!), but Ballina (parting clouds, shafts of light, an outbreak of choral song) is basically a geriatric nirvana. But it has to be her decision to move up there, she has to want to do it. I’m not interested in making her; I think being old and having your memory fall to the floor like de-elasticised undies is bad enough without people taking away your free will too. She’s still with it in many ways, with it enough to decide. She’ll forget the decision the second she’s made it, of course, but she still knows a thing or two about pleasing herself, and I’m counting on it. I think – I hope – if they tell her she has to move anyway, she’ll be packed and waiting by the road for us to drive her up to Ballina before you can say “mushy peas.”