So Far So Good…

May 19, 2009 at 10:10 am (Uncategorized)

I’m home. I’m afraid this is going to be brief because I am just so shattered, but I know you’re all so lovely that some of you keep checking in to see how it all went, so I wanted to tell you that the general feeling between my sister and myself is cautious optimism. Yesterday was an extremely long day. And Nana-related anxiety gives me insomnia or, if I manage to drift off, nightmares, so as you can imagine the last few days have been a bit shaky (I accidentally wrote ‘years’ first off – how’s that for telling?!). Still, we got there without any major dramas, although our departure was delayed by more than an hour – which doesn’t remotely measure the unit of time I experienced sitting it out with Nana. But overall, we again travelled together better than I expected. This time, scones were my secret weapon. Gigantic scones with jam and cream. Plus cappuccinos. And a fat magazine. Llew chauffeuring us to the airport didn’t hurt either – Nana’s a big fan. Anyway, the trick I’ve found is to be very upbeat and keep the diversions coming. Oh look, here’s that coffee you wanted. Oh yummy, scones! Wasn’t that little boy at check-in adorable? Weren’t they nice to seat us together? Hasn’t Olivia Newton-John aged well? Let’s go to the toilet!

You’d be surprised, I think, just how tiring it is keeping this kind of chat up for a day. It sounds so simple, is so simple, and yet it is incredibly taxing for reasons I don’t quite understand. I was duly exhausted by the time we touched down in Ballina. I retrieved Nana’s bag from the carousel and we went outside to start what soon became a lengthy cab queue. My arrival in Ballina seems to precipitate its annual rainfall, and the windchill factor was raw. Nana – and who could blame her? – started loudly complaining. The state of her windswept locks was a particular sore point. I quickly went back into the terminal, picked up the white cab phone inside the door, and simply told them they had quite a line of customers waiting. Big mistake. A cab finally turned up. Just as I was hefting the bags onto my shoulder, the cabbie got out and said, “Anderson? Cab for Anderson?”

A guy near the back of the queue stepped forward (did I imagine the slight smugness in the smile..?), hopped into the cab and merrily drove away. Fuck. Talk about a trap for the uninitiated. 

“Oh,” I said to Nana. “I didn’t give them my name because we were at the front of the queue. I just said there were people waiting.”

“Look at my hair!” she cried. “Oooh, that wind!”

“Do you want to go wait inside and I’ll come and get you when the cab arrives?”

Nana glanced doubtfully back at the terminal. 

“Look at me!” she said. “I’m a wreck!”

“Well,” I offered, “you’re in good company.”

This pleased her. 

“That’s true,” she said, and then she started fondling the tweed sleeve of the elderly gentleman standing behind us. 

“This is lovely fabric,” she said. “Don’t you think this is lovely fabric?”

I smiled at the gent. 

“Very nice.”

“Did you book a cab?” he asked.

I explained that no, I hadn’t.

“Quite a trap for young players,” I said. 

He laughed delightedly. 

“I’m just back from Wagga,” he said. “It was freezing down there.”

“It’s freezing here,” I said. “The same thing happened the last time. I’m starting to think it’s me.”

“Where are you going?”
“Cherry Street. Crowley.”

“Well then,” he nodded. “I’m going right near there. I booked a car. You’re welcome to share with me.”

It turns out that Tom is a War Veteran and lives in a unit on the vast spread that is Crowley.

LOVELY OLD GENTLEMAN ALERT. Nana stroked his tweed some more. 

“Oh, thank you,” I said. “That is so generous, thank you. My name’s Diana, and this is my nana, Doreen.”

I shook hands with Tom but Nana was sort of semi-frozen at that point, so wasn’t really interested in observing the social niceties. And sure enough, it was Tom’s car that turned up next, not a cab for any hapless newcomer who just joined the bloody queue. He explained the situation to the driver, we loaded up the boot (the driver carefully placing a large white cake box out of harm’s way as he told us it was a sponge cake with which he planned to woo his wife), and we were away. Nana sat in the front and the cabbie understood the moment Crowley was mentioned that if she wanted to talk about Currumbin, where she lived more than 30 years ago, not the 4 she guessed when he asked, then it was best to just keep her talking about that. I sat in back with Tom and his tweed, and he was just the loveliest man, a real sweetie. He’d been down in Wagga for his son’s retirement, and was duly abashed by what that revealed of his own age. He knew my neck of the woods, too, since his daughter keeps a holiday flat here. We had a fine time. I tried to insist on shouting the ride to repay his kindness, but of course he wouldn’t hear of that, the best I could do was beat him down to dutch. 

Anyway, Kate and two of the kids were waiting for us at reception. Nana was very… pliant. I think that’s the best word. She just went along with the tour, and the room, and the fact that there was someone else in there with her (yes, unfortunately she has to share with one other lady, whom I didn’t see awake over two days and who didn’t stir when Kate inspected the room last Thursday. So far as we can make out, she does little more than, well, breathe). She thought she’d been to a service in the chapel before. She was very happy with the water views, and the cafe, and the – wait for it – bar. Apparently they have happy hour twice a week. Right on. 

After a long afternoon of checking Nana in, I collapsed in a heap in my hotel room and seriously got into bed at 6:30 pm. I didn’t sleep, I read, and then I tried to sleep but couldn’t, but I was so tired and sort of shell-shocked it was really the only place to be. Of course, I woke up at 5:30 am, but no matter. I just wanted to know how Nana was overnight. 

I went around town buying her some stuff – toiletries and a phone – then walked to Crowley. The lady on duty said the night nurse said all went well, Nana had a good night, and so far, so good. I went to the room. No Nana, but there was a very nice bedspread. I don’t know why, but I found this non-institutional manchester profoundly comforting. I wanted to sit there stroking it the way Nana had stroked Tom’s tweed jacket the day before. That bedspread made me feel better about everything, even the sleeping woman on the other side of the room.

“Does she, um, wake up?” I asked the lady on duty.

“Oh yes,” she laughed. “She might wake up for day and then spend the next two days in bed. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?”

I thought about my night.

“You have no idea.”

I found Nana in the main living area. Her back was to me, so I stood watching for a minute to see how she was getting on. There were half a dozen or so residents all sitting listening to one of the activities directors reading news items aloud from the paper. Nana was leaning right over in her chair chatting happily to the lady sitting beside her. When I approached, she smiled and said “This is my granddaughter.” After that all broke up, we wandered back around to Nana’s room. She had no sense of being ‘left behind’ when I said I had to go home, and clearly no idea that last night was her first, but as I said to the Darklings,  most important was that she didn’t say “When will you be back?” This was always my tip-off that she was lonely in her flat. And she didn’t ask. No, she waved me off. 

I thought it was important to keep the smile on my face, then unloaded to my very nice female cabbie all the way to the airport, then sat in a teary stupor in the waiting lounge, then slowly started to compare where she was with where she had been, and that made me feel better. You should see the activities roster for the month – Nana’s dance card is full.

POSTSCRIPT: brief?! HA! This may well be a record on DoctorDi.



  1. Grad said,

    It is very difficult going from being the one cared for to being the care giver. But take heart. It sounds as though Nana is making the transition to her new home with more than a touch of grace. Great happiness is found in simple joys, as I’m sure you and she will continue to find. Now, take care of yourself. I’m proud of you.

  2. charlotteotter said,

    You write so beautifully about your Nana. You must love her very much. I am really happy for her and for you that a place, and a good one, has been found. I hope it works wonderfully for all of you.

  3. Lilian Nattel said,

    I’m glad the trip went well though it was exhausting and emotional for you. What a gift that old guy was. I’m glad you ran into him.

  4. litlove said,

    Looking after nana on a plane would be the equivalent of looking after a toddler (something I actively chose never, ever to do) in the same circumstances. I’ve watched other women give themselves over to six or seven hours of distracting someone small and querulous every five seconds. I don’t know how any adult survives it.

    I’m so glad she’s in and settled, Di. What a weight off your mind. If ever you could bear it, though, you should write a novel about this situation. You always write your best about her – perfect tragi-comedy.

  5. doctordi said,

    Grad, I feel all emotional again now you’ve gone and said you’re proud of me! Thank you, that’s such a lovely thing to say. I’m a big, big believer in simple joys too.

    Charlotte, it’s interesting. My relationship with Nana really only came into being in the past few years. She was dumped pretty brutally by my “mother” (pathological narcissist and manipulative fantasist) and other Sydney-based siblings (we’re all estranged), and Kate (Nana’s lifelong favourite, I think it’s fair to say. Kate? You’d agree with that, wouldn’t you?) was too far away, so I was kind of it by default. And I’m glad it worked out that way, because I got to know my sole surviving grandparent, and we have a genuine affection for each other now. A friendship we didn’t have before. And as CRAZY as she drives me, that’s pretty nice.

    Lilian, don’t I know it! Tom was the cavalry to the rescue, all right! He must have been dashing in battle back in the day.

    Oh, Litlove, the parallels between dementia and early childhood are extraordinary. And the novel idea is… well, very appealing in some ways, and certainly the material is there, so we’ll see. I actually think it would make a great newspaper column – if you can write about your dog, why can’t you write about your nana?

  6. Charlotte said,

    I’m with the others Di, you write beautifully (and wittily, and movingly) about your Nana. Actually a few weeks ago I wondered if you’d considered a non-fiction
    book about it, your adventures with her into dementia and scary responsibilities for care of her, all the frustrations and craziness but also this deeper stuff you end up with as unexpected, enriching side effects …. i reckon it’s totally got legs.

  7. doctordi said,

    Oh, thanks Charlotte, that’s a big compliment! And I think I agree with you that it would be more natural – in this case, at least – to pursue it as a non-fiction project. I guess that’s why I think of it in column terms. But part of me feels very, very tired just thinking about what a non-fiction book on Nana’s dementia would mean. It’s emotionally draining too – although there’s no question I’ve found it hugely cathartic writing about it here.

    Hmmmm. Anyway, it’s nice to know you guys enjoy, if that’s the right word, these little forays into Lady Alzheimer’s world. Nana’s never objected to fans.

  8. Charlotte said,

    yep, get the exhaustion thing entirely. just keep it in mind … it is an ever-expanding world of intrigue for those folks with ageing parents, not to mention those of us ageing ourselves in alarming ways. anyhoo. a thing to talk about praps, down the track. I still think it’s got something unique in that you are a young woman looking after your nana without a generation in between. You have leapt, however slipslidingly and precariously, into taking on your parents’ generation’s responsibilities at a young age, as has Llew, which is a fricking ENORMOUS and amazing act of generosity on both your parts. All hail to you both.

  9. doctordi said,

    That’s true. I do think the timing of my experience is unusual, and to be of real use to people of my generation, a book would have to come before they start really entering this phase with their parents. Because oh boy, it’s coming. That’s what this experience lets me know, and I do worry for my friends and family simply because I know that some of them at least are destined to go through this.

    It may help your and my interest in this to know I was one of my grandfather’s primary carers too. I lived with him for the last year of his life as he developed Motor Neurone Disease, another shocker, very different (it seems either the body or the mind packs it in), so as you can see by this genetic mix, I’m fucked!

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