The Put Upons

October 30, 2012

Are you providing love, care and attention for an ageing parent? Do you get adequate support from your siblings or do you feel like a Put Upon?

Róisín Ingle is renowned for her ‘warts and all’ weekly column in The Irish Times magazine. Last weekend, she wrote about a subject which is very close to my heart. While it was sad to read, it sounded awfully familiar and left me feeling somewhat vindicated.

She told the story of one woman, Marion, who is providing the bulk of the day-to-day care for her ageing mother, with little or no help from her siblings. Marion is angry, feels taken for granted and wonders if others find themselves in a similar predicament. Read on…

Róisín Ingle on the Put Upons

“I REMEMBER YEARS ago, when Gay Byrne reigned supreme on RTÉ radio every morning instead of reigning supreme every Sunday on Lyric FM, him reading out a letter from a woman living, I think, on Ailesbury or Shrewsbury Road in Dublin, both of which streets live eternally purple in my mind on account of years spent staring at the Monopoly board.

I must have only been a teenager, but I’ve never forgotten her story.

The woman lived alone in a big house and the only time her children bothered to visit was Christmas Day. In the letter she told Gay that this year she’d prefer if they didn’t come. She couldn’t believe she had reared such an uncaring, thoughtless bunch of people. If she was alone, she reckoned, she may as well be fully alone on Christmas Day, the same as every other day. But she knew she would go through the charade, the house full of well-meaning visitors and cinnamon-scented cheer for at least part of this one day, their overburdened consciences eased for another year. She would shut the door and think about all the things she could never tell her children to their faces. So instead, as so many people did then, she told Gay.

She was an older woman then, I’m sure she’s long gone now but I thought about her the other day when I was in contact with a woman who calls herself one of the Put Upons.

That’s the term this woman, Marion, uses for the grown-up children who provides the bulk of the day-to-day love, care and attention for an ageing parent while the rest of the family do virtually nothing. Marion thought she was the only one with “selfish, uncaring” siblings until she started to talk to friends and discovered a wider community of Put Upons. But knowing she is not the only one doesn’t make it any easier.

Marion is in her 50s, working full time and angry. She thinks the main reason she is a Put Upon is because she lives the closest to her mother. In the beginning, when problems were smaller, it made sense for her to be the one taking action when any issues arose. But then her mother got older and Marion found herself in charge of making all the hospital appointments and bringing her to them and sorting out all the confusion over prescriptions. She does her mother’s shopping every week and brings bread and milk when she runs out, and sorts it when she has no batteries for the remote and organises a repair man for the telly or buys a new one if it’s really kaput. When she can’t do a particular thing, her husband and her children help out.

Oh, she knows there is a list of reasons as long as their arms why the other siblings can’t help out. They live abroad, or they are working, or they are on holidays, or they can’t afford the taxi fare to come and see her, or they have other members of extended family to care for, or they are just busy. Always busy. Too busy to agree to her requests for family meetings, or to come up with a rota so that the family can take turns making Sunday dinner. When their mother asks another sibling for help the reply is often “did you ask Marion?” She has become the de facto daughter. The default daughter. She feels like an only child and she feels taken for granted, as though her time isn’t as important as theirs.

I asked if she tells them how she feels, but she doesn’t, fearful that they won’t see her point of view and that it will cause ructions in the family. She also worries that they will tell their mother, which will make her feel like a burden – something she already suspects she is.

Marion would like her siblings to know a few things. That their mother spends far too much time alone and – look, it’s not rocket science – this means she is often lonely. One day Marion called to the house at 6pm and the lock was still on the door from the night before.

Their mother cries at night. Did they know? Their mother loves all her children and grandchildren, worries about them, talks constantly about their exploits. She longs for regular visits from them, something to look forward to. She wishes that when she rang and left them messages that they would be returned instead of ignored. Their mother is good and kind and, yes, needy but neediness, believes Marion, is not a crime in older age.

Why do Marion and the other Put Upons carry on as the default daughters or sons? “Because we love our parents. And we know we will have great memories, laughs and tender moments with them that the others lose out on.” In the end, the Put Upons win, she reckons. They have the “privilege” of supporting their older parents through their old age. They will bear no guilt when they go. And yet they also know how much richer their parents’ life would be if the others played their part.

As well as saying she’s a Put Upon, Marion also thinks she is a wimp for not wanting to rock the family boat. But she’s not a wimp. She’s a warrior for her mother. She just wishes there were others taking up arms in the name of unconditional love and battling together for the same cause.”

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I applaud Róisín Ingle for highlighting this difficult topic and for giving a voice to those who are quietly getting on with the job of looking after an ageing parent, with little help or acknowledgement from their siblings.

If this story resonates with you, I’d love to hear from you. As Marion says… we need to support one another in the name of unconditional love!

With thanks to Róisín Ingle and The Irish Times.


The Long Goodbye

December 16, 2010

My dear Mum died in the nursing home today.

She has gone to a better place.

Rest in Peace, Mum

In respect to my mother, no comments will be facilitated on this post.


What a week!

June 20, 2010

It all started last Sunday. We had some visitors staying and I wrongly assumed that my constantly recurring headache was as a result of the extra workload. I’m well-accustomed to popping pain relievers in order to function normally and I make no apology for it. As anyone who suffers from a chronic condition will know, it’s the only way to get things done. The secret however, is knowing when to shout for help.

When I dragged myself out of bed last Monday morning I knew I was in trouble. I’d barely slept a wink overnight as my headache was no longer responding to pain killers. As luck would have it, I’d a hospital appointment already booked with the surgeon for the following morning so expert help was at hand.

By the time the surgeon got to examine my head on Tuesday morning, I was in so much pain I could barely talk. A few hours later, I was lying inside an MRI scanner having a brain scan to rule out a possible brain abscess. Thankfully, nothing of this nature was diagnosed although a nasty infection was visible at the site of my recent surgery.

The same evening, my daughter arrived home from her work placement in a hospital, looking like death. She was suffering a flu-like reaction to travel vaccinations received the day before. Despite running a very high temperature overnight and still looking very pale the next morning, she insisted on going back to work. By lunchtime, she was in A&E of the hospital having developed a severe nose bleed while on the wards. Her nose had to be cauterised to stem the flow of blood and she limped home to bed for the second evening in a row.

The next day, I woke with horrible nausea and the return of colitis as a result of the antibiotics prescribed to treat my head. I had no choice but to lie very low that day.

On Friday morning, my husband was admitted to hospital for a cataract operation. Having collected him from the hospital at lunchtime and brought him home to recover, I was looking forward to a quiet afternoon but no such luck. One of our cats appeared with his tail bent double and I knew immediately that an urgent trip to the vet was in store. Last year, this same cat became very unwell having developed an abscess in his tail (most likely from a bite from another cat) and the tell-tale sign was a drooping tail. So, Friday afternoon was spent getting the cat sorted with an antibiotic.

As if the week hadn’t been testing enough, Saturday morning started with an early morning trip to bring the eye patient back to the hospital for a routine check. Having delivered the patient safely home again, I then attended a funeral before spending the afternoon at the nursing home where both of my parents are in rapid decline at the moment.

Today, apart from frequent trips to the loo, I’ve done nothing but loll around in the garden enjoying the sunshine. The pain in my head has eased but I’m not out of the woods yet. If I go quiet again next week, please don’t worry. Wimbledon fortnight starts tomorrow. Bring it on!


Old Age is a Bugger

January 28, 2010

My parents were born in the 1920’s and are now old and frail. Thanks to improvements in medical care, they have outlived their own parents’ lives by several decades. In the last few weeks, my mother and father have each endured an emergency admission to hospital having been rushed by ambulance to A&E. They are now both safely installed back in the care of the nursing home.

A report published this week by the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI), has shown that while life expectancy in Ireland has increased significantly during the 20th century, our later years are likely to be spent in poor health. The report emphasises the need for further research to ensure that sufficient planning is undertaken so that adequate policies and services are in place for older people.

The CARDI report revealed that since the 1920s, Irish men have increased their life expectancy by around 20 years, while women have extended their average life span by 24-25 years. A man can now expect to live to 76.8 years while a woman  can look forward to making it to 81.6 years.

Our expectations have certainly changed. Not so long ago, 64 was considered old. Remember this song?

By 2041, it’s estimated that the number of people aged 75 and over, will reach almost one million. That’s three times the number living now. And the number of people who make it to 85 and beyond, could increase five-fold.

The number of years a man can expect to live in poor health, has risen from 9.5 in 1999 to 14.7 in 2007. And for women, the projected years of bad health have increased from 11.3 years to 16.8 years.

In other words, these figures show that while we’re successful at keeping people alive for longer, we’ve not managed to extend healthy life spans to the same extent. Do you have an opinion on this?

If all this talk of old age is getting you down, let me remind you of the famous quote by Maurice Chevalier (New York Times, 9 October 1960)…

Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.”


Where There’s Hope

January 20, 2009

wild-daffodils1

Daffodils are one of the icons of Spring. Sitting at my mother’s bedside in the nursing home where she lay motionless, I gently whispered in her ear yesterday that Spring is on it’s way. I told her about the first daffodils of the year beginning to peep their heads above the freezing ground. On hearing this news, my mother opened her eyes and rewarded me with a huge smile.

This conversation brought me back to a time when I was in a little hospital room in the UK, recovering from major surgery. My husband had returned to Ireland to sort out a business problem leaving me to fend for myself for a couple of days. Being in hospital was bad enough but being far away from home meant that I had no visitors. My beacon of hope during that time, was a huge bunch of daffodils in the corner of my room. They had been given to me by a doctor from a nearby hospital whom I’d never met but who I knew to be an old school friend of my husband. When he heard news of my operation, he picked the daffodils for me from his garden to brighten up my stay in hospital. I’ll never forget this kind gesture. Those flowers represented a world with which I was familiar, unlike the lonely surroundings in which I found myself at that time.

My mother has always loved garden flowers and although now severely disabled, she welcomes any opportunity to be taken outside in her wheelchair. We made a pact yesterday to mount an expedition outdoors as soon as the first flowers of Spring appear.

Where there’s life, there’s hope and where’s there’s hope, there’s life.


What Do You Say?

January 12, 2009

A conversation I overheard last week, has stayed with me ever since. It took place between a carer and an elderly resident at the nursing home. Tess is a widow who was living independently at home until a series of falls brought about a deterioration in her health. She was put into long term care at the nursing home as her grown-up family all live abroad. Tess is a much loved lady as evidenced by the constant stream of friends and ex-neighbours who visit her at the home. She is rapidly fading physically but still has all her other faculties.

nursing-home

Carer: Eat up, Tess, before your lunch goes cold

Tess: I’m not feeling very well today

Carer: You’re not feeling well because you’re not eating enough food

Tess: I’m not hungry

Carer: If you don’t eat your food Tess, you’ll fade away

Tess: I know… that’s what I want.

What do you say to someone like dear old Tess?


Test Results

January 4, 2009

second-opinion

Doctor: I have some bad news and some very bad news.

Patient: Well, give me the bad news first.

Doctor: The lab called with your test results. They said you have 24 hours to live.

Patient: 24 HOURS! That’s terrible!  WHAT could be WORSE?  What’s the VERY BAD news?

Doctor: I’ve been trying to reach you since yesterday.

You know, this joke isn’t actually as improbable as it sounds.

This time last year, my 89 year old widowed mother-in-law was admitted to a nursing home having become increasingly withdrawn and difficult to nurse at home. On admission, a routine blood sample was taken by her doctor and sent off to the nearest hospital for analysis.

The following day, the hospital laboratory rang to enquire if the patient was still alive! Her kidney function was apparently so bad, the laboratory thought that the patient would not have survived the night. The family were told to prepare for the worst and we all gathered to say our last goodbyes.

Now one year on, and my mother-in-law is looking forward to celebrating her 90th birthday in the nursing home. Her kidney function is normal for her age.

You have to wonder if this ‘miraculous’ recovery is thanks to lots of TLC at the nursing home or maybe, just maybe, it could have been a laboratory error?