This blog is written by Paul Marlow, who cares for his mum.
Mum loves Moon River by Andy Williams. When it’s played her eyes sparkle, and her hands gracefully wave as she sits on the sofa after breakfast. Music is a reassuring link to the past. It has been one of those small pleasures that has helped mum and me through the coronavirus crisis; easy listening has soundtracked the lockdown: Frank Sinatra, Vera Lynn and Al Martino have all helped to keep us calm. Before the lockdown my mum, Margaret had been accessing a range of care services. She is 86 and has Alzheimer’s, lives at home and I’m her main carer. In the morning, mum has a carer who assists with personal care. Twice a week we have a two hour sit in and on three days mum attends a day centre. Before lockdown she received 29 hours of care from these providers. Since the lockdown she has received 9. For two weeks in mid March, when we had to go into self isolation we had no outside help. Music has been just one way in which we have kept ourselves healthy both in mind and body.
My sister and brother have been a lifeline, keeping us healthy. In self isolation they were our contact with the outside. They brought us food in bags carefully left on the drive and brought tales of long queues and 2 metre social distancing. My mum sat at the dining table and waved through the window. Food and meal preparation have been another very important part of our routine; daily routines have proved to be vital in lockdown. My mum finds it hard to tolerate texture in her food so I have pureed everything, portioning it into containers to be frozen. I made myself a nut roast, mostly with ingredients from the back of the cupboard, leftovers from Christmas.
We are lucky to have a front and a back garden. The sun after lunch favours the front so we have opened the doors and had afternoon tea in the hall. We live on a main road and normally the noise of traffic would prohibit us from spending time in the front garden. Instead of using it principally as a place to park the car the front has been an opening to April: mostly dry with beautiful blue skies, full of bird song. In the early days I watched the daily updates on the BBC at 5pm. However talk of the virus and the daily loss of life proved distressing for mum so I have shielded her from too much talk of the outside world.
She hasn’t left the house for six weeks except for short walks in the front garden. I try to keep her physically active but it’s hard. The future concerns me as I think her mobility has deteriorated, she is more anxious about walking, turning and sitting. She enjoys the visits of the carers but the lack of social contact that she had at the day centre has made her more insular. We would regularly go out in the car to Crosby, West Kirby, Formby – when will we able to do that again?
For that matter when will I be able to resume my own life? We are told we are all in this together but why so little acknowledgement of the role of unpaid carers? Don’t they deserve a clap too? As unpaid carers we often experience a sort of unofficial lockdown so this lack of spontaneity is nothing new. When will I see my partner again, who I miss profoundly? How will I get respite for mum (and me) at a care home when they have suffered such heavy losses and they might be hesitant to open their doors to short term residents?
What has helped are the one hour sit -ins that restarted after the self -isolation ended. My first venture out into the new world of social distancing that I had only seen on TV, was on April 7th. I recall walking on roads empty of cars then queuing outside the local supermarket to experience the thrill of selecting my own mango! This was followed by a thirty minute walk in the bright spring sunshine of the local park, capturing the scene for an Instagram post. I continue my physical exercise with a half hour body weight program. The daily plan with burpees and press ups has been another ‘project’ together with deep cleaning every room, reading a new Wordsworth biography and learning the Gaelic pronunciation of the Munros. The exercise program is usually accompanied by music, this morning it was Andy Williams (again). My mum was concerned by my sit up exertions: ‘Are you alright?’, as Andy continued to wait for his Huckleberry friend and we wait for the next uncertain stage of these unprecedented times.