'I do not like my mother, let alone love her'
Married to Alzheimer’s: The chickens have come home to roost in my dysfunctional family. Tony doesn't know or understand
The way we were: Tony and Steph Booth at home in Cornahaw, Blacklion in 2006. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
“A minor but current aim is to curb my spending in garden nurseries.” Photograph: iStock
I would make an excellent double agent, or bigamist. I have discovered it is possible to lead parallel lives. The trick is to remember where and who you are at any given moment.
I have my life as a full-time carer for Tony.
Then there is my other life, unconnected with dementia and now virtually unconnected with my husband.
It is difficult to chat to him about anything I do, or anyone I see, as he has no idea what I am talking about. It is weird living in this whole other world he does not know, or understand.
Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, I cannot abandon the hope there is still some level at which we might reach other.
I am the eldest of five children. As adults we have all gone our own way. What we have in common is the hatred our parents had for us
My own world confronts the everyday, mundane issues and problems we all face. Then there is the not-so-everyday. Chickens have finally come home to roost in my extraordinarily dysfunctional family.
Not my own family – my sons – but with my mother, with whom I have had no contact in decades. I am the eldest of five children. As adults we have all gone our own way. What we have in common is the hatred our parents had for us.
Looking back, I am certain they did not want or love us even as small children. We were horrible little brats who were locked in our bedrooms at six o’clock each evening and not let out until seven o’clock the next morning in time to get ready for school.
My father died decades ago. My mother is now 80. She has no one to love her. Through one of my sisters I learned she is in a difficult situation, but things are now so bitter they will not get involved.
I feel the same way as my siblings. I do not like her, let alone love her. She inflicted misery and violence, but as an adult free from the malign influence of my parents, I made choices about the kind of person I wanted to be. They could not take my sense of decency and humanity.
I telephoned my mother and, during the conversation, I realised she has dementia. Looking after Tony means I know the health and social welfare systems well. I know how to get her the help and support she needs.
What a complex, moral conundrum this is. I cannot talk to Tony about it
I am now in the process of contacting social services and other agencies.
What a complex, moral conundrum this is. I cannot talk to Tony about it. He has never met my mother and would become distressed if he thought I was upset, or worried. I have no one to talk to. I do not talk about my past, so if I started now it would be something of a shock to people who know me. I cannot change the past, but I can control and influence my present and some of my hopes and plans for the future.
A minor but current aim is to curb my spending in garden nurseries. It is a tough one.
If I leave my purse at home I have a horror of something awful happening to me; being unconscious and no one knowing my name because I am not carrying identification. It is a bit like the fear instilled in us by grandmothers who insist we should always wear clean knickers in case of an accident.
Anyhow, I keep my driving licence in my purse, so I need my purse. This makes passing my favourite nurseries and not popping in to see what is new very, very difficult. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said he could resist everything but temptation. My sympathies are with Mr Wilde.
I do, though, have to stop acquiring plants for a little while at least and wait to see what spaces might be left in the beds. Our garden is more or less full of perennials now, but there is always space for a few annuals.
I love white Cosmos and fill all available space with them every summer.
Tony enjoys the garden in the sunshine. A few days ago we were sitting on the bench next to the pond, both staring into space, looking at nothing in particular.
He suddenly asked, “Where are the frogs? I can’t see any frog spawn.”
“We’ve not had any frog spawn this year.”
“Why not? What have you done to the frogs? You didn’t kill them, did you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Why would I kill them?”
“Well, where are they, then?”
“There’s tadpoles in the pond. They must have overwintered.”
“Don’t talk daft. They don’t do that.”
“So where have they come from, then?”
“Probably from the frogs you killed.”
This was the point when I offered to go in and make a pot of tea.
All concern for amphibian welfare was immediately forgotten as Tony reminded me to fetch the chocolate biscuits as well.