It is exactly a year since I moved back to Glasgow to help look after my demented Dad.
Prompted by worrying reports from neighbours and health professionals, and encouraged by an old school friend who had moved back to look after an ailing parent, I set off on what would have been my Mum's 92nd birthday.
I drove first to where her ashes are buried to plant some winter flowering pansies and had coffee at a pub that I imagined had been one of Mum's locals when she was growing up. Before I started driving again, I phoned Dad. His support worker from Alzheimer's Scotland told me that he had just pulled out his catheter. (I was there when it was installed and he hated it from the off, but it was deemed necessary at the time.)
But wasn't taking out a catheter incredibly painful? I thought the district nurses said it couldn't be done, because it would be too agonising?
"Well," said Helen. "That's your Dad for you!"
And that was the start of it.
It's been a busy year, with good moments - out in the garden, in the park, having coffee and cheesecake at Moyra Jane's café, and bad moments - arrogant hospital consultants, chaotic care services and learning to live with a hoist - and the very many in between times when nothing much was happening and on some days it felt as though the world had stopped turning.
When I left London last August I hadn't really thought this through. I didn't even pack any summer clothes, imagining that I wouldn't be here by then. If I thought about it at all, I thought Dad might live another six or eight months. But as his GP says, the better the care, the longer someone is likely to live. It seems obvious now.
I've learned a lot in the last 12 months - about sleep, the value of music, end of life care, the consistency and frequency of bowel movements and how to understand the language, or lack of it, of someone with dementia. If there was such a thing as a Higher in pillow arrangement I would surely get an A.
I hope Dad feels safer with me here and enjoys having the company of someone who can talk about stuff that carers can never know. Places we used to live, family holidays, long standing jokes, friends, pets. He certainly seems pretty relaxed. He's warm and well fed and is, as far as it's possible to tell, quite contended. He's no longer on nine tablets a day, his skin is good and his hair and nails grow more quickly than mine.
For me the novelty of living in Glasgow is wearing off and in its place are some great new friendships, some old friendships rekindled, and some wonderful places to visit and to seek refuge.
However messy things got in the last year I was always glad I was here rather than 400 miles away, despite missing my friends in the south and knowing that my garden has finally gone to wrack and ruin. But that's OK - it'll give me something to do when I finally get back to London.
I'm now planning to stay here for another year, not least because I've been offered a place at Glasgow University to do a Masters in creative writing. This way I can still be here with Dad and also have something to keep me out of mischief.
Dad is delighted - he went to Glasgow University briefly before joining the Navy at the start of the war. He joined the forces as a teenager and came back at 24 or 25 years old, when University probably felt like a thing that young folk did, those who hadn't fought and faced death, or been left to languish in a prisoner of war camp. For him the moment had passed and he didn't go back. I'll enjoy telling him about my adventures and I hope he'll enjoy hearing about them.
I'll write this blog when I have something to say, or if there's news, but it might be a bit erratic while I figure out how to keep these new plates spinning up here.
On my very first posting I finished by saying "wish me luck". I think I may need it now, more than ever!
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