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Stories & Scripts

Source: Adults

Author: Barry Gee

Title: A Year in Normandy? (4)

All Change! Sandra, who had already planned to visit her mum in the half-term holiday at the end of May, will now stay in France and I will join her a few days later. Her brother has been to see his mother in hospital and has reported back on her condition. Physically there is little change but she has been traumatised by her fall. For some time she has walked around without her feet leaving the ground but now she is reluctant to even leave her bed to go to the toilet for fear of falling again. It is obvious that it is now we are needed, not in a couple months. Sandra has informed her employers and they have been very sympathetic and supportive. They, too, have elderly relatives and understand and empathise with her concerns for her mother. They say they will keep her job open for some time and will only replace her when it is certain that she will not be returning to England in the near future. We have just a couple weeks to arrange our affairs over here and put a support network into place over there. It will be a busy time.

My mother-in-law will spend a few days in hospital and meanwhile the friend is living alone in the apartment. Someone comes every day for a couple hours to make food, clean and do any shopping that is needed and her children have arranged for someone to spend the night. None of her children, who live in and around Paris, is prepared to spend the nights with their mother but they are used to paying people to do the things that they do not wish to do. I am sure they love their mother but it is very inconvenient for them at the moment as their high-flying jobs need to take precedence over sentimentality. If they were retired I feel that they would still have excuses for not spending more time with their mother but maybe I am misjudging them.

I have never experienced the moment of death in a human being but I have been in the presence of several recently deceased people and it did not bother me unduly. They were all aged and their deaths had been expected. I was able to kiss them goodbye and the marble coldness of their skin, although a surprise each time, did not deter me from spending time in their company. I do not know how I will react to witnessing a person breathing their last breath but the idea does not frighten me. Neither do I know how the remaining woman will react to the death of her friend and companion but I am sure we will be a great comfort for her.

Last evening Sandra was able to talk on the telephone with her mum who will remain in hospital until the weekend while they do further checks on the state of her heart which has caused them some concern. Her mum seemed fine and appeared to be thriving in the hospital environment. She was lucid and remembers falling in the street and the treatment she received from the emergency services. She also expressed her delight at our coming and the move into the country. This is a great relief for us as we did not know what we would do if she resolutely refused to leave Paris. It was our intention to insist upon it but were not prepared to carry her to the car and forcibly transport her to a place where she did not wish to be.

Neither Sandra nor myself sleep very well at the moment. We both wake in the night, our minds buzzing with ideas, and find it difficult to fall asleep again. Sandra was awake for three hours last night and went off to work this morning feeling very tired. Different complexities arrive daily from family members who are more than willing to offer advice on what needs to be done although none of them are willing to do anything themselves. Yesterday one of the friend's daughters told us that she had offered a position at the house in the country to one of the carers from Paris who would move in with us and help out with the care of her mother. This is completely unnecessary not to mention impractical. I have met the woman and she is very kind and caring but my mother-in-law does not get along very well with her. Apart from this very important consideration she does not drive and has a family in Paris including a seventeen year old daughter. The two women usually retire for the night by about eight o'clock and we are not prepared to socialise with and provide company for a virtual stranger who is unaware of the isolation of the house. There would be very little for her to do and I cannot imagine she would be happy there. Looking after two people is more than enough for us and we do not wish to deal with the complications that would be sure to arrive with the daughter's proposed plan. In an exchange of emails and a couple phone calls we made it clear that we are not willing to go along with it but the issue has not yet been completely resolved. We have enough to think about without having to pacify the guilt-driven relatives of my mother-in-law's friend who have had very little to do with her for many years but now wish to make a financial, but not personal, contribution to her welfare.

Another, unrelated, situation also causes me sleeplessness. On an adjoining property in the country there are two rottweiller dogs who bark constantly. A tall fence separates the two properties and they are far enough away that the barking does not bother us unduly but whenever I approach them the two dogs throw themselves manically against the fence and threaten mayhem if they could breech it. A year ago when they escaped and came onto our property, my brother-in-law contacted the local gendarmerie who visited the neighbours and insisted they made the fence dog proof but I am still beset by the fear that they have not done enough. It is my intention to visit them and state my concerns. Hopefully they will be able to reassure me that my fears are unfounded.

Just seven days to go before we leave and this week has been exam time at the university and I have been on invigilation duty for the specal needs students who get extra time and sit in a room with just a few others rather than in the main hall with hundreds. I am suffering from sleep deprivation and at times it was tempting to close my eyes for a moment or two but the fear of falling asleep and tumbling from my chair nipped the idea in the bud. This is the last thing a student sitting an important exam would wish to witness but, at least, if they were unhappy with their essays they could, rightfully, claim extenuating circumstances. I know I will sleep well in the country, I always do, but at the moment it would be wonderful to get eight hours uninterrupted slumber. I merely skim the surface of unconsciousness and spend long periods awake. The prospect of my life in France does not bother me but the practical details of uprooting and moving to a different life-style are ever present in my tired mind.

Our daughter, Sarah is visiting this weekend. She is six months pregnant with her first child and when I first told her the news of our impending move to France she was quite distraught. She was in the process of laying out baby clothes when I rang and was feeling quite emotional. She protested that just when she needed her mum we would be leaving but I explained that we were not going to the other side of the world and the physical distance between us would not be much further than it is at present. Several hours later when Sandra spoke to her she had calmed down and had accepted that her reaction had been hormonally based and said that she realised we were doing the right thing. Sarah has, on occasion, told us that she would never put either of us into a home against our will and understands Sandra's desire to look after her mother. We reassured her that one, or both, of us would be by her side within a day if we were needed and, of course, we would be there soon after the birth. Sarah seems completely at ease with the situation now.

Since returning from the hospital my mother-in-law has not left the apartment as she is afraid to fall in the street. She claims she is spending even more time lying on her bed than she had done previously but as this was her main occupation before the accident there is probably very little difference. Sandra will be there in two days time and I will follow a couple days later. It will be good that the waiting is over.

A daughter of my mother-in-law's friend has promised to come out to the country and look after the two women for a week in July. Although we do not take this for granted we are quietly hopeful that it will happend. If it does it is our intention to drive back to Plymouth and fetch things that we need for the winter as well as other things that are too bulky or heavy for us to transport. We do not own a car as we have never needed to in Plymouth. We have freely used taxis and hired cars whenever we needed one. In France we will have the use of a car as it will be necessary for us to fulfil our duties.

Today is D-day (departure day) for Sandra. We slept well but still feel tired but that has been our default position for the past few weeks. We have told so many people about our situation that we have learned to give a concise version of our proposal to those who are not very close to us. Others get the full, unexpurgated, explanation. When I say I am moving to France the first reaction is usually, "Oh. That's wonderful." I then have to explain that this is not an advantageous career move or retirement in a sunny clime but a change of lifestyle driven by familial duty and love. Once they realise the reality they are very sympathetic, supportive, admiring and wish us luck while, usually, expressing the view that they could not do similarly themselves, as much as they might wish to. Some have taken elderly, close, relatives into their homes and recount how what had been expected to last just a few months had dragged on for years and years. A parent, who had seemed close to death's door, had thrived in the affectionate security of their child's home and had seemed to get stronger, not weaker, as they grew older but none of them expressed regret at having done it. We do not expect to rue our decision.

(to be continued)

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