When I was a teenager, we had “sex education” at school, to learn about our changing bodies, periods, sex and babies.
When I was pregnant, I attended antenatal classes to learn about giving birth, how to change nappies and to bath a baby.
As I enter menopause, I’ve been to workshops?to learn about my changing body – again!
As?the daughter of ageing parents, I was hoping there would be a class where I could learn what to do for them, where to find information, how to make everything easier! ?(Can you tell that I like to attend classes?)
So far, I haven’t found one.
I’ve been watching my parents age over the past few years.
Watching dad cutting the grass and realising that he looks like Pop used to look. Watching him increasingly shuffle around the house, occasionally dropping things when he’s missed the target, asking?me to repeat what I just said, has made me realise that he’s getting old.
Mum’s health has deteriorated?and her world has shrunk radically.
She has an oxygen compressor pumping air into her nose full-time. Mum?doesn’t leave the house without her wheelchair. She has panic attacks when she has to go somewhere new. She needs to know where the toilets are when she’s out. Some days she’s too weak to shower or dress herself.
Mum still paints, sews, knits, makes cards and keeps in touch with her friends. She does Soduko puzzles and watches art tutorials online. The family history has been researched and recorded. She loves to see people when they come to visit but it’s not the same.
I remember my mother being the ultimate party animal – laughing?and dancing till the wee hours of the morning. Organising social gatherings for multitudes of people in so many different circumstances. ?She spent years?entertaining Prime Ministers, Brigadiers, Russian scientists, stranded pilots – the assorted people?who landed on our doorstep in PNG.?She was an adventurer, plunging into the unmapped regions of PNG alongside my father. She had two children and often no help nearby, except Dr Spock! She was involved in transporting Land Rovers up mountainsides and into valleys that didn’t yet have roads. She did the weather schedule, ran the post office and the telephone exchange, the general store, a primary school. ?Her life has been right out there, larger than most.
For most of this year, Mum has been in and out of hospital, fighting one infection or another, having heart and lung problems. She’s been pumped full of antibiotics and has no immunity left to fight anything.
The wards where older people are kept are bedlam. A woman screaming obscenities night and day, another bailing up every passer-by to tell them that she’s being kept in prison and asking to be let out, another needing a bed bath because she’s soiled herself again. A woman who dresses every morning in the same strange assortment of clothing, ready to go home and waiting for someone to collect her – but she’s not well enough yet. Another who shouts at the nurses every time they bring her medication.
There was a woman across the way who did?the most beautiful pencil drawings. She kept?quiet, looking out the window and colouring in her work. ?She chatted quietly to Mum over a cup of tea in the afternoons. ?Another lady with impeccable manners, quietly spoken, who read love stories and talked of her world travels.
Nothing really prepares you for looking after?ageing parents.?You spend your early life thinking they are invincible, all-knowing and always there for you.?Slowly, over time, the roles are?reversed.
I had my three kids later than many and they are still young.?Some days, I am resentful.?I haven’t yet finished looking after my kids and now my parents will need help as well.
I have?become?the one who applies band-aids, rubs backs and researches information.
Our world hasn’t kept up with its ageing population. We have amazing advances in medical science and technology that keep people alive longer, but not advances in how to treat our older people.
I’d really like a class or a workshop that will help to prepare me for what’s ahead.