The way to cope with the stress of caring for my elderly father was to find the humor in situations and write it down.
My father spent most of his working career in the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the UK. Although he is in his eighties now, and long retired, he still believes - and expects - that everything should run according to the duty roster posted in the Guard Room. That everything happens to order, in order. No questions. Is that understood?
Breakfast is at eight O’clock in the morning, pronounced “oh-eight-hundred”. Lunch at half-past one (“thirteen thirty hours”). Laundry on Wednesdays. Soup on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, etc, etc.
After leaving the RAF, he left the military and got a job with a software company where he struggled to adapt to civilian life. But he did adapt, and this job saw him out to his retirement. Shortly after he retired, my mother became very ill, having contracted a terrible degenerative condition. After a few hospital stop-overs, she moved into a home where she lived until one morning, mercifully, she didn’t wake up.
My father sold the house, and bought his own place which overlooked the sea in the south of the UK. This was the land of his parents and his formative years, and this is where he lived until one morning, after someone had cold-called him and sold him the wrong kind of mattress, he fell out of bed and broke his ankle - and was taken to hospital. I would visit him, and on occasions he would ask me to run errands for him - one of which was to go to his place and pick up his wallet and some papers. It was during that visit that I realised that he wasn’t able to look after himself any more. I discussed the situation with my wife, and together we decided that he would come and live with us.
That was the right decision. But over time, as he settled in, it became more and more stressful. He was demanding, had high-expectations and expected us to run things with military precision. My wife would do most of the caring during the week, as I had to go to work. When I got back from work, she would tell me what he had said and done during the day and the situations she had found herself in, and after a while we began to see the funny side of it all. That's when I decided to write them down. Almost immediately, I found that the act of simply writing it down helped relieve the stresses and strains of caring for my elderly, ex-military father. It was very cathartic. I didn't show anyone what I had written for a long time - it was like a diary - until one day I printed one off, and showed my wife. I heard her laugh out loud as she read it, and I guessed that's because she recognised all of the situations I wrote about. So I gave it to two of my closest friends, who don't know my father that well, and they thought it was funny too. So I broadened my horizons a little, and gave it to a few of my friends and family asking them to give me honest feedback. They did. Most of them recognised the same situations with their own parents, and so it resonated with them too.
The result of all this, is that I self-published these short stories and sketches in a a book called “Do I Get Any Pudding?”. Remember, this started out as a cathartic way to relieve the stress of caring for my demanding elderly father, by finding the humor in situations and writing it down. For me, it works - and if my book can help anyone else out there cope, because they recognise the same situations, then that's great too.
To all you people who are doing the right thing by caring for your elderly parents, you are allowed to soften the blow by trying to find the humor in the situations you find yourself in. It's not wrong. A.J.Sudbury