Melksham, Wiltshire, UK
Georgina, my wife, and I are typical of those born shortly after the end of World War II. Our parents were typical of their generation, and their parents’ generation – the women looked after the home, the men went out to work. This was the husband-wife relationship that Georgina and I grew up in, and to some extent was reflected in our relationship when we got married in 1971, though I would like to think that it was our generation that started the breakdown of these stereotypical husband/wife roles.
Shortly after our son was born, Georgina went back to work (there was no maternity leave/pay in those days and we needed the money) and continued there until our daughter was born three years later. This time, Georgina did not go back to work until our daughter started infant school. Up to this point, our marriage still followed the traditional format of our parents. It was a standing joke that I always needed to be somewhere else whenever a nappy needed changing (the irony is that Georgina is now doubly incontinent – her revenge for my absconding from nappy duty all those years ago).
As Georgina’s condition deteriorated, her ability to perform these tasks became more difficult for her. Simple processes such as how to turn on the oven, operate the microwave, and put washing powder and conditioner in the washing machine before switching it on eluded her.
The result – a lot of takeaways, readymade meals, burnt offerings, shrunken jumpers, grey whites, un-ironed bedding, curtains that needed shortening, etc.
This was when the limitations of my domestic capabilities really started to kick in.
Now you could say the wheel has turned full circle, but with a twist. Georgina is now classed as having advanced late-stage Alzheimer’s. Everything she would normally do for herself, I now have to do for her. From wiping her nose to wiping her bottom, brushing her hair to brushing her teeth, getting her showered, dried and dressed, even buying her clothes. Everything we would have done together, is now done by me alone – decorating, housework, hanging out the washing, making the bed (Oh, the arguments we would have about the best way to put the duvet cover on!). Everything I would normally have responsibility for, I still have responsibility for – managing the finances, gardening, household maintenance, etc.
Attending a cookery course recently for over 65 men only is a great help, though I’m still not sure what the top oven is for (other than the grill). Maybe there could be a course on getting to know your oven, basic nutrition and what all those bizarre symbols mean on food packaging. I have also attended courses on bread making, cooking with chicken, a one-day Thai cooking masterclass and a seniors’ half-day basic cooking course. All very helpful in their own way, but none of which looked at the topic from a male perspective. Indeed at most of these courses I was the only male, and certainly the only male over 65. My casseroles are to die for (not literally), what I cannot do with an avocado isn’t worth doing. Baking bread and cakes is no longer a challenge, and my spices and herbs carrousels get admiring glances.
Then there is the iron. To steam or not to steam? That is the question (everything is on steam). Maybe a topic for another course?
In addition, how many male carers can use a sewing machine? I can. There are courses on how to use a sewing machine (great if you need to hem up the too-long net curtains), but not for men only, again I was the only man.
Maybe I’m not that useless after all, although as it used to say on my school report, there is ‘room for improvement’.
Now to the lockdown and isolation. The power of mashed potato! I make up pots of mashed potato and freeze them. Each pot serves two people and has a greaseproof layer to divide each portion. I can then get one out of the freezer and microwave (three mins on high) if we are having a meal requiring mash. I also mix other bits in with the potato. My favourite has savoy cabbage mixed in. I have sent my grandchildren a photo and told them to do the same with their potato so they won’t have to keep going to the shops.
How am I coping mentally, physically, and financially? Mentally I am doing well, I am an eternal optimist: things will get better. Glass half full. Emotionally, the lump in the throat, the tears in the eye are not far away, especially when I am on my own. I think why me? We have been together for 55 years and my goal is to get beyond our 60th anniversary. Financially, we are wiped out, we have released equity as the expense of caring for someone at home is so high. Physically I am OK, I have an annual check and I am one of the fittest 73-year-olds in Wilshire. My exercise is in the garden and my humour and positive mindset are vital.
My advice is to keep positive, my parents’ generation lived through two world wars. Keep positive, I am sure we will get through this.
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