Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Human Nature

There is this couple, G and J, living here in our small town, very respectable and steady. He had some bad luck and got fired from his job - he's always been a touch belligerent and abrasive - long before his retirement age and never found work again. His abiding interest in life is art and he's quite a competent artist in a modest way - not that he's actually very modest about his abilities himself. She was a professional, a teacher, for most of her life. They came here when the big city had spewed him out and they created for themselves a reasonably happy and contented existence. (This is the sort of place where oddballs find a niche easily). Because he'd lost his job and she'd retired from full-time work money was tight for a number of years but their needs were modest and they made do. She was one of the first people who took me under her wing when I arrived here.
We walked our dogs together and one of our favourite topics of conversation was religion, the various Christian sects, from established to fundamentalist. We also shared a love of words; it was a great joy to listen to her use of English which was precise and articulate, if a little prissy. 
Soon afterwards G. and J. had a great piece of luck: they inherited a fair bit of money and life should have become a lot easier for them. Most of the money had been left to J., but they were a close couple, G. took over the management of it and immersed himself in all sorts of investments.  It became a hobby. J. grinned and bore it, occasionally bemoaning his unwillingness to spend any of the money. Her wishes were as modest as ever but she felt that a couple of days away, a meal at the pub or a visit to a concert would have made a pleasant change.
And then disaster struck: J. had a few "funny turns", she forgot things and sometimes couldn't remember the simplest words. She was getting old, she said. She told her doctor who sent her to have tests. 
J. was diagnosed as being in the early stages of Alzheimers. At first the changes were slow, gradual, hardly noticeable; her vocabulary wasn't quite as vast as it had been, she forgot dates and appointments unless she had written them down, our conversations became less fluent and effortless.
One of the hardest things to bear was to see her respond to a piece of music,  crying silently, and not quite knowing why, feeling that something was horribly wrong.
Eight years on and J. has disappeared into the void that is Alzheimers; J. is physically just alive but she has reached the stage of complete mental disintegration.
G. has been very good to her, he has been a devoted husband, taking care of her, almost single-handedly, to the best of his abilities.
Until now. 
J.'s condition is now such that she needs professional care, for one thing, she is doubly incontinent. She needs to be kept clean and warm. She needs more than the cheap pies and jam sandwiches G. feeds her on. G. is getting to the end of his capability, he is no longer a young man. G. is desperate to find help but here's the rub: he will not pay for it. He still sits on all of J.'s inheritance, but he will not pay for a carer. The hourly rate for a carer is £12. He refuses absolutely to pay what is for him a very small amount. Instead he begs for help from volunteers, rails at a system which will not take over J.'s care for free and becomes embittered and exhausted in the process. 
Frankly, I don't care that he's killing himself, It's J. and her pitiful state, whose needs are far beyond the help a volunteer, friend or neighbour could give, who breaks my heart.

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