and so it goes, there is no help, there is no hope.
When I visited the care home today Beloved was sitting in an armchair in the TV lounge, fast asleep. It was about three fifteen pm, long enough after lunch for him to have woken again from his regular nap. Or so I thought. He barely managed to open his eyes, and even Millie raised only a very feeble smile. He still knows me, still knows who it is who strokes his hair, holds his hand and speaks close to his ear.
The nurses say he is bright and alert in the morning, eats a hearty breakfast, potters about in his room, with the aid of a Zimmer frame, and listens to the radio until lunch time. I can hardly believe it although they have no reason to fabricate stories. Perhaps I should visit in the mornings rather than late afternoon.
Today it looked as if he’s given up, or perhaps the dementia has fully enveloped him. In the very short space of two months he has changed beyond all recognition. He’s always been rather handsome, in a gentle way, now his face is deeply lined and pale. His eyes are rarely other than vacant, except when somebody other than me visits him; there is still that ingrained politeness, the good manners, the obliging personality. The carers and nurses have already grown fond of him. “He’s lovely, no trouble, the perfect gentleman.” The lady in charge calls him “a charming man”.
I am getting used to being home alone, with only Millie for company. Tears for what was, and is no longer, still come but not as frequently and overwhelmingly as a few days ago. I come in, take off my coat and pour myself a glass of wine. I have started to cook again, meals with a few vegetables and small quantities of fish or meat or an omelet. Nothing very elaborate, just more than the chocolate and tranquillisers I ate when the whole misery kicked off. I still make for the cupboard that hides the chocolate but my consumption of it is less compulsive.
On two days I didn’t visit the care home, once to buy a fridge/freezer - wouldn’t you know it, several household appliances have packed in - and once because I was inundated with jobs left undone. Of course, I felt guilty for not going, but I must admit that those two days were also a much needed break.
I am not going to visit Beloved tomorrow either, tomorrow is a grown-up day: friends are taking me to see 'The Rover', a play by the seventeenth century poet, novelist, translator and playwright Aphra Behn. She was one of the first English women to earn her living by her writing, I’ve never seen the play and I'm looking forward to experiencing an early feminist writer’s take on love, infatuation, confusion, anger and revenge at the Royal Shakespeare Company. I believe it all ends well which will help cheer me up.
Monday morning a violin dealer is coming to the house to take a look at Beloved’s remaining instruments, a bow and other musician’s paraphernalia. I hope he will relieve me of much of it. No one in the family plays the viola or the violin, they’ve all taken to other instruments, so there cannot be any bad feeling about getting rid of them.
Last Wednesday afternoon I came home, plagued by the usual guilt feelings at my ‘cold-hearted disloyalty’ to the one man in my life who has meant more to me than any other. We really were two sides of the same coin, indissoluble, I thought. Friends for life, lovers for ever. I sat over my glass of wine, shocked and in disbelief at the enormity of what I was doing. I thought back over the days since he left hospital and entered the care home, and pictured everything that has happened since: everything he said and did, everything he needed to have done for him, everything doctors and nurses, carers and the memory specialist said. I pictured him being helped in and out of his chair, into the bathroom, into the shower, being dressed and undressed, put to bed. His alarm button and the mat in front of his bed which is sensitive to the pressure of feet - setting off the alarm in the nurses station telling them that he is on the move in the middle of the night - , his long sleeps and confusion on waking, his growing impatience with me for being unable to help him make sense of life generally, his incoherent rambles about a time I know nothing about.
Setting it all out before me, in my mind, I suddenly knew, without a shadow of doubt, that I could not look after him at home; I knew that what I had done was the only thing to do, the kind thing, the decent thing, the safe thing. People have been telling me so for three weeks, I suppose I had to realise it for myself. When I saw him today, frail and absent with just the tiniest smile playing round his lips when I called him ‘my darling’ my eyes filled again, but this time there was no guilt, bitter regret, but no guilt.