One of the weird things about the place my mum currently inhabits is that some days we can have amazing conversations about absolutely nothing. She says things, or makes noises, or stutters and sticks on one word or syllable which is repeated for an extended period of time. For my part, all I have to do is agree, make noises, use minimal responders, and throw in the odd phrase; “really?” “did you?” “I don’t believe that!”. Granted, some days it’s absolutely impossible to have any kind of meaningful conversation because mum is completely catatonic. For the most part, I have allotted time to visit mum and I turn up and stay for the length of time I am want to spend with her. It really doesn’t matter how I find her, I am there to visit because it’s my time to visit and I want to spend time with my mum. However, there are other days and in particular the days when my mum is detached, days when even eye contact is mostly impossible, so if communication is impossible it begs several pertinent questions?
- If you are going to a hospital or care home and visiting someone who is uncommunicative, how long is a reasonable length of time to visit?
There is a simple equation for the length of time I will stay on a visit on the day’s when mum is catatonic, it goes like this:
Length of time (l) equals how happy I feel from zero-ten (h) multiplied by how guilty I feel from zero–ten (g) or l=h x g
So, if I am feeling pretty good, say a 7/10, and I am not feeling very guilty at all, maybe a 2/10 the length of time I would stay would be 14 minutes (although I would probably at least round that up to 15!)
I should make it clear that my mum was initially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s back in 2007, and she has been living in full time care for over two years. On average I visit her 4 times a week, prior to her admission into care I was with her every day for years, and the point of this clarification is to highlight how GUILTY I obviously feel! I don’t need to justify myself to anyone, and yet…..
This will obviously highlight to you the level of the equation that is almost always high, that being the guilt. This means that in general I am reasonably happy (say a 6/10) and my guilt is generally high (say a 7 or 8/10) so length of time would be 45 or 50 minutes.
- If you are spending up to an hour or more with someone who is completely uncommunicative, is it acceptable to mess about on your mobile phone?
The answer to this is obviously yes, same with laptops (I am writing this sitting next to my mum’s hospital bed. Ten minutes ago, I wrote up my reflections after supervision yesterday and my client notes from a session I had earlier).
- Is it ok to eat an uncommunicative person’s chocolate biscuits?
Once again, the answer is yes. If I am sitting next to someone who cannot talk, cannot move, cannot speak, and cannot even look at me, then there is a good chance I am going to eat their chocolates! However, I would refer you to question 1. The chances are eating my mum’s chocolates or biscuits is going to make me feel guilty, which will mean I end up staying longer (and possibly eating more of her biscuits!)
- Is it ok to watch the person you are visiting’s TV, particularly the football results on a Saturday afternoon?
Of course, next question!
- Is it ok to try to feel less guilty?
Of course it is, in fact, feeling less guilty is the ultimate goal. I strive to feel ok about doing enough, because honestly, I am not sure there is ever really enough I can do? I feel guilty about everything, and nothing. I just wish everything was different. I wish my mum was ok, I wish she had never been diagnosed, with Alzheimer’s, or at the very least made it into her 70’s so was able to enjoy about 10 years of her life with a little bit of a pension, a bit of travel to see her grandkids in Germany, was able to see me grow up, stop drinking, get married and become a therapist. I wish she was able to experience the wonder of Brendan Roger’s being at Celtic (she honestly wouldn’t care but I would tell her about it!). I wish she was able to see her granddaughter graduate high school and turn into an amazing, beautiful, intelligent woman. I wish she was around to see her grandson get as tall as his mum and move to a school in the UK. I wish she could notice her daughter go back to working in a job she really, really loves. I wish she could enjoy watching her other daughter running her own business and becoming a mum. I wish she was able to go see Mrs Brown’s Boy’s with her best mate. I wish she was able to help her sister’s when they really need her.
I wish things were different, but what’s the point in wishing? Life is hard sometimes, sometimes it’s easier. A few years back I decided that as much as possible I was going to try life on life’s terms, and not on how I wanted, hoped, or believed life should be. Mum will die sometime soon; the same fate awaits us all at some point. That’s neither good or bad, it just is.