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Patience on a monument (not)

Readers of these blogs, who don’t know me in person, often kindly tell me what a patient, kind and loving person I am. Well I suppose I’ve created an online persona – if only I could live up to it. The stark truth is that, most of the time, I’m a brusque, crosspatch sort of individual. And I don’t, on the whole, “do” slowly and never have done.  I was absent when “sweetness and lightness” were given out – racing about trying to get some job done, I expect. Former pupils, with retrospective affection, have often said that I scared them silly. I never meant to but there it is …

When I was a child tiresome grown-ups would intone preachily at me: “Patience is a virtue which can be acquired”. (It was the 1950s, not the 1850s by the way).  Well they were all wrong – about me anyway – because I’ve never acquired it. And that’s one of the main reasons that I find Ms Alzheimer’s such a very difficult presence. As My Loved One gets slower and less comprehending I get crosser and more impatient – as if we were the painted couple in the weather forecast ornament my grandparents had: always moving in opposite directions. Then, of course, I feel terrible and beat myself up for my own shortcomings. He can’t help the state he’s in. And I know that so I ought to be able to control my irritation.

One of the hardest things, for an impatient person like me, is MLO’s habit (and it’s only come with the illness) of constantly interfering with things. I load the dishwasher and set it running, for example, only to find that he’s opened the door half an hour later and interrupted the programme because he wasn’t sure “what was going on”. He’s constantly fiddles with the day’s newspapers too often throwing into the (wrong, invariably) bin the bits he doesn’t want to read before I’ve had a chance to look at them. Worst of all is his “hiding” things. He thinks he’s put away, say, the outdoor short-handled brush (currently missing), the tin opener or (twice in the last few months) a quite large and important cheque. He then can’t remember where he put it and I of course have no idea so the item is effectively lost. I can buy a new brush or tin opener but getting a cheque re-issued is a tedious business.

Then there’s his inability to hold information even for a few seconds. “What can I do to help?” he’ll ask. “Can you empty the airing cupboard? Just take everything upstairs, put in on our bed and I’ll sort it from there.” I answer. Ten minutes later I find him scrabbling about in a food cupboard: “You wanted me to do something in a cupboard …?” Grrr.

We have, and have had for decades, a large folding table known as “The Gopak”. Think school dinners. We use it as a supplementary dining table when we have a crowd and it lives, folded in the space between the fridge freezer and the wall. The ironing board sits neatly on the other side of the fridge freezer – two useful storage gaps. MLO recently decided that he would iron a shirt. Quite unusual for him now but OK if that’s what he wanted to do. Then he came upstairs to tell me he’d done something silly and was in a muddle. I went down to find the kitchen almost filled with the 10-seater Gopak. Well, when your brain is functioning normally it’s pretty difficult to get your head round someone who can no longer tell the difference between a camping table and an ironing board. I try but …

Standing at our local station awaiting a Blackfriars train en route to a concert at Cadogan Hall last week we narrowly missed a through train to Luton while I was, as usual, laboriously helping him down the steps on the footbridge.  I said chattily. “It’s OK, that train’s going all the way to Luton, Our train will we here in five minutes”  A few moments later I asked him: “Do you remember where we’re going?” Pause for a long think. Then, brightly: “Are we going to Luton?”. Oh for a bit of that saintly patience which has eluded me all my life.

By the time you read this MLO and I will enjoying (or something) ten day holiday in Georgetown, Washington DC while our elder son (now he really IS saintly – not sure where he got if from) moves in to look after house, cat and supervise the repainting of our kitchen and dining room. I have misgivings but MLO has long wanted to revisit Georgetown. Carpe diem. Time is not on our side. I’ll report on how it all works out next time. Perhaps the rest (if that’s what it turns out to be) will help me to be a bit calmer and less cross.



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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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