14 May 2014

Moving on (and in)

This is the sort of day it has been.

My mood all day has been much the same, influenced no doubt by the tail end of a debilitating flu or cold. But I've been at my desk anyway, preparing for the final of ten tutorials I will have presented in as many weeks for two first-year groups of teacher-trainees at the local university. I was pleased to be offered this semester of part-time work. It was one of several new pastimes that I hoped would help me learn to live alone and begin to 'move on', whatever that means!

So ten weeks ago, I moved my office out of its former temporary location in the second bedroom, into the small galley room that had been Allen's office ever since we moved here in 1996. My own larger office used to be in a separate studio building, now a second guest bedroom. But I had to give up that larger space when it became impossible for me to be that far away from Allen for any length of time. I could have returned to the studio-office, now that my caregiving duties are no more. But several things dissuaded me from doing that.

First was the attraction of not having to vacate my office whenever I have visitors. The studio has the double bed for visiting couples; the second bedroom has a single bed (which is where my grand-daughter sleeps on her frequent visits). But Allen's little end-room office - once a verandah - is too small to accommodate a bed. So it is always free, no matter how many people are sleeping in the house for the weekend or longer.

Then, too, the distance from the house to the studio meant my laptop inevitably ended up in the house, perched on the dining-cum-sewing table. That's because going out to the studio to check emails and do my banking and other routine tasks is just too much of a nuisance late at night or when it's raining. Giving up the larger studio space seems a price worth paying for the convenience of having all my office things just a few steps away from my bedroom.

What really settled me in my decision to make Allen's office my own was just that: the fact that it had been his. Until I moved in here, this room off our bedroom was a furious empty space that screamed his absence every time I looked into it. I could hardly bear to enter it. So I moved in and made it mine, which meant going through all his shelves and papers first, of course. But that was relatively easy. Allen had been doing it himself for years before he lost the ability to read and write. He was always a well-organised man - socks rolled in his drawer, suitcase nicely packed, paperwork all in order. He had long ago sorted everything he wanted to keep or pass on, and discarded just about everything else.

I moved my things in and found, to my surprise, there is plenty of space. First I discarded several wheelie-bins of old paperwork - things from my university degrees and old freelance jobs going back decades. All the books and other curriculum materials we produced during my ten years as manager of the state's educational publishing facility have gone to our regional university's library. Dozens of other books are going here and there. It's a very liberating feeling, as I remember Allen assuring me when he did the same with his theatre library and paperwork a long time ago - a move which horrified me at the time. 

My new little office has been quite pleasant during the warmer weather - even though it's the only part of the house that doesn't have access to air conditioning. But we rarely used the aircons in the rest of the house anyway, thanks to good insulation throughout and a perfect aspect in all living areas. This office has both eastern and northern-facing windows, so the winter sun streams in but there's no exposure to the hot western summer sun. I've been amazed how cosy the room stays now that our cooler winter weather has arrived. Since it's small and has good windows, the tiniest bit of sun heats it up nicely. I can't help chuckling when I remember now that even after he could barely do anything constructive in the way or reading or writing, Allen still disappeared into this enclave after breakfast every day, sliding shut the glass door connecting it to our adjacent bedroom. In his last months, I would put an opera on his computer for him to watch. I now realise that because his tiny frame could no longer regulate his body temperature very well, he was probably mainly enjoying the room's warmth. - probably just one of hundreds of things Allen could no longer express.

Right outside one window here a beautiful golden penda is growing, a tree I planted in 2009 when I painted the room for Allen and had tiles laid down. As I was closing the blinds this afternoon, I looked out to see the first of the golden penda's new season's flowers had just opened. The light was fading, but I photographed it anyway. I need reminders that life goes on.


Anonymous said...

Hi Chartreuse,

I am a fellow caregiver and just came across your blog - sorry to see you are in the same position, but if you are anything like me I hope your website provides some sort of outlet...

I have been a young(ish!) carer for my mother-in-law, who suffers from dementia, for the last three years now.

I am in the process of creating a new poetry site primarily aimed at carers, but also people with dementia as well - http://dementiapoetry.com.

The blog is an honest account of my experience of caring over the last few years in poems - some silly, some exasperated, some happy, some sad - of my last three years caring for my mother-in-law, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and is aimed at helping to support other caregivers in a similar position.

If you would be happy to link to me, I would gladly return the favour!

The Blog Fodder said...

Hello, Char. Glad to see you back. Going to University pre-computer made paper hoarders of many of us. Throwing it out can be therapeutic, for sure. Being in his office will keep you close to Allen's memory. Hugs.

Red said...

It's really good to see you post again. It's tough to establish a new life on your own. I think men deal poorly with their new status. Enjoy your new office space.

Chartreuse said...

Thank you for your comment. I visited your blog but couldn't find anywhere to leave this comment there. I have to tell you that I don't feel our experiences are very similar. I found it difficult to understand your relationship with your mother-in-law. My caregiving was based on a mutual love built up during a long and happy life together. You seem to be acting purely out of a sense of duty toward your husband. Sadly, you don't seem to have had the opportunity to get to know your mother-in-law before her decline. These differences in our circumstances make me think we mightn't have very many feelings in common about our experiences or our attitudes to the person being cared for. Also, my husband very rarely lost his awareness of who I was or what was happening to him. His was a rare form of dementia. He never stopped being my husband and ours was always a partnership, even if it seemed my input was greater than his. I felt too saddened by many of your poems to want to read more. Your mother-in-law is obviously in a lonely and frightening place. I can understand you feel the need to take solace in your writing. But I am afraid I would only be saddened to be constantly reminded of the terrible damage that full-blown dementia can wreak on extended family relationships. I wish you peace and happiness in your family life

Snowbrush said...

I enjoyed reading about your conversion of Allen's office to your own needs. He looks like such a nice man in the photo. I was thrilled to see the palm trees in another photos and envied you living where they grow. I live just below the North 45th parallel, yet there are a few palm trees even here where planted. Last winter, it got extremely cold for the area (-10 F), and I can but hope they all survived, but the ones I've seen don't look likely to win the battle.

About me

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.