Saturday, 1 March 2014
What made me the man I am today (part 2)
The following blog posting covers the two-year period between my Grandma having her stroke and her death. This period can be said to be the greatest influence on the man I have become but also has the distinction of being the period in my life that I have the least recollection of, thanks to the power of memory repression. The memories that I do have from this period in my life are also among the most traumatic that I have, are the most vivid and have the unfortunate ability to surface at any time, completely unbidden.
This section of my autobiographical recollections is probably going to be the hardest to write for me but is the most necessary section to include in this series.
I had been living with Grandma for quite a while by this point and I could be described as being the happiest I could be given my deep and enduring depression at that time. My entire function was to make sure that Grandma felt safe in her flat, having had her home broken into some years before, and making sure the front door was always locked at night. Grandma felt safer just having me in the flat, even though I would have been entirely useless if an intruder had broken in during the night. In return, Grandma looked after me, treated me as an individual and told me the family history in long rambling episodes ad nauseam.
My only other duty was to take Grandma down the stairs and to the waiting minibus every Tuesday evening for the elderly people’s club that she frequented that formed the vast majority of her trips outside her home by that point and to pick her up from the minibus and take her back upstairs at the end of the night. She loved those evenings out so much as she finally got to socialise with people of her own age and get to play bingo. It was the day after one of her nights out that everything changed.
Being a teenager and not being in school at the time I tended to wake up mid-morning after a late night having wandered the streets trying to catch a glimpse of the latest girl I had a crush on; one particular Wednesday morning I was awoken by a commotion at the front door as my mother couldn’t get into the flat using her spare front door key. I got up and found Grandma dressed and visibly confused unable to unlock the front door. I unlocked the door and my mother took Grandma into the living room and sat her down. My mother already suspected what had happened when it transpired that Grandma was having trouble talking and moving and she called for medical assistance. While we waited, my mother told me that she thought Grandma had suffered a stroke and mentioned that it was ironic as it was the anniversary of my Granddad’s death. Being naive and deeply in denial of the facts that were staring me in the face, I tried to convince myself that Grandma was simply suffering from some kind of shock brought on by the realisation of the date’s significance and continued to try to fool myself as Grandma was taken to hospital. I can’t remember going with her to the hospital so I assume my mother went with her in the ambulance alone.
It wasn’t until the Friday that I accompanied my parents and my brother, who drove us, to the hospital. It was not that I didn’t want to go earlier but it was a simple matter of not having the money for the fare to get there. What we saw when we got to the hospital hit me harder than anything that had happened to me before; Grandma was a frail, fragile shadow of herself, unable to talk and paralysed down one side of her body. The doctor informed us that the stroke had been massive and that there was nothing they could do to stop the bleeding in her brain. I was not privy to the conversation between my mother and the doctor but I overheard snippets, one of which was that Grandma was not expected to last the weekend.
I don’t really know what happened in my brain at that moment but I suddenly became the most rational member of my family. My feelings seemed to turn off so that I could become the ‘strong’ one, able to hold my family together as they became overly emotional as my mother explained to the rest of the family what the doctor had said. Where my parents and my brother started to insist that Grandma would pull through, I tried to remain rational and prepare my family to accept what seemed inevitable at that time, that Grandma was not long for this world. I know it seems completely wrong to have been preparing for the most pessimistic outcome but it seemed the only thing to do given the prognosis.
My mother was always very close to Grandma, to the point that they could finish each other’s sentences, so it was inevitable that she would crumple into an emotional mess and need a lot of support. My father usually seemed to be the laid back type of person but, where Grandma was concerned, he was hit harder by the news than you would expect of a man of his mother-in-law so there was a certain need to be strong for him too. My brother was an unknown quantity to me by that point in our relationship so I wasn’t sure how he’d take the news. It simply seemed to me that someone needed to be realistic because living on false hope would have been the worst thing to do.
Rightly or wrongly, I tried to prepare my family for the worst but, while my parents could see what I was trying to do, my brother exploded in an angry outburst and calling me all the names under the sun for daring to think that Grandma wouldn’t pull through. We all got back in the car and my brother drove us home in a foul mood, taking very little care of how he was driving.
Arriving home, my parents and brother went to their flat whilst I went to Grandma’s flat alone. I don’t know why neither of my parents came home with me, whether I had somehow hurt them with my reaction or they simply didn’t care to see how I was, but I entered Grandma’s flat alone, went into the living room, took the ‘phone off the hook, sat down in the middle of the floor and broke down. I don’t know how long I sat there crying, I simply allowed myself to drop the facade I had put up to try to hold my family together emotionally and help them accept the reality of Grandma’s situation. I felt completely abandoned by my family, people who should have been supporting me as the youngest member of the family. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised seeing as how I was already an outsider in the family.
I should have had more faith in Grandma as she confounded the doctor’s predictions and not only rallied her health over the weekend but improved enough to come home six months after her initial hospital admission. She was a tough old girl, something that I would find out time and time again right up until her death.
During those six months I lived in Grandma’s flat alone, keeping an eye on her home and hoping that she’d be home soon. My mother would go to the hospital every day, something that I could not do myself, and would bring me my dinner so she could check that I was not smashing up the place being a young boy on his own. I started to gain a lot of weight during those six long months as my dinner usually consisted of take-out from Kentucky Fried Chicken, something I’m still addicted to even now. Of course, living alone meant that my social isolation became more ingrained. I didn’t have many friends and I wasn’t going to let anyone else into the flat so I became like a hermit although I used to go out for long walks late at night and into the early hours of the morning. In some ways, I suppose the long night-time walks became a kind of self-harming behaviour as I really didn’t care if anything bad happened to me because I had no one who cared about me at home.
I didn’t have a lot of money but I bought Grandma a cuddly Tigger with my pocket money as a present. It was the first present that I had ever purchased with my own money and I wanted Grandma to have something to hold while she was alone in hospital. Yes, it was vaguely childish but, in some respects, my depression had robbed me of my early childhood and part of me was still that naive child I had once been. Childish or not though, my Grandma clung onto that soft toy from the moment I gave it to her until the moment someone stole it from her bedside when the nurses placed it in the cupboard by her bed.
I was an avid TV viewer and I watched a lot of late-night TV when I wasn’t wandering the streets. Grandma became my lucky charm when she finally came home as the night she arrived was the night I was announced as the winner of a competition on a late-night TV show. Her status as my lucky charm was strengthened over the coming weeks when I won another two competitions in a row.
My mother came to live with me and Grandma to act as a 24-hour carer and I became Grandma’s other carer. Grandma’s bed was moved into the living room and a camp bed was set up next to it where my mother would sleep as she didn’t want to be too far from Grandma should she need assistance. Being a night owl, I took care of Grandma’s night-time needs where I could, as she had gained a lot of weight whilst in hospital, and that allowed my mother time to sleep without having to worry too much.
I was ending off my school career by this point with an elective final year and then joined the ranks of the unemployed although I didn’t apply for dole money. My job as far as I was concerned was to look after Grandma the same way she looked after me.
During the daytime and evenings, I went for long walks when my mother didn’t need me to help her so I started losing weight but I was otherwise committed to helping Grandma. I went for occasional job interviews but I wasn’t too bothered about finding a job because Grandma came first. I even gave the proximity to home as a reason for wanting one job during an interview because I needed to be near my Grandma should anything happen and I assume I didn’t get the job for being so straight up about that reason.
Thankfully, I have only a few memories between this point and Grandma’s death but the memories I do have are very traumatic. The most traumatic memory is of being left alone with Grandma by my mother when she had to represent the family at the funeral of Grandma’s sister.
As I have mentioned, Grandma was quite over-weight so I wasn’t able to move her alone; in fact, one of my duties as her carer was to help my mother lift Grandma on and off the commode we had been supplied with. Grandma had been catheterised so that was not a consideration but evacuating her bowels meant quite a long, strenuous operation. It was only a few minutes after my mother had left when Grandma made me aware of a problem. She couldn’t communicate by anything other than incoherent moans and groans but it was enough to inform me that she was in some discomfort, I just didn’t know what. She still had some reasoning so, after a process of elimination, I was able to get an idea of what had happened. I thought that she wanted to go on the commode so I had to explain that I couldn’t move her and that she would have to wait but she continued to moan so I pulled back the covers and found that she had suffered a bout of diarrhoea.
I tried to comfort Grandma but there was nothing I could do for her. She still had a relatively full range of emotions and, being in her seventies, she would have been mortified if I had tried to clean her up but I couldn’t move her on my own anyway. I simply had to sit by her bed and apologise for not being able to help her as she spent the next two or three hours in her own excrement until my mother came home. If I didn’t hate myself for my inadequacies before, I became the most self-hating person in the world that day.
It was about this time that I started to try to make a bargain with a God I never believed in – He could do whatever He wanted to me if He would give Grandma back everything she had lost due to the stroke. Of course, nothing happened so I became more depressed, more self-loathing and felt more helpless whenever I was around Grandma but I also couldn’t abandon her because she had been like a mother to me and it was my moral duty and my honour to repay her love.
There was a single bright spot during those years but one that no one in my family believes happened. I had been helping Grandma with some silly exercises with her one mobile arm. It was a silly movement but one that used some of the range of motion she had. I was counting the movements and Grandma was happily getting involved when she uttered a single word, “four”, as she completed the fourth repetition. I was alone with her at the time and I was so proud of her that I rushed to tell my mother but Grandma never uttered another word ever again. I hoped that it may have been a sign that she may have made some level of recovery but a mini stroke later wiped out even that slight hope. As we had been alone, no one ever believed that Grandma had said anything.
My brother hardly ever came to see Grandma and certainly never helped care for her during her final two years. Another of my bad memories was of my brother’s complete selfishness and total ignorance regarding my feelings. He had gone on holiday to Barbados or Jamaica at some point, had gotten drunk and got married to a woman looking for a British passport. He had come home and, a few months later, she followed. Grandma had been taken to hospital for some reason and I waited at the flat for my brother who had gone to the airport to pick up his wife. I was frantic with worry over Grandma’s illness but someone had to tell my brother that she had been taken to hospital so I waited. He arrived with his wife in tow and I informed him of Grandma’s whereabouts and, without a thought of taking me, dragged his wife to the hospital, leaving me at home worried that I’d never see Grandma again. It was the latest in a long line of things that my brother had done to me that have made me hate him.
Grandma kept on getting sick but battled through time and time again and I was there to care for her throughout it all even after I finally got a job so that I had some income. It was a job in a warehouse on the 2-10pm shift. I had to leave for work at 12pm and didn’t get home until around 11:30pm at which time I took care of Grandma so my mother could get some sleep. I had no social life; I merely had work and my caring duties with Grandma.
I got deeper and deeper in depression and even came to the point where I began to think about smothering Grandma as she slept to put her out of my misery. Obviously such thoughts take their toll on a person’s feelings of self-worth and I began to build up a reserve of self-hatred that has never left.
Despite the weight of responsibility, I could not let my Grandma down because she was the most important person in my life. I did everything I could to make her feel cared for and I even promised her that if she ever felt like letting go I would be there for her so she wouldn’t have to die alone. It’s a promise I never should have made.
Occasionally, we would have some respite when Grandma went into hospital for a week or two but otherwise it was up to my mother and I to take care of Grandma’s needs 24 hours a day and neither of us was getting any State financial assistance. It was during one of these respite rests for us that Grandma took a turn for the worse. I think she had some kind of chest infection or pneumonia and it was not looking good. I refused to go and see her in the hospital for the first four days of that week under the stupid excuse that if I went to see her she’d die and if I stayed away she’d get better and come home. Finally, on the Friday evening, I gave in and went to see her. She was so frail but she seemed to be really happy that I had gone to see her. It seemed as though Grandma had been holding out for me to go and see her. I really thought that she would get better for me but I also realised that she was very ill so I made her my promise to be there for her if she decided she couldn’t carry on. We came home when visiting hours were over with the intention of going back the next day.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, the hospital rang to say that Grandma was dying and that we should come as quickly as possible. My mother came into my bedroom to wake me up and, to my eternal shame, I turned over and fell asleep again. She came back in to wake me up again and I hurriedly got dressed ready for the taxi to take us to the hospital; however, when we arrived, we were told that Grandma had died shortly before we got there. If I hadn’t turned over and gone back to sleep, I would have been by Grandma’s side as she passed away as I had promised. It was the only promise that I have ever really given a damn about and I broke it. I have never been able to and will never be able to forgive myself for breaking that promise. It gave me yet another reason to hate myself as if I needed any more reasons.
The year was now 1989 and the worst period of my life to that point was over, unfortunately, I had more crap to come that year that would further my descent in depression and push me closer to Oblivion.