I have news to impart. Momentous to us, and yet an everyday occurrence looked at nationally or internationally. A thousand old ladies or old gentlemen a day in the UK alone must be having these sorts of decisions made for them and about them. Our Ma is going into a Home.
The need for residential care eventually has been long acknowledged, but the need has widened and grown and enlarged rapidly in the space of less than a week. I said to The Husband, whose beloved mother Our Ma is, on Wednesday night last week after the mother and father of all days with her, that the time had come. There was a splutter of oh buts, and surelies...? and then I said I am e-mailing your sister tomorrow. We need another family conflab.
The meeting was set for Sunday at 1.00pm. By 1.50pm we'd done our short list of local homes, drawn up by a combination of word-of-mouth recommendation and looking at websites and seeing how coy they were about visits without prior appointment when we phoned them. Only one said, yes, come any time this afternoon. So we went there first. The others were more chary and asked we turn up at certain times or within certain hours, so they were put second and third.
What strikes a person as being a nice home must vary. A hierarchy of criteria depends on each individual, I suppose, and many aspects need to be considered, condition of buildings, safety, security, aesthetics, atmosphere, staffing levels, general cheerfulness of staff, the size and design of building, the views from the building, the number of windows, etc, etc. Bizarrely, all three decision-makers shuffled their criteria around privately in their own heads and came up with exactly the same positive or negative reaction to each place. The Husband and I agreed yesterday evening that as soon as we saw Number One we felt we'd found the right one already and had almost mooted calling off the search right there, but of course we had our sensible heads on as well as the hearts in our chests and so we agreed with His Sister when she said, well, we'll use that as the benchmark, as I logged the next Post Code into the SatNav.
No 2 felt shambolic and security was most peculiar. We walked right in off the street as someone with the key code held the door open for us. But at the end of the brief visit we needed the key code to get out. The lady in charge that afternoon trenchantly disputed that we had come at the right time. We thought she'd said before 4.45pm, she said she'd said after 4.45pm and to come back. We didn't bother, the narrow corridors and general atmosphere hadn't grabbed us.
No 3 was a large brand-new purpose-built residential and nursing home on four floors. Three rooms were empty on the privately-funded dementia (ground) floor. Two had views of brick walls, one had a view of the internal courtyard garden (with no spring flowers!), but the corridors were wide and featureless and had NO windows. Even we felt instantly lost and none of us have dementia - yet. The whole place felt exactly as the though the architect and builders had just left, even though it had been open two years. All the staff were uniformed. It was bland, efficient, institutional and more like a hospital than any sort of home-from-home. We were handed forms and a pen to apply for the third (less grimly bleak) room, but put them down and walked out, as a man, with hardly a word said between us. I think we might have shuddered simultaneously.
So, at some speed, back to Home No 1. We are definitely interested, I said, either in a temporary respite room or a long-stay continuing care room. The same lady who'd showed us round the ground floor said, the long stay rooms are all upstairs. We hesitated - we haven't seen upstairs... Oh, c'mon, I'll show you now.
Even though this was a little sadder than downstairs, as the clients were further along in their different types of dementia and more lost inside them, and two poor souls were even on permanent bed care and quite evidently close to death, all the rooms had their doors open and were full of homely touches and it was a busy and friendly community. We were even more convinced that Our Ma needed to be in a place just like this, and SOON.
The next day - just yesterday - two miracles happened. I got a call from our No 1 Home, to say a room had become available "in the night" and we could have it in a week's time, after it had been redecorated, Then, even more astonishingly, Social Services rang me back and the lovely social worker who'd last seen Our Ma in the autumn spoke to me and said she could see us all that very afternoon to do an emergency assessment of Our Ma's needs and would also try to get the financial assessment done in time for her to move into the home on Monday 4 April. "In record time" were her exact words.
These two things just don't happen on one day, within the space of minutes. These things usually take week upon frustrating week, months even. His Sister, when told, said somebody up there likes us. I said the planets must be in a special alignment. The Husband said that it just proved we were doing the right thing at the right time.
It was like pushing at an open door.
No, it hasn't escaped any of us that UK Mother's Day 2011 is the last full day Our Ma will ever spend in her own home, the house she has lived in for fifty-five years, near as dammit. Although poignant to the point of painfulness to The Husband and His Sister, I see this as the third miracle, as we have the perfect excuse for a good send off on Sunday evening, with fizz and cards and cake and flowers.
And a good send off she shall have, from her children, her pigeon pair, and their spouses. We will wave her into the next - last - phase of her life happy in the knowledge that it is a Good Thing we do.
Our Ma and Her Babies 1956