Last night the stags kept me awake. I can’t see them, way over there across the sea-loch in the darkness, but I can take myself there in my mind. There’s an old boy, calling through ragged throat, his call raspy as sandpaper, his message clear. This is my territory, my harem, my life on the line! Defiance is in his tone and many years of experience and fight in his urgent delivery. The night is as startled as I am when he lifts his head and shatters the dark. She stops, holds till he is quiet, and moves on. I wait for the response and here it comes – a youngster, brimming with fire and testosterone and moving in.
Yesterday I heard shots, rifle shots, big rifle shots. I wondered, then, if tonight will come without the old stag; if his days are done, if he is bloodied and broken in a way he never saw coming. I tell myself this way might be kinder but it still catches my breath, the thought of that sudden death. Somehow the last fight seems more natural, although it surely would take a whole lot longer to come to a conclusion. And the wounded, limping away of it makes me want to run up the hill with a bandage.
As I almost drifted off to sleep, I heard swans. Now, swans at night will always bring me to my window in the vain hope that there will be a full moon, clear skies and a grand sighting of those almost silent wings of grace. No such luck, but I still stood and watched the night and listened to that soft and gentle piping sound until it faded into someone else’s sky. I wondered how they fly at night. I wondered where they go and how long it will take. I wondered many things but one thing I knew. They communicate in ways we could all learn by and nobody ever gets left behind. Like geese, if the lead swan tires, he will tell them and another from further back will take his place. I have watched it happen and it smiled me for the rest of the day, that team spirit, that respect for each individual, that lack of judgement.
There are days when I wake barely able to say good morning. There are days when I am filled with beans and good mornings. Sometimes the weight of caring feels like a mountain on my back, my blood cooling fudge in my veins, and then there are times when I feel light as a kite with an equal sense of fun and laughter. Some days the thought of what lies ahead, the washing and cleaning, the picking up of dropped things, the mopping of spills, or mud shuffled in twist my stomach into a reef knot. Others, I sing my way through it all and feel no angst at all. Cooking soft foods every single day can be a living nightmare or just cooking soft foods. Encouraging a shower or a change of clothing can be just too much, or just too easy. Reminding, repeating, reassuring is an irritating chore or a dance with compassion. And all of these states of mind are down to me. I know this, but when the body is weary, so is the mind, as it appears they work together, like swans. I can decide to choose my attitude but fail through lack of sleep. And then guilt moves in. I know nothing can be done to change things and that the only thing I can control is myself. I know I need to keep myself healthy and exercised and fed well, but half the time, yes, half the time, I can’t be bothered. That is when guilt trembles in the wings, glitter-eyed, rubbing her hands together in glee, for here it comes…….that sharp word, that unfair remark, that look, that sigh, that refusal to go here or collect that. Now she is centre-stage and I am on my knees with remorse.
Accepting the pendulum swing of life as a carer is not easy. I want to do this the right way, the perfect way, but there is no such thing as perfect, however much we may aspire to it. Besides, ‘perfect’ is rigid, glossy, immovable, unbendable, finite. Not human at all. The others in a similar role to mine tell me that I encourage them by writing my truth. Although this will never be a private blog where all the sharps and all the messes are revealed in safety, I do believe that there is far too much whispering around dementia, too much hidden from a world that really ought to know, because dementia is racing into our lives at an alarming speed.
So I’m going to stand firm on my hillside, and roar my aging roar, whilst also flying with the swans and learning, on a daily basis, from both.