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Sunday, 22 February 2015

Expanding to fill the metropolis

I missed the action of Cyclone Marcia, which has just travelled through the town where I used to live, and instead revel in the mild weather of Sydney in late summer, with its warm days and cool nights. Missing the bad weather on the Coast is a real blessing because it was just this kind of weather event that had caused me so much anxiety: the torrential rain, the horrendous winds, the flooded streets. I have quickly adjusted to life in Sydney, although to be sure it's not an entirely typical household still because just after I moved in my flatmate then moved in as well. The apartment is full of boxes and there are a lot of things still to put away. There is a shortage of cupboards.

In contrast to the chaos that's here in the apartment my mother is living in quiet seclusion in her nursing home, which is located about 30 minutes north of here by way of the Warringah Freeway, the Lane Cove Tunnel and the M2. I went up to see her today but left there early, before having the lunch I had ordered, because I feared I had a cold. Flu is a real threat for old people, so instead of staying for lunch I hit the road again after about 90 minutes. Mum and I spent the morning talking about things and I was relieved to see that the lower back pain that had made her life difficult has disappeared due to the careful ministrations of her GP. Last time I visited Sydney before the BMS (big move south) mum was groaning every time she moved, but that evidence has disappeared along with the cause. She also seems even to have put on a couple of kilos. And she was wearing a short-sleeved shirt today and did not seem to mind the cool of the nursing home's air conditioning system. All told the place seems to suit her.

In fact while I was there we talked a bit about her life in the old apartment on the Coast but she can't really remember much about it, although she has only been in Sydney for two months. It seems that she is getting used to the nursing home. "I don't mind living here," she told me today. I remonstrated with her at this prompt because it appears to me that my mother now lacks nothing for her happiness. She has her medication looked after, she gets three square meals a day, she can watch her TV in her easy chair, she can go out into the hallways and chat with other residents, and she has 24-hour staff making sure she is perfectly comfortable. In fact, it seems to me that mum is even being a bit selfish by saying this.

Her selfishness is something I have had to get used to though. When the nursing home first became a possibility back in March last year mum would say to me, "I don't think I need to go into a nursing home yet," and I used to think to myself (just quietly of course, at least at first), "Yes of course you don't need to go into a nursing home because you have two people who do everything to make sure your household functions normally." Now the theme has changed but the message is the same. To me it seems that when you get old you become very self obsessed - the classic trope of the old person who loves talking to their doctor comes to mind - and as your horizons shrink - especially true for those old people who are living with dementia, as my mother is - you find it more and more difficult to see beyond the edge of your own world.

Your world shrinks, in a very real way. But for me things are otherwise. Having lived in a small regional Queensland town for the best part of six years, and having now moved back to the nation's dominant metropolis, I find my awareness of things has expanded. (A change is as good as a holiday, they say.) With this expanded consciousness I can see things that I had previously missed. (We replace very cell in our bodies every seven years, they say.) Unlike mum, who is in my care still, even now that she is living in permanent care, I am expanding to fill a bigger space. I can feel myself expanding and it feels comfortable. 

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