I’ve taken the plunge and told my family; my son, who will be abandoned, well not exactly; my parents who I’m abandoning and my sister who may also feel abandoned! Hmmm, not a good start. Having told them also makes it feel very real. The plan has moved on from a day dream to a yearning and progressed onto a reality, at which we may fail. You can’t fail a day dream. In those dreams everything can work out exactly as you want. There may be times in the early hours of the morning when the arrangements for the day dream turn into a nightmare but then it doesn’t matter as you can reset the events to fit with your desired outcome. The only consolation, if we do fail, may be that the family will be relieved as we wont be abandoning them for long, if at all, depending at what point the plan collapses. Hopefully there would also be some solace gained from trying; it would be very disappointing to get to a ripe old age and ponder ‘if only we had tried’. This is the most significant and common regret reported at the end of life, not what we have done necessarily but what we didn’t do, so it would be quite significant to at least rule out one of the items on the list but I dare say there will be plenty of others; bungee jumping will not be on the directory.
I use the word ‘abandoned’ rather flippantly. We are not actually leaving anyone who is currently in need of our presence or attention. My son, now 20, lived in New Zealand in various hostels for 2 years quite competently on his own. However, I would like to think that the security of two homes to which to turn or return helped him to take some calculated risks. His Father has recently emigrated to Pasadena, California with his new American wife and as welcome as I’m sure they would make him, it could not be ‘home’. As an adult he would not be allowed to stay indefinitely nor find paid work without jumping through bureaucratic hoops. So he has been left sharing a house with his old Mum again, as he did for much of his teenage life. His current employ is unlikely to provide a reasonable level of affordable living independently for another year or so and therefore is still in need of some parental handouts. He has very limited scope to add to this meagre income without being totally exhausted after his 11 hour door-to-door days.
His first comment, when I discussed our plans, was to identify that he wouldn’t have a parent within the country which made me feel rather guilty as it was not delivered with the glee it could have been. His second was that he might be able to avail himself of a cheap ski holiday if we end up at a chalet. I haven’t fully explained that one yet, I’m just relieved that he could see some potential benefit. I don’t want to diminish his delight just yet and it makes me feel less guilty. I also think, although he hasn’t actually stated, that he would be quite pleased to have the house to himself. He previously declared that he would move out and get his own place as soon as he could afford to, so mum moving out delivers the same outcome but allows him a much nicer living environment than he would have otherwise been able to afford.
My parents were surprisingly supportive, for which I am eternally grateful and feel guilty for misjudging their encouraging reception. I am concerned about leaving the country at a time when their need is likely to develop. They manage everything between them, but being in their mid-80s does mean that their independence will not last indefinitely. My work experience has almost universally involved helping elderly people adapt to deteriorating physical ability and yet I may not be available to assist and advise my own parents with exactly the situation I have helped so many others over the years.
They were totally selfless to my face but I do wonder what they said afterwards and whether they just kept the brave façade for me but voiced quiet anxieties after I had left. If they didn’t it would be because my sister, who has recently retired would remain, albeit at the other end of the country when she isn’t globe trotting. She may not be very happy at the prospect of me abandoning her to fulfil the carer role alone. She is, however, a ‘professional’ carer. Both she and my Mother have a need to be needed, I obviously acquired the selfish gene. Her children have grown and flown the nest, one being on the other side of the world which is a long way away for her to look after her first grandchild. She was marvellous looking after our elderly great aunt and uncle until their centurion demise recently and with a nursing background, is eminently qualified, even if her experience is at the opposite end of the age spectrum as a midwife and sick children’s nurse. Glib jokes abound which correlate the needs of the very elderly with those of the very young, whilst appearing to be discriminatory and derogatory they are based in an element of truth. However, with retirement comes the opportunity to step away from all the processes, policies and procedures which haunt a working life in the public sector so taking it up again for family members would probably feel like the equivalent of a busman’s holiday.
My parents had informed my sister as she brought up the subject on our latest telephone call to enquire how she had enjoyed her recent epic holiday to India. Whilst I had intended to tell her myself, to my surprise and pleasure, she was very supportive and did not mention any increased responsibility being heaped on her to assist our parents. With all this encouragement proliferating I do feel a sense of release as all their reactions were a subliminal source of anxiety. This response, being so much more positive than I expected, is probably a greater reflection of my own insecurities than anything else; I must stop pre-judging my family. I do now feel a responsibility to make the whole plan come to a successful fruition but have a sense that if I do have to come back home in the event of a disaster or just a flop, that I will have some useful purpose to others instead of pursuing selfish goals, chasing rainbows.