My Dad’s a Goldfish – Moving out/moving in

The step-monster left the Goldfish on 31st January 2014 and I moved in. It wasn’t nice. It was ugly and horrible.

During the days leading up to her departure, the Goldfish’s behavior changed and he became increasingly subdued and confused. The day before she left, he told the carer helping him to shower and dress that he knew she was leaving him. The poor girl (she’s only 20) didn’t know what to say and was quite upset about it.

Later the same day, the Goldfish went for his usual weekly outing the Man from Alzheimer. They have a drive in the countryside, sometimes visiting local stables so the Goldfish can pat the horses, and end with coffee and cake in a café before returning home. On this particular day I received a phone call from the Man saying the Goldfish was refusing to leave the café. He’d seemed miserable all afternoon; he barely touched his coffee then simply continued to sit in his chair and would not be persuaded to get back in the car.

I was about to set out for the café when the Man called again to say he had the Goldfish in the car and was on his way back. I went to meet them at the house. In the meantime, Wee-sis called to tell me the step-monster had had her bed taken away the night before. No wonder the Goldfish was distraught.

The step-monster was out with her sister somewhere so I waited in my car. She arrived back before the Goldfish. I’m not sure if this was a good thing or not – I wouldn’t have lost my temper with her in front of the Goldfish. I’m not proud of swearing at her but I was so incensed by what she was doing to the Goldfish, the emotional pain she was causing him and her absolute refusal to accept that she was hurting him. When I’d told her what had happened on his outing she said, with that infuriating little smirk she has: “I don’t see him behaving any differently.”

I asked if the Goldfish was going to die before her – remarking that that was not a given, which rather took her aback – what she wanted us to do. Were we to call her to come for a touching death-bed scene? Told you it was ugly. She said she thought this was not a nice thing to talk about. “Well, we need to know what you want us to do if your husband is about to die.”

Her sister chipped in to ask: “Why don’t you be like everyone else and put him in a home?”

The Man arrived back with the Goldfish before I hit either the step-monster or her sister and she clucked around him as if she was a devoted wife.

Feeling sick, I left. I felt even sicker the next morning when, not knowing what to expect, I went to give the Goldfish his breakfast. The step-monster was out, taking more things to her house, which has been painted and carpeted. The DH came to cut away the urine sodden carpet in the bedroom before the carpet fitters arrived later in the day. The Goldfish ate his breakfast and seemed all right. The step-monster returned, expecting the Goldfish to be going off to day centre but he sat in his chair and refused to budge. I realised that, like the day before, he could not articulate how he felt about what was going on and non-co-operation was the only way in which he could express his disquiet. “Don’t you want to go?” I asked.


“Well, that’s all right,” I said. “You don’t have to go. I’ll call the Man and tell him.” I watched the step-monster, enjoying her discomfiture. I’d rather hoped she might show some shame or embarrassment at being the cause of the Goldfish’s distress – but no. The only problem for her was that she’d expected the Goldfish to go off to day centre and she would leave afterwards without having to say anything. She was slightly watery-eyed as she kissed him.

At the door, I told her I hoped she would be as unhappy as she deserved to be while she enjoyed the peaceful life to which she believes she is entitled. I did say it wasn’t nice.

The Goldfish had a nap. When he woke I asked if he’d like to go to the day centre for his lunch and he said he thought that sounded a good. I dropped him off, stopped off at my house to pick up a suitcase of clothes and books and moved back into the house I’d grown up in.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – repercussions from the bombshell

Although the step-monster has not told the Goldfish she’s leaving him (or so she says), it is clear he suspects something is going on. His mood has become very low and the degree of confusion much more marked.

One cause of the increased confusion could be because he has been seriously constipated. It was dreadful to watch him. He would sit at the table for breakfast and decide he needed to go to the toilet. Once there, nothing happened and he’d totter back to the kitchen, sit down and thirty seconds later announce he had to move his bowels and we’d go through the whole performance again. The step-monster maintains she has been giving him his laxative but when I counted the sachets she obviously hadn’t.

We started him on the maximum dose and it finally worked – explosively and copiously. The step-monster was horrified. She had to clean him up. She also admitted that recently the Goldfish has been having accidents at night and peeing on the floor in the bedroom. As she takes sleeping pills at night she doesn’t hear him getting up so can’t do anything to help him find the commode or make his way to the bathroom. I suggest she puts the bathroom light on and leaves the door open. However, she puts the hall light on instead so he comes from the dark of the bedroom to the bright light in the hall – further disorientating him.

I call Alzheimer Scotland’s advice person. I know she’ll tell me the first thing is to take a urine sample for checking – which she does and which I do. However, she also says it doesn’t sound like this is part of the dementia process as it has come on too quickly and the Goldfish is not incontinent as he knows when he needs to go to the loo. She thinks it sounds much more likely to be caused by stress. The urine sample results come back clear. There’s no infection so it is most likely stress.

It is not surprising he is stressed. As the time for her departure draws closer (she is not going immediately because she is having her place decorated and made nice) she is removing things from the house. The milk jug vanished the other morning, as did the only decent-sized teaspoon! Wee-sis reports that the step-monster’s daughter is forever at the house and the two of them are sitting having secret little conversations.

One day I had gone to put petrol in the car and for some reason decided to drive past the Goldfish’s house. I have no idea what made me do it but I’m so glad I did. As I passed, I noticed the step-monster’s car wasn’t there and then I saw the Goldfish walking up the path towards the gate. I pulled up just as he was stepping out onto the pavement. He didn’t have any walking aids, wasn’t wearing a coat and, as I soon discovered, had locked both front and back doors. ‘Where are you heading for?’ I asked.

‘I was just looking to see if you were coming,’ he replied.

By the time I got him inside and settled I was seething with rage. I waited until the step-monster came back – half an hour later. God knows what might have happened in that half hour if I hadn’t decided to drive past. I wanted to slap her when she came in all smiling and jolly. I told her what had happened and said she’d never to leave the Goldfish on his own again. ‘If you need to go out call one of us and we’ll come up to stay with him.’

I am struggling to deal with my emotions right now. I want her gone so that I can take proper care of the Goldfish – but, I’m also terrified about what that means. I’m going to have to move out of my own home (thank goodness the DH is understanding and supportive, but will that last for the duration?). I suspect I’ll have to give up my work as a freelance journalist so will have no income. I’m worried about how the step-monster’s departure will affect the Goldfish – they’ve been married forty years, after all, so she’s pretty central to his life. Mostly, though, I can’t help but feel her leaving will be better for the Goldfish. But I don’t know.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – the step-monster drops a bombshell

DSCF0427The scarily rapid approach of Christmas has made me think about last year when Wee-sis and I felt it might be the last Christmas in which the Goldfish would be able to participate and to enjoy. It would likely be the last Christmas to give us some happy memories to store away for the future.

All of this, however, looked to be in serious jeopardy as the step-monster’s daughter decided her mother and the Goldfish should come to her on Christmas Day. As they always go to the step-monster’s son on Boxing Day we were being blocked from Christmas with the Goldfish. Much discussion and gnashing of teeth and Wee-sis (because she is so much more diplomatic than I am) was sent to negotiate with step-monster’s daughter. It was agreed the Goldfish would come to my house on Christmas Day. The step-monster decided to go to her daughter’s house, which pleased us.

Two days before Christmas the step-monster announced she was leaving the Goldfish and going to live in her own house. She inherited it from her mother and had been letting out for many years. When the last tenants moved on she did not re-let, something which made Wee-sis suspicious that she was planning to move in.

She said she couldn’t cope with looking after the Goldfish.

‘I know it isn’t easy,’ I said, ‘but Social Services can provide a lot more help. You only have to tell them what support you need to help you cope.’ The CC, I knew, could put in a lot of extra support, including someone to sleep at night to give the Step-monster some respite.

‘No, I don’t want anyone coming in the house,’ she replied.

‘So, you are abandoning my father. What about the “in sickness and in health” promise you made?’

She shrugged. ‘Don’t you think at my age I am entitled to a peaceful life?’

‘What are you going to tell dad?’

‘Oh, he’ll soon forget. He doesn’t remember anything.’

‘When are you proposing to move out? Social Services are more or less closed for the holiday now so I can’t see us being able to arrange a meeting until after the New Year.’

‘Oh, I’m not going yet. I need to do some things in the house before I move in. It’ll be the end of January.’

As I was leaving, she said: ‘I’ll pop in to see him sometimes.’

I shook my head. ‘No, you can’t. It will take us a long time to help him get over your leaving him and you are not going to come back for a half hour visit and upset everything again.’

If the step-monster’s life was going to become peaceful and stress free, mine was going to become the very opposite. Family discussions went round and round but always came to the same conclusion – I  was going to have to move in with the Goldfish.

Somehow, Wee-sis, DH and I managed to put fears for the future to the back of our minds and organise a lovely Christmas Day for the Goldfish. We can look back on Christmas 2013 and remember the fun we had watching the Goldfish open his gifts, his pleasure at being surrounded by people who talked to him, plied him with good food (he had two puddings after tucking into a huge plate of dinner) and wine and best malt whisky.DSCF0431

Even so, every time we remember that lovely day,especially with another Christmas round the corner, the memory is tainted by the bombshell the step-monster dropped just two days before.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – Reading and thinking

In a dementia training guide I read: “Looking after someone who has dementia can be very stressful [tell me about it!]. One of the things you may find hardest is living with your feelings about caring. It helps to know what these feelings might be. Most carers experience a variety of emotions. The most common are sadness, guilt, anger and fear. You might expect to be sad when you feel you are slowly losing someone you love. Anger can be more of a shock.

“On the other hand, caring can also be rewarding. For example, some people see it as a chance to give back to a parent the care they were given as a child. People with dementia often seem calm and happy despite the illness.”

Much of this makes sense and describes the roller coaster of emotions I feel, especially the sadness and the guilt. The anger I feel is not directed at the Goldfish and I am patient with him. It’s the step-monster who provokes my rage.

There is also anger that the Goldfish has to have this horrible illness. It seems so grossly unfair. He is such a nice man and has been all his life. He enjoyed his golf and his dominoes in the pub, was very sociable and well-liked by everyone who knows him. I find I’m switching tenses here – I suppose because although he is still with us he is probably considered an ‘absent friend’ by most people who knew/know him. Actually, he has outlived many of his contemporaries and once he might have been proud of that but, sadly, he is no longer able to take pride in his longevity.

Oh, yes, there is guilt – that I didn’t intervene sooner; that I am not his full-time carer. The step-monster is living with him day and night and the nights are not always easy. The Goldfish has clearly been getting up in the night and wandering around the house. This worries me because I know she won’t put the alarm on the doors. She will have locked up (if she remembers: she did leave the keys in the outside lock on the front door recently) and removed the key which means if there is a fire the goldfish won’t be able to get out unless she wakes up and takes charge.

“Caring can be rewarding” – well, it probably is if you are a nurse or doctor but as a daughter who loves her father and wants to spend quality time with him enjoying meaningful conversations, I disagree with this sentiment. Ensuring he has had his laxative is not rewarding, nor is trying to work out what lost word he is searching for with such frustration.

I sort of get what they are saying about wanting the opportunity to give back to a parent what we were given as children but I’m afraid the giving back to the Goldfish is not a patch on the care and love he gave me. He helped me to develop both physically and mentally. From him I learned a love of the countryside, the names of flowers – he used to help me with my school projects, gathering and pressing flowers and teaching me their names. He taught me the importance of fairness and social justice. He taught me so much – I cannot teach him anything.

I can provide meals and ensure he has a good, balanced diet and I can try to ensure he gets appropriate medical help as and when he requires it. But that is not giving back. I’d far rather he did not have dementia and we saw each other less often but when we did meet we could enjoy conversations as before, talking about books we’d read, arguing about politics, putting the world to right.

I feel very suspicious of people who find it rewarding caring for a parent with dementia. I think we can feel a level of satisfaction that we are doing it as well as we can but it certainly is not rewarding.

“Looking after yourself is not selfish – it’s sensible. You need to look after yourself, physically and emotionally, if you want to be able to go on caring.” Yes, well, quite!