Saturday, January 21, 2012

Don’t Judge Books By Their Covers

I expect you’ve heard this before, or something very like it. In this case it’s plural; I recently encountered more than one book with a deceptive cover.

We went to the carers’ morning tea organised by the Community Nurse. Bringing the people we care for was optional. We all did. It was the first of these meetings; none of us knew each other (except that the CN had met us all).

We’d been looking forward to it so much that when the Darling Husband woke with extreme arthritic pain in his back, he was determined to get there anyway. At first, before the painkillers started to kick in, he could barely stand up, but he persevered and I helped as best I could. Luckily we got a park right outside the entrance to the restaurant, and there was room for him to get his wheely walker inside. There was even a ramp.

A few people were already there; more arrived soon after we did. Apart from the youthfully middle-aged CN, who has a vibrant ‘up’ personality which shows on her face, they were all old and looked more or less frail and doddering. Some had a slightly vacant look. I reckoned they’d be the carees. I was right that far.

‘I don’t know about this lot,’ I muttered to DH, and he gave a quick nod. But, oh well, it was an outing. We don’t have so many of them these days. And we didn’t have to come again.

CN made us name tags, and we began making conversation. ‘Where do you live?’ ‘What did you do before you retired?” It was obvious we were all beyond employment age. But then some people arrived who were not — although in fact they were retired anyway. There was a middle-aged woman caring for her mother, and an ex-dentist caring for his wife. We were all couples — married couples, except for the mother and daughter. Caring, it seems, is a one-on-one job.

One of the carees was a former school principal. He was a stocky, raw-boned bloke with a lot of gaps in his teeth. I thought he looked more like a manual labourer. He had plenty of interesting tales to tell about his teaching experiences. Clearly it had been his passion. His carer wife was a lively little lady who added some yarns of her own.

Another carer wife had been an exhibited artist, and missed it, but said she hadn’t picked up a brush for a year.

‘Too busy with him, you know?’ she murmured in my ear.

Yes,’ I said, equally quietly. ‘I do know.’ (I doubt that anyone who has not experienced it can have any idea how much time it all takes.)

She had a small painting with her and showed us. My guess is that CN urged her to bring it; the artist herself was a modest lady. It was a water colour of four draught horses pulling a plough, and it was wonderful, naturalistic rather than photographic, full of movement.

The dentist was excited to see this, and explained that his wife was an artist too, but in oils. She had been mainly a portrait painter and he enthused about the ‘wonderful likenesses’ she had done of all their family. Now, he explained, she did more ‘modern art’. I told them, truthfully, that I like abstracts best of all. His arm was around her with love and pride. A blonde woman with a lovely face, she appeared to be barely in her fifties. She didn’t talk much except to mention that her back was very sore with arthritis. I recounted how DH had been in such pain that morning that we weren’t sure of getting there, and we swapped back pain strategies. Observing the relative youth of this couple, I could imagine the heartbreak he must feel at what has befallen her. I know how much heartbreak I feel about DH, who is in his eighties.

CN told the group that DH and I are writers. Often I feel a little self-conscious admitting that I am that unusual animal, a poet. I found that in this group it felt perfectly natural. The dentist then told us that their daughter, who lives in one of the capital cities, is writing poetry and sharing it at performance venues. Yet another carer wife confessed that she is an avid reader. They drew DH out about the books he’s written, and is writing.

Other things came out too in the course of conversation. Two of the carer wives explained that their slimness was relatively new, due to stress. Others of us spoke about our own reactions to stress. All the carers were dealing with it one way and another; that was a given, no need to explain.

I launched into a story in answer to a question, and discovered that I’m a bore! They politely lost interest before the end. Dementia patients have short attention spans, and carers are focused on the requirements of the present moment. But it didn’t matter; no-one was even slightly judgmental, and I didn't feel bad. They just weren’t pretending. When you’re all in the same boat, there’s no need.

There were 12 of us in addition to CN. We enjoyed our coffee and cake and the view of the nearby river. By the time we had spent just over an hour together, we all swore to return next time and were happy to share phone numbers.

‘What an interesting bunch of people!’ we said to each other on the way home.


  1. Sounds like you had alot of fun, I always enjoy hearing stories about other people's lives. : )

  2. I'm glad of that, Joseph. And I hope you never experience this one in person - even though it's true we did have fun.:)


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