HOME FROM HOME (STORY)
They say that marriage is an institution. Well, what sort of institution doesn’t allow married couples to be together?
‘We’re sorry, Mrs Bowles. We can take Norman but you’re just not ill enough.’
Not ill enough! All those years, they told me to look after myself, eat well, exercise, so I could enjoy a healthy retirement….
But Norman hadn’t been so lucky. The illness ran in his family. Little signs at first, forgetfulness, acting oddly, until ……….
‘Alzheimer’s,’ explained the consultant. ‘Not much we can do. His condition will deteriorate. Eventually, he may not recognise you ….’
Not recognise me? After 65 years of marriage?
The District Nurse was very kind. ‘Betty, it’s for the best. You can’t look after him. He needs expert care. There’s a very good nursing home, Lonsdales …..’
Norman in a home! Never! What was wrong with the home we’d lovingly put together? The home that had witnessed the joy of children, grandchildren, and our first great-grandchild, Jonathan.
‘We’ve never been apart for a day,’ I cried. ‘I couldn’t put him in a home.’
‘Betty, you’ll be able to visit him any time you want.’
Any time? Lonsdale was two buses away. And not to have Norman with me, to cuddle up to at night, to share the joys and worries of the day….
Nurse Wilson smoothed down her uniform.
‘Betty, we have to think of Norman. You couldn’t cope with him on your own.’
I shivered. Deep down, I knew she was right. These days, I couldn’t leave him alone for a minute. There was the day I’d popped into the kitchen to make some toast. I’d told Norman not to leave the settee. Next thing I knew, he’d disappeared.
I was about to call the police when the doorbell rang.
‘Found him wandering the street in his pyjamas. Said he was looking for the 22 bus,’ said Miss Pringle from across the road.
The 22 bus. That was when we were living in Laburnum Close. Over 30 years ago.
I took him inside and tried to explain. But he couldn’t understand.
‘The 22 bus. The Rialto. Dancing….’
And it wasn’t just a one-off. There was the time he’d put salt in his tea, placed the marmalade in the oven, tried to go to church wearing a tea cosy. But I was sure I could cope, until …
Crash!! I was woken in the middle of the night. Frantically, I put the light on. My husband was nowhere to be seen. I left the bedroom cautiously, and there, lying at the bottom of the stairs, was Norman.
‘Norman, what am I to do with you?’
‘It’s mainly bruising and shock,’ they explained at the hospital. ‘But Mrs Bowles, what he really needs is 24 hour attention.’
I looked into the cost of having nurses in. Prohibitive. It would have eaten up all our savings and our grandchildren’s inheritance.
There really was no alternative. Lonsdale’s.
‘It’s really very pleasant,’ explained Janice from Social Services. ‘We can show you around any time. They have a bed for Norman. He’ll love it there.’
The next Wednesday found Norman and me being shown round Sheffield’s oldest residential home.
‘And here is the Pavilion,’ breezed the stout Head of Home, Martha Bailey. The residents have all their meals in here. And we have activities too,’ she enthused,
‘Art, bingo, even little concerts.’
And I had to agree, Lonsdale’s did seem a cheerful place. The residents looked well cared for, not like some of those stories you read about in the papers. Even the lunch menu seemed inviting …
‘Apple crumble,’ I noted, ‘Norman loves that.’
We were shown into a small, charming bedroom on the ground floor with a lilac bedspread, matching curtains, even a TV
Almost…. ‘Home from home’, said Mrs Bailey, anticipating my thoughts. ‘Norman will be happy here, you’ll see.’
But happy here, without me?
‘Couldn’t I move in too?’ I urged. ‘After all, I’m in my eighties. My bones do give me gyp sometimes….’
Her face fell. ‘I’m sorry, Mrs Bowles. We just don’t have the resources…..’
‘But you can’t split a married couple up. We’ve been together for 65 years….’
‘You don’t fit the criteria,’ she finished. ‘The truth is … you’re not ill enough.’
But what to do? I looked at Norman, who was grinning and talking to himself. He did look as if he’d be happy here. It would be selfish of me to deprive him of the care he deserved after a lifetime’s hard work.
I squeezed his hand. ‘Norman, I’ll be back to see you soon. They’re nice here, they’ll look after you.’ And I rushed out of the room before he could see my tears.
Weeks passed. I’d visit when I could. But it was difficult and it was so cold waiting at the bus stop.
One day, on the way back from a visit, it was particularly icy. Foolish of me to venture out but it was Norman’s birthday and I wanted to take him a special fruit cake I’d baked the previous afternoon.
On my way out, I recalled how happy Norman had been that afternoon. He’d even called me by my name which wasn’t always the case these days.
But all too soon, it was mid-afternoon. It would be getting dark soon. ‘I’ll be back to see you soon,’ I said, planting a kiss on Norman’s forehead.
I had barely left the home and started crossing the icy road when I felt my left foot slip. I tried to put out my hands out to stop my fall but soon landed on the ground in an ungainly heap.
A car horn sounded.
‘Look out, grandma,’ yelled the driver, stopping just in time.
A young female passer-by dashed into the road. ‘Mrs Bowles. I recognise you from Lonsdale’s. I’m Susie, one of the carers.’
She hauled me up and brought me back into Lonsdale’s.
‘Best call you an ambulance’ she said, ‘Have you checked over.’
’I’ll be alright,’ I assured her, but the pain in my left leg disagreed.
After a three-hour wait in Casualty, my leg was X-rayed and plastered.
‘You’ll be in plaster for several weeks, Mrs Bowles,’ said the young Indian doctor. ‘That was a nasty fall.’
I started to cry and then it all came out. Just why I’d been visiting Lonsdale’s in the first place.
Dr Anwar looked thoughtful. ‘Hmm,’ he said, ‘I may have the answer.’
An hour later, I was sitting in Dr Anwar’s office with Janice from Social Services.
‘But this changes everything. You can’t possibly manage by yourself. Lonsdale’s will have to take you in – at least for now.’
And that’s how I found myself lying on the bed in a little room with a lilac floral bedspread, co-ordinated curtains and my own matching accessory, Norman, beside me.
‘You broke your leg?’ cried Norman, lucid for once.
‘Yes, Norman, I did.’
‘Poor old Betty.’
‘Never mind,’ I said. ‘At least, now we’ll be together. And, after all, better a broken leg, than a broken heart.’
He smiled and offered me a piece of fruit cake. Maybe they were right, perhaps Lonsdale’s could be home from home after all………..
– end –