I had brunch with my friend D recently. He’s 75, widowed and severely disabled. We were talking about porridge and how I sometimes just have a bowl of it for my tea in the evenings as I have my main cooked meal at lunchtime.
“What kind of porridge do you use?” D asks.
“Quaker Oats So Simple” I reply, “it takes 2 minutes in the microwave”.
He pulls a face. “Eugh, I only like porridge done properly in a pan”.
I roll my eyes.
Does he not think that I’d prefer proper porridge made in a pan? Pan porridge compared to microwave porridge is the difference between sirloin steak and cheap mince! However, pan porridge takes 5 minutes during which time I actually have to stand up, then there’s a god-awful sticky pan to deal with afterwards, whereas I microwave my quick porridge in the bowl I eat it in and it’s ready in 120 seconds. When you are sick and lacking energy choices have to be made.
We then talked about what else we eat in a day. He tells me he goes out to a greasy spoon cafe most mornings and has a fry up, then eats nothing else for the rest of the day bar some toast or fruit in the evening. He’s diabetic for heaven’s sake and has been found to be low in both iron and B12 which is probably one of the reasons he’s absolutely exhausted all the time. So I arrange for a Wiltshire Farm Foods brochure to be delivered, which he doesn’t even bother looking at. Someone else arranges a visit from the Meals on Wheels service.
“How did that go?” I ask.
” I discovered they’re made in a school kitchen!” he says, horrified. Eugh! I’m not having meals made in a school kitchen”.
Well eat nutritionally defunct food and feel like crap all the time then, I felt like saying.
We then get on to the subject of kitchens. He’s recently moved house and needs a new kitchen installed. I suggest a quality firm in town, who will send a rep to his house to measure up and I’ve already picked up all the brochures for him to choose the units, worktops, taps and tiles.
“Have you decided on the units?” I ask him.
“Yes, but I need to contact a company in Durham regarding the worktops. We had these lovely granite ones with a copper streak in when we lived in Cheshire and I’d like those. They have to make a template up in wood, then they carefully lay the worktop over that – they have to be soooo careful as it’s really delicate and can break while they’re fitting it. I’m sure the rep will come over to advise and measure up.”
FFS. His kitchen measures 8ft wide by 12ft long and he’s 75 fucking years old. Why on earth would he make life hard for himself by getting some firm 90 odd miles away to come and do him a couple of bespoke counter-tops which will take months and cost a small fortune?! The thing with him is, he still thinks he’s putting a Miele kitchen into a 30ft award winning barn conversion like at his old house. But he’s not. That life has gone now and he’s living alone in a small disabled-friendly bungalow.
I find this a lot with both old and sick people, my own parents included. There is a stubborn refusal to adapt to changing circumstances, or any acceptance that our lives are no longer what they once were. It’s particularly apparent at this time of year. We see all the adverts for perfect Christmases on the telly and we want a part of it. Before I got M.E. I used to make mince pies from scratch, invite all my friends over for dinner the week before Xmas, make a day of choosing a real tree, wrestling it into a bucket of water and decorating it from scratch (then spending an hour hoovering up rogue pine needles), buy everyone and his dog presents which I’d spend hours immaculately wrapping complete with matching ribbons, tags and bows, and send over 100 Christmas cards, not to mention making a couple of trips to the beauty salon to get my nails done and my hair coifed read to paint the town red. Then I got sick and everything changed. I can’t remember the last time I went to a beauty salon, I bought a fake pre-decorated pre-lit Xmas tree in the Boxing Day sales one year which I get out of the shed each December and simply plug in, I buy my mince pies from Booths, culled another 5 people off my Xmas card list this year which brings the numbers down now to 36, and not only do I invite no-one over for dinner I won’t have a single visitor to my home for the entire festive period.
For all the years I was bedridden I, of course, didn’t have the energy to have a Xmas tree of any description, and being as though no-one offered to put one up for me I used to hang a couple of baubles from a little palm plant in my bedroom. I really enjoy Christmas and if that was the only way I could take part then so be it.
We have 2 choices when we get sick. We either deny ourselves any kind of pleasure because it’s not perfect or what we’re used to, or we can make the most of what we’ve got, even if it’s not perfect or what we’re used to. Twenty six years down the line do I still yearn for my old Christmas back? Of course I do, but it won’t stop me from sitting in my pink rocking chair by the fire on Christmas Eve, with my Xmas tree lights twinkling, reading a favourite book and being grateful for what I have.
No-one understands more than me how hard it is to let go of the life we’ve dreamed about, but torturing yourself over things you can’t change is utterly pointless and killing yourself trying to do things the way you always have is a recipe for disaster – instead of enjoying Christmas you’ll just be in a sick, exhausted heap on the kitchen floor at best, or bedridden at worst. Not celebrating at all isn’t the answer either. If, when I first became ill, I’d said to myself “Christmas isn’t the way I want it to be so I’ll just not bother” I would have had 26 years of no Christmas at all – how depressing is that?!
I spent 10 years without Christmas. I was too ill to get dressed, put up a tree, had no way of buying gifts (no internet then!) and even if I had I didn’t have the energy to wrap them and writing my cards took me 2 months, so even though the holidays these days aren’t what they were when I was well I cherish them. I won’t see anyone. I won’t have a ‘proper’ Christmas dinner (I’m not well enough to cook one and my parents certainly aren’t). I hardly get any presents. I’ll spend Xmas morning, and Xmas evening, alone and in the middle I’ll be with my alcoholic Mother. Due to my HIT I can no longer eat mince pies, drink mulled wine or stuff my face with chocolates. But I’ll still cherish the holidays. I am alive, I have family, I have my lovely home and my lovely dog. I have the energy to get dressed and walk with Bertie in the freezing winter cold, to watch telly or read a book. I have a sparkly Christmas tree 🙂 And for that I am thankful.