In England, where half my heart lives

It’s been four weeks since I landed in England, where half of my heart lives. It was so hard to say goodbye to my husband and three amazingly supportive children to make this journey, not knowing when I’ll be able to return to New Zealand. I talk to them via video calls most days and I am so proud of them all for pulling together and getting on with things. They are all busy with so many wonderful activities and of course I am sad that I’ll miss sharing those with them, but coming to England to support my Dad was definitely the right choice.

Local walk in Fleet, Hampshire, near where my Dad lives.

Dad has cared for Mum with incredible patience over the years since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in her mid-sixties, nearly ten years ago. At the beginning of this year she began to find walking harder, something she had enjoyed for many years, and she could no longer get up and down the stairs in their home of forty years. When she was rushed into hospital in July, with an infection, it was with great sadness that Dad was told she couldn’t return home and would need full-time nursing care. Since July she hasn’t been able to get out of bed and is unable to even sit in a wheelchair. She’s very weak and not eating and drinking much, on most of our visits to see her she is sleeping, but we do have some moments when she’s awake and clearly aware that we are there.

I waited ten days, after arriving in the UK, before visiting her for the first time – just as a precaution to ensure I hadn’t picked up anything on my journey over. I had to do a covid test and return it to the NHS within 2 days of landing and it was all clear. It was so easy to travel into the UK – with no need to quarantine, as I’d travelled from a ‘green’ country and transited through Singapore – another ‘green’ country. I was so glad that I could easily enter the UK, whereas so many thousands of New Zealanders, in a similar situation to my own, are unable to enter their own country to visit sick and dying relatives. The very limited ‘MIQ’ places (Managed Isolation and Quarantine) are so hard to secure.

I have been trying my luck at the MIQ lottery once a week – but keep getting thrown an unlucky hand. Until I secure an MIQ place I won’t be able to book a flight back to NZ. At the moment there are only some two to three thousand rooms being released once a week, for dates in December and January. There are over twenty thousand people trying to secure a place each time – and many thousands more who don’t enter the lottery, but are holding out in the hope that the NZ government will allow home isolation early in 2022.

Whilst I am in England I am helping my dear Dad to clear lots of things in his home, as he would eventually like to move into something smaller – though it will be sad to sell the home that has so many wonderful memories for him, Mum, my sister and I. As a I write, in the midst of an English autumn, the golden leaves of the three oak trees in the back garden are starting to fall and cover the lawn. The annual task of raking up and removing the tons of leaves is a mammoth one, which I will be able to help Dad with this year. It will be a bitter sweet job, knowing that it could be the last time we rake up the leaves together in the garden that we’ve shared many happy memories¬† together.

Autumn colours and fun little yellow fungi in my folks garden.

It’s also strange to be in the house without Mum here. I have been visiting twice a year, ever since she became too unwell to travel to New Zealand with Dad – their last visit was at the end of 2017, beginning of 2018.¬† I would visit and enjoy walks with Mum and evenings cuddled up on the sofa with her. It’s the evenings that we miss Mum the most, when we can’t enjoy those cuddles together.

When we visit some of her favourite places we feel an emptiness at her not being with us in person and sad for her cooped up in the same room, day and night. We visited Winkworth Arboretum last week, with Dad and I very conscious of the time we’d last visited with Mum. We carried her in our hearts as we walked.

A misty morning visit to Winkworth Arboretum with my Dad.

When we visit Mum in the nursing home, at Freelands Croft near the lovely Redfield’s Garden Centre, we never know what to expect. Sometimes we walk in and she’s fast asleep, so we put on some classical music, hum some tunes, read to her and stroke her hand gently to let her know we are there and that she is loved. Other times her bright blue eyes are alert and she nods a response or manages to say a word when we talk. She enjoys looking at photo books of happy times we’ve shared together. We help her to drink a little and massage her skin with soothing cream. We visit almost every day, usually in the afternoon after lunch. Our thoughts are with her night and day.

Dad and I have had the wonderful pleasure of visitors over the last fortnight. My Aunty Ellen (Mum’s sister) and her husband (my Uncle John) visited, followed by Trish (Mum’s best friend since she was 7 years old) and her husband Andrew. They visited Mum but she was quite sleepy and whether Mum knew they were there or not we can’t tell, but what we do know is that Mum is being well cared for and is much loved. We are all sharing the memories of the person she was before Alzheimer’s disease wielded its cruel brush on her mind and surrounding her with our love.

Mum and Dad’s wedding, in 1970.

It’s nice for my Dad to have company and visitors, as of course that wasn’t possible for much of the last 18 months of the pandemic and even before then, due to how much care Mum needed at home. His big brother arrived yesterday, and it’s very special for them both to catch up (they are both very jubilant about Liverpool’s 5-0 victory against Manchester United. I’m so glad I’m able to be here to help him with visitors and to organise things (plus I am loving the opportunity to catch up with wonderful relatives and friends of the family).

Dan and his brother on a walk together through the Autumn leaves.

Of course I am missing my hubby, Dan, and daughters in New Zealand immensely, but am so grateful to be here helping Dad.

So far the weather here has been beautiful too – lovely warm, sunshine autumn days. Dad and I have been walking lots and I’ve been honoured to join the U3A walking group that meets up once a fortnight – I’ve walked with them on most of my visits back in the past few years and always enjoy the conversations.

On a U3A walk with Dan and his friends.

I’ve also been out running and doing some yoga at a local studio in the town where my Dad lives (so I’m managing to keep my sanity too!). I do enjoy running over the fields, along the canal tow path, round ponds and through woodland areas. The public footpaths zig-zag the fields surrounding the town and there are plenty of off road pathways for me to enjoy (they just get very muddy at times and there’s brambles and stinging nettles to dodge!).

Autumn running in beautiful English countryside.

I’m also enjoying the local pub, with Dad and I taking a stroll up early evening a few times a week (and try to do the Suduko puzzle in the newspaper!).

Cheers from England (jumper a very generous gift from my dear sister.)