Dear Readers, it all started when I got a phone call last Thursday from the care agency who look after Mum and Dad.
‘Hi’, said the Manager. ‘I was just wondering if your mum will need extra carers next week to help her while your Dad’s in hospital’.
Dad’s in hospital? I had no idea. I texted my brother, who had been sworn to silence so that I could have a trouble-free holiday.
Indeed, Dad had been in hospital since the day I left for Austria – he’d been in and out of hospital for weeks with a chest infection, but this had now developed into something more troubling. He was confused and had bowel problems, and the hospital wanted to make sure that the infection was cleared up before he was allowed home. As at today, he’s been in hospital for two weeks.
I spoke to Mum and she sounded pretty chipper, all things considered – she was eating and drinking and taking all her many tablets, and was hoping that Dad would be out soon.
Unfortunately, what we didn’t realise was how dependent she’d become on her morning carer to help her sort out her medication. And the carer was taking a well-earned week’s break.
Mum decided not to take any of her tablets because she didn’t trust herself to sort them out. And then she decided she wasn’t hungry, and stopped eating.
We only discovered this after my brother popped in to see her and take her to the hospital to see Dad, only to find her confused and disorientated.
Fortunately, we got a morning carer to help her with her medication and her porridge, and one of her friends in the village (who is in her late 70’s herself) slept over on the sofa to keep her safe.
Suffice it to say that I’m hotfooting it to Dorset next week, and we’re going to have a family conference to make sure that things are in place in case Mum or Dad are ever left in the house alone again.
For the past week all I’ve been able to think about is a) how guilty I feel that I’m not in Dorset looking after Mum (although my brother is there) b) how terrified I am that Mum is going to fall over and there will be no one to help her and c) how it feels as if none of us can catch a break at the moment – it’s just one thing after another, and I can’t see an end to it (well, not one that I want to see). I have to get comfortable with the fact that I can’t plan with any certainty for anything , that I will always be afraid when the phone rings, and that the constant knot in my stomach is something that I will have to get used to. At the same time, I recognise how much worse it is for Mum and Dad, and I often feel so helpless in the face of what happens to them.
And meantime it is so beautiful here. I find myself weeping at everything from snowy mountains to baby birds. I think that I’m on an even keel, and then something as simple as an alpine flower growing out of a slab of rock breaks me open. I am surrounded by so much fragility, and yet so much resilience. Mountain plants and animals have such a brief season that they throw everything into the short period of summer. They flower and breed with such exuberance, making the most of every bright moment, and I know that there’s a lesson here for me too, if I choose to take it. There are still sun-kissed moments with my parents when things are ok, when it isn’t all about sickness and medications and emergency buttons, although this is part of it too. It’s all part of it, and the more that I push it away, the worse it gets.
Anyhow, I seem to have developed a dicky tummy during this past few days, and so I’ve stopped pushing myself to harder and harder walks, envigorating though they can be. I feel a need to be gentle with myself, and so today we went for a little walk, mostly downhill, alongside the river at Zwieselstein and down to Solden for cake and the bus home.
There is already plenty of wood gathered in for the winter. I love woodpiles, and wood is what people used to use for everything.
And on the path is a poor dead forest dormouse, looking rather as if s/he has been run over by a mountain bike. It’s such a shame that the only time I’ve ever seen one is as a corpse.
Up one more hill, and we’re into the outskirts of Solden. Someone has made a very fine rock garden.
But what have we here? These cute frogs are just the kind of thing that mum would stick in the garden. And underneath, there is some edelweiss, actually a rarity around Obergurgl because it prefers limestone, and most of the area is composed of something called gneiss, which is acidic.
And so we head back on the bus. I feel my spirits lifted, almost as if I’d been pulled out of myself for a while. I’ve loved our more ambitious walks here in Austria: I feel fitter, and leaner, and a bit stronger. But for sorting out my head, there’s nothing like a (fairly) leisurely stroll, with lots of time to ponder on what I’m seeing, and to try to understand how things fit together. How does a boulder become a habitat? Where did these fledgling alpine swallows nest originally, and how long will it be before they, too, take to the wing? How does this incredibly complicated ecosystem fit together?
And also, time to just stand in wonder at this extraordinary, sacred world.