Raising the Bar

The elders of my family set very high standards that I fear I am unlikely to match.

Aunt received the news we did not want on Wednesday; she has oesophageal cancer.

Is she cast down; feeling sorry for herself; weeping copiously?

Not she.

I think she has hardly been off the ‘phone in forty-eight hours. I’d almost say she’s enjoying herself. Well, I have said it; she’s enjoying herself.

Two months short of her ninety-second birthday she’s taken control; said no to chemotherapy or any other invasive treatment; made clear to all concerned that she wants to be in her own home; to be nursed in her own home, if that proves necessary; to die in her own home when it happens.

Given her age, death and how it might occur has been in her thoughts for a while. She has repeatedly said she wants to die in her tracks. When she had her suspected heart attack in the autumn her greatest fear was admission to hospital.

This diagnosis, grim as it sounds, has put her in the driving seat, given her a window into her future, and she has been quick to seize it as an opportunity, not a disaster.

The specialist nurse is full of admiration for her, and also says that this is a cancer that progresses slowly in the elderly. There is no evidence of it having spread and there is a strong possibility that she will outlive it; by which I mean she will die from other causes.

The key is to get food into her. Aunt and I both disliked the description of sloppy food given by the hospital. We are working on our own menus. Experience of getting protein into Mother is coming into its own. Both sisters were diagnosed with Coeliac disease. As well as Alpro soya desserts, Greek yoghurt with honey (Aunt’s new addiction), soups with all the lumps beaten out of them, we are reviving the carrot and swede mash with grated cheese, rice pudding, ice cream. Your suggestions welcome.

Today I bought her a NutriBullet. Apparently there’s a recipe book with it. We shall have a play. The plan is to go up on Tuesday and stay over night. MasterB will be in attendance. Aunt loves him and is asserting her rights to see him in the fur. I thought I’d be leaving her on Wednesday with her wonderful cleaner Linda.

But tonight I learned that two more of her nieces will be in town; Cousin and Cousin’s big sister are popping over from NI for a couple of days, It will be a mini gathering of the clan.

The pair of them are putting up in a pub in town. Cousin’s big sister is a devout presbyterian so I want to get photographic evidence of this. Mother used to tell a story, always in a tone of horror, of her husband pouring a bottle of whiskey down the sink. What a waste, Mother would say, shaking her head. Surely he could have given it to someone who would have appreciated it?

I am bursting with the news, but it is to be a surprise, though I think I should warn Linda. I can hardly wait to see Aunt’s face when they arrive.

I suspect MasterB will hide under the bed. You can’t please everyone.


27 thoughts on “Raising the Bar

    • Sweet potato mash is a good idea. She currently can’t even swallow scrambled egg, so I think the risotto is out for the time being, though she may have a stent in a few weeks which should make swallowing easier. The rice pudding we are trying is the creamed one wirth no lumps.

  1. So sorry for your troubles, Isobel. What astonishes me is your resilience and the ability to write in such a way that does your elders proud. Loving the way you write and the way you love. ❤ ❤ ❤

    • I am taking my cue from Aunt. She sounds in very good spirits, very positive. The next chat we have I need to ask her what her priorities are re things she’d like to do, just in case she loses her remaining strength.

  2. The more I hear of Aunt the more impressed I am, and the more I resolve to learn from her example.
    I’m sure it helps that she knows you are around for practical and emotional support. Fun that Cousin and big sister will be there too next week. Look forward to your blog about the gathering!

    • Well maybe you could come up, stay on das Boot and meet her when the weather is kinder. If she is well enough I am sure we could take her to the pub at Reach, though I might need to have a chat with the chef first.

  3. Brava to Aunt. May we all live so long and have such an empowered choice over something as capricious as death.

    As the resident Californian I would suggest Smoothies, but your NutriBullet is evidence that they are already on the menu along with creamy soups. Swedish fruit soups.? And ice cream – let us not forget the healing powers of ice cream.

    • Swedish fruit soups? Ice cream is very much on the menu and in Aunt’s freezer.
      Once you hit your nineties you know death us high up the agenda and i guess being told you have a terminal cancer removes some of the uncertainty. Her reaction is instructive.

      • As I have experienced it and as presented in that vegetarian classic Moosewood Cookbook, fruit soup is basically fruit and fruit juice plus yoghurt and perhaps some mint or other fruity friendly herbs run through the blender. To be eaten chilled and often as dessert. Can also be made with dried fruit.

        I absolutely love your Aunt’s take on the diagnosis. It makes complete sense to me. Removes the fear of spending a long, slow, boring and pointless end of life as so many of our elders now experience.

        • Thanks. That sounds a good idea.

          I was a bit taken aback by how cheerful she sounded when I spoke to her on thursday. I had had a sleepless night worrying about her. But as you say, it makes sense. Not quite Dignitas, but she is being able to manage the last months or years of her life in a way few of us have the opportunity to do.

          So long as she doesn’t have a fall or anything that hospitalises her she can relax and know she will stay in her own home.

        • Isobel, I’ve got the Moosewood cookbook mentioned here. I’ll ask my friend Sarah re other food suggestions. Her husband had the same condition. He had a stent put in and it made a huge difference for some time.

  4. So sorry to hear about your aunt, Isobel, but my goodness she sounds a feisty lady. A lesson for us all. So pleased she has you to support her through this. I suspect you’ll be as feisty when you get to her age!

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