My phone rang yesterday lunchtime. Not my mobile phone but the house phone. The number that very few people have because it's easier to hand out my mobile and people are far more likely to get me on it.
When the home phone rings its usually a wrong number and someone wanting a local letting agency who have a very similar number to me. If it's not that then it's most probably SD's Mum who only phones me rarely but might perhaps want me to pick her up something from town.
It wasn't SD's Mum or a wrong number, it was my next door neighbour ...
I haven't seen my next door neighbour for several weeks. Back in January she had a knee replacement and had been spending her recovery time with her daughter who lives 60 odd miles away.
It's been a bit of a relief to be honest.
Now of course there is a back story.
I don't like my next door neighbour.
If that sounds a bit harsh then I should explain that there are very few people I would say I dislike and, I do have good reason not to like her.
We have history. In fact she and her (now deceased) husband have history with almost everybody locally. They were not a pleasant couple always finding fault with others, always complaining about anything and everything and often behaving aggressively towards other people.
Mostly I kept out of their way and ignored them but we have had the occasional run in.
The husband died 10 or 12 years ago and things settled down. Without her partner in crime my neighbour seemed to loose her fire and relish for argument and we lived side by side in relative peace.
She often seemed to go away either to visit her daughter or be on holiday.
For a long time she had a friend, Earnest who spent a lot of time helping her with things. I'd see him working in her garden or doing repairs around the house or bringing in shopping.
I liked Earnest. We always stopped to chat. His health wasn't good but he seemed happy to have someone to look after. I always felt that although it appeared that Earnest didn't really get a fair share of the benefits of friendship it didn't matter to him because it gave him purpose and some kind of companionship.
Whatever it was it seemed to work for them both and that's all that matters.
About a year ago Earnest health deteriorated and he had to go into a nursing home.
After that my neighbour took to calling around to ask me to help her with little things like taking the rubbish out, changing the battery in her smoke alarm, reading her electric meter, picking up a prescription from the doctor etc.
Well, I still didn't like the woman but I'm not an unkind person so I did the things she asked me to do.
Just before Christmas I was helping her with something and she told me that she was due to have a knee replacement in January. She had clearly been struggling for some time although she was still able to walk and drive the stairs were a struggle and she had been in pain.
She said that she was unhappy and lonely, that she just wanted to die.
Of course I felt sorry for her. She was clearly very unhappy. I pointed out the benefits of the knee replacement, that she should be far more mobile once it was done. I asked her about the possibility of moving nearer her daughter and suggested that she should think seriously about such a move.
Nothing seemed to make her feel better and I was somewhat at a loss to know what to suggest.
I asked her if she had seem Earnest lately. No, she told me, it's too difficult to go and see him.
I felt a little less sympathetic when she said this. She seemed perfectly able to go visiting other friends who she stayed with regularly and to also go on holiday to Majorca a few weeks previously. I couldn't help thinking that poor Earnest had clearly outlived his usefulness...
Anyway, until yesterday there had been 6 peaceful weeks without a phone call.
The voice at the end of the phone yesterday sounded desperate. Can you come and help me she said. I don't know what to do ...
Of course I went straight round. She was tearful and shaky and I felt sorry for her again.
My friend asked me to leave she told me. I don't know why. I don't know what to do. I don't have any food in the house. I want to die.
I told her not to think like that. I asked her what she needed.
I went home and made her a cup of tea and a teacake, sat down with her and made a shopping list. Brought in all her bags from her car and talked to her for a while.
Can yo go and stay with your daughter I asked.
She told me to leave last week she told me.
Can I come and spend some time with you this evening?
Now I REALLY don't want to go down THAT road. I do feel sorry for her but I can't pretend that it makes me like her any better and I don't want to start something that I don't want to do and won't be able to stop.
I told her (truthfully) that SD and I were busy. We had to go shopping and then would be going to see his parents. She was very upset and almost begged me to cancel.
I felt under a huge amount of pressure to do that but I stuck to my guns, I had things I needed to do!
The bottom line is that SD's parent although fantastic ARE in their 80's. They both still drive and they manage very well but they DO need a little help and support. In time they may need more and I am happy to give them anything they need because they are good, kind, loving people who I have a huge amount of respect and love for.
I also have my own parents. Although they don't live with me they also need my help from time to time. My step dad is 86 and amazing. Still active and out and about every day bu Mum is less so. She needs a certain level of care and while I'm not expected to provide this there are time (especially when she needs to go out and I'm the only one able to push the wheelchair) that they need me. My sister has ongoing health issues and I need to be on hand if she every needs any help. Again, she is fantastic and carries on through really difficult times but she is my family and comes first.
I don't need or want the responsibility of someone else but I feel it's being thrust upon me.
I popped round later and took her some of my milk and teabags to tide her over along with a sandwich to make sure she had eaten something and I'm going to see her later this morning. I have her shopping for her and I will see if there is anything else she needs. I won't abandon her despite my personal feelings but I will not become her second Earnest.
I asked for her daughters phone number last night as she said she had been phoning her but she hadn't picked up. I left a message saying I was very concerned about her mother and could she call me. That was at about 6pm last night, she hasn't called me back.
Perhaps she too has had enough. I know my neighbour stayed with her after the operation. She told me last night that she had asked her to leave a week ago which is when she went to stay with her friend. I don't know what the circumstances were when she asked her to leave. My neighbour claims she has no idea why her friend asked her to leave yesterday, that it was sudden and abrupt and for no reason. I'm not sure she told me the full story ...
Anyway, that is where we are now and I really don't know what to do.
When I've seen her this morning I will try her daughter again.
If she is still saying she wants to die I think I will see if I can speak to her doctor and see if there is any help she can be provided with.
Like I said, I won't abandon her but I will not be Earnest!
A brief update: I have spoken to my neighbours daughter who sounds like a lovely lady. She told me that her mother has been making threats to kill herself since she was about 21 (she is now 60) and she feels it is a tool to get others to do things for her and, as such, to try not to take too much notice of it. She explained that her mother had been with her for almost 2 months whilst recovering from her knee op and was now far more mobile than she lets on. The reason her friend asked her to leave was because she expected him to do everything for her despite them being the same age and he just couldn't cope any longer. The bottom line is that I have said I will continue to give a certain level of support but I would be firm about how far that support would go. The daughter is going to arrange for the supermarket to deliver food etc and will try to come to see her this weekend. I've said that if she has any concerns she should ring me and I will do the same but I think we both agree that (although the words were never actually said) my neighbour can be very manipulative and draining on those around her and it needs to be made very clear to her that it won't be tolerated. So THAT'S where we are right now. I've got to admit, I'm not looking forward to the next call I get from her and I anticipate our next conversation not being comfortable but the line needs to be drawn very clearly before things get out of hand.