alice in careland

If Gerald was anything he’d be the caterpillar.

He’s sitting very, VERY upright, hands placed just-so on the arms of his riser-recliner, which, with the addition of a pressure-relieving contour mattress, does look a bit like some enormous, super-squashy mushroom. He’s not smoking a hookah, unfortunately, although he does have a Ventolin inhaler amongst his things on the cantilever table to his right. The long years of his illness have given him a pale and haughty appearance, so that when he leans forwards a little, staring at me over the rim of his glasses, and says ‘Who are you?’ I’m tempted to put my hands behind my back and curtsy.

None of this would’ve occurred to me were it not for the fact that his wife, Judy, is obviously both an artist and an Alice in Wonderland fan. She’s made stuffed hares in trippy, paisley fabric; pottery plates and vases with motifs of cards, clocks, mallets, falling Victorian girls; a carved wooden flamingo with a hedgehog at its feet; a couple of dioramas, silvered twigs for a forest or an intricate parlour scene, with a large or a small Alice doll in various dramatic postures; a marionette Jabberwocky, and so on and on, placed all around the room or hung on the wall, so that the whole house feels like a collector’s shrine to Lewis Carroll.

Judy herself makes an adult and very careworn kind of Alice. She’s sitting in the opposite chair, absent-mindedly tearing a tissue to pieces in her lap as we go through what’s been happening lately and what we can do to help. There are so many issues to bear in mind – the specifics of Gerald’s illness, the way the house is set-up (or not), the practical difficulties of making all the follow-up appointments at the hospital, the level of care they currently have and whether that could be increased, the stress all this is having on the family, primarily Judy, of course – but essentially it boils down to whether Gerald has reached the point where he needs to go into residential care. It’s such a dreadful and difficult decision to make, and I can quite understand the desire – conscious or otherwise – for someone else to make it for them. More often than not these things edge forward with sadistic increments of stress until something snaps and the whole thing changes at a clip. The best you can do is to support as best you can, be available to clarify and facilitate, and step in to pick up the pieces.

I wish it were easier. I wish I could just lean forwards, snap a piece off either side of the mushroom chair and hand them to Judy.

‘This will make you taller, this will make you smaller,’ I would say, and then smiling enigmatically, shuffle off with all my bags into the undergrowth.

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