As I write this I’m sitting in the empty annex of our home. We reclaimed it a few weeks ago when my mother-in-law moved to a beautiful flat in a sheltered accommodation block where she’s no longer isolated, is close to the shops and has an on-tap social life. Moving her out took six months of planning, research, and negotiation. Moving her in took just a moment of madness. We were full of hope that offering her a home at our home would give her the security she needed, and us relief from the worry about what the future held for her. No one told us about the downsides, no one warned us of what might go wrong. And so, here’s a word from the not so wise – the 10 things no one told us about moving an elderly relative into an annex…
- It doesn’t matter how big your house is, how remote the annex is or how thick the walls are, you’ll still be able to hear their TV. It will be on all of the time and Flog It, Countdown and Gardeners’ World will become the background soundtrack to your every waking moment. (Your hopes that hearing aids might lead to a reduction in TV volume will be dashed when you quickly realise that said hearing aids are mostly kept in their handy carry case.)
- It doesn’t matter how big the annex is, they’ll still think it’s ‘pokey’. Despite the annex having a larger floor area than most new starter-homes, they’ll moan that there’s no downstairs loo, not enough room to do a jigsaw and so space limiting that they’ve had to give up all hobbies and are forced to just watch tv. All the time. Loudly.
- Your utility bills will go through the roof. This is partly because the TV is on constantly, but mainly because of the electric blow heater that’s in constant use to combat the chill of sofa inertia. The instant they relinquish responsibility for paying the bills they view heat, light and power as free commodities and use them as though they are a limitless resource. This will bankrupt you and wreck the planet for your children
- Despite the new kitchen you’ve paid to have fitted, the annex is ‘so small’ that they are no longer able to cook proper meals. Instead they resort to ready meals. These are warmed up without use of an extractor fan and the resulting pong pervades the entire house. It sneaks under doors and through walls and leaves your home smelling like a takeaway restaurant. (When they finally move out you’ll have to leave all the windows open for weeks and pay to have the carpets professionally cleaned).
- Once they move in, they’ll always be in. We nicknamed ours ‘The Olympic Flame’ because she never seemed to go out. They’ll never go away and you’ll never be alone again. You’ll always know they are there – A brooding presence brimming with octogenarian antipathy.
- Even though they never, ever go out, any request from you to let the plumber in, let the dog out or sign for a delivery will be met with grudging martyrdom. And you’ll know that the way you take advantage of their good nature will be the focus of their occasional telephone calls with your siblings (more about them below).
- Despite the expense of buying a house that’s larger than you needed, despite the money involved in creating an annex, despite the security you’ve created and the safety you’ve offered, you’ll still never be the favourite son or daughter. Far from it. You’ll hear constant news of how well your useless siblings are doing and what good children they are, despite the fact that they’ve drained your elderly relative’s finances and buggered off to New Zealand to avoid any responsiblity (I know this makes me sound bitter and twisted – But I am).
- You’ll discover that the bar opens at 10:30am and stays open until last orders. That’s 12 hours of drinking every day. You’ll be zealously trying to give up alcohol during the week and fretting about the damage an occasional bottle of Malbec might do to your long-term health. Meanwhile they’ll be sipping Sauvignon from breakfast through to dinner. You’ll feel resentful and jealous and your recycling bin will be the embarrassment of the street.
- You’re garden will become a no-go zone. Whenever you venture into it you’ll feel you’re being watched and judged. If you don’t go into the garden you’ll be in trouble for not keeping it in check. If you do you’ll be silently criticised for each plant wrongly planted, tree inappropriately pruned or lawn inadequately striped. And don’t even think about relaxing in the garden with a book and a drink. Ever. (There will be no offers of help in the garden, as this would interfere with the busy TV schedule of gardening programmes.)
- Despite all of the above you will sleep soundly in the knowledge that you did the right thing, that you provided much needed security and stimulation, and that you stepped up when you’re siblings stepped aside. And when the time comes for them to move on, the house will feel oddly vacant, you’ll worry about leaving it empty, and you’ll miss the sound of someone else at home. Well, almost.
The author is creative director and writer who works with professional and financial services brands. He’s hidden his identity in case his mother-in-law ever finds out he wrote this article.