This blog post is a personal anecdote of my Christmas Day which really got me thinking about how on earth personal carers i.e family members cope on a daily basis for a loved one. I did it for one day and one night and am exhausted already.
Pictured is a 99 year old woman called Rosa (with my daughter Maelo)whom I have known since 1981. She was a sprightly woman in her 60s then. Rosa has never been married nor has she had children. She only has one cousin who is almost as elderly. I started off being a friend and am now an occasional carer but a full-time next of kin. She is woven into the story of my life in the UK. Rosa has been part of all the milestones of my life but the one that has been most meaningful is the role that she plays in my daughter’s life.
Rosa was 80 when Maelo was born in 1999 and came to visit us in hospital. She was absolutely delighted and over the moon to have a ‘grandchild’. Her involvement in Maelo’s life has been extensive. Rosa would babysit Maelo from time to time in the evenings to give us a break. When Maelo had to have a sick day off school and we were unable to stay home Rosa would step in. Every Saturday for years Rosa would come over and read Maelo Bible stories. We went to church together on Sundays. Rosa was at all of Maelo’s school concerts. Just as Maelo left primary school Rosa’s mobility declined.
When Maelo won a school prize three years ago we were determined that Rosa would attend. It required a Herculean effort involving a walking frame, a specially adapted taxi and advanced warning to the school that space had to be made for Rosa in the gallery. Rosa made it and clapped her heart out when Maelo went on stage to receive her prize. Unfortunately Rosa’s mobility declined further after that and she wasn’t able to attend prize giving in 2017 when Maelo won the best A-Level prize. Instead, we raced back to see her with the book prizes and photos afterwards, determined that she would still be some part of it all.
Professional carers go in to see her 4 times a day and we pop in a lot. However, even with all this interaction she is lonely and is now suffering from auditory hallucinations. She imagines that people are in her flat during the night rifling through her belongings.
Her professional carers take Xmas off. I have to attend to her. After getting her washed and dressed in the morning this Xmas day she suddenly announced that the ‘people’ had stolen money from her handbag. The fact that she sleeps on top of her handbag was no assurance that no one could have stolen the money without alerting her. Rosa imbues these ‘people’ with magical powers who somehow manage to get through doors which are double locked.
To cut a long story short, Rosa was distraught the whole day and was unable to enjoy Xmas. She was afraid of being alone so I spent the night keeping watch over her while she slept. On Boxing Day the money was found safely tucked away where she had forgotten it was. By this time I was completely exhausted.
Caring for a loved one may be an admirable personal quality and deed but it is exhausting. By any account what I had to do was time bound. Her carers are back on duty now. While I still continue to be responsible for her I don’t have to get up early, wash her, dress her and feed her. My admiration is reserved for those who do this on a daily basis without a break. Caring for a loved one requires a mental and physical resilience that is really quite debilitating.
Hats off to those who do this on a daily basis year in and year out.