I recently returned from helping to clear my ageing aunt’s home of clutter so that she can return to live out her days in her own home.
It is something she has been dreading, yet it must have been a realistic consideration on her part given that she is now 95 years old. All of her life she has been an independent and solitary woman by her own choice. Suddenly she finds herself subject to the timetables and regulations of others as she waits for assessments and plans to be proposed and carried out. For the first time in her life, she feels vulnerable and frightened. She cannot believe that we all want what would be the best for her – to remain at home – despite acceding that now there must be people in and out and she will be restricted to where she can go in her own house due to her very limited mobility.
She has lived an interesting yet restricted life. I suppose part of the restriction was in being the dutiful unmarried daughter who returned home after her work with Queen Alexandra’s Nursing Corps during the Second World War to look after my grandfather who was debilitated by a brain tumour. It was removed successfully, but the process also removed a lot of his strength – he used to be a blacksmith and horseman – as well as some of his speech and self-help skills. She remained at home supporting her parents and achieved the local status of midwife, health visitor and respected professional.
Now she needs help and we are struggling with what is better for her and what is best for her.
We Don’t Trust Outsiders
The family has a healthy cynicism of ‘professional’ carers but none of us is willing to volunteer to do this work for every reason from living too far away to being unable to stomach the cleaning and feeding of someone we have all known as a professional adult and who still makes us feel like children despite being very middle aged. We feel stuck.
Another Way of Looking at It
Whilst this is happening at one end of the country, my daughter is struggling at the other end with who to trust to help her care for and nurture her three-year-old to ensure that she develops into a balanced and sociable individual. We – my daughter and I – also have a cynicism based on experience and in my case, inspections of a number of child care settings.
Basic care in terms of health and safety, provided the children are not climbing or running, is usually managed. Hygiene is less predictable. Increased awareness of a particularly active and inconsequential child – such as my grandchild -is almost absent. We are onto our third nursery.
My daughter explains some of her child’s specific needs, for which she receives financial benefit as a carer, and I have observed the ‘blind’ go down, as each nursery manager (with the exception of the one where she now goes) infers that my daughter is just being overly protective and that all children stop listening or hurt themselves by being a little bit clumsy. The patronising tones begin and I can almost see a hand coming out to pat my daughter on her head and a voice saying ‘there there’.
Partners, not Friends
The partnership between family and professional carers is vital in both instances. It is absolutely essential that everyone who requires additional or specialised care is provided with that service in a way that is satisfactory to all parties within reason. None of use expects my aunt to be given any more than she deserves at her age – a warm clean bed in her own home, three meals a day and a good wash and brush up once a day at least.
Whether this proves to be straightforward to achieve or whether there will be pitfalls along the way remains to be seen. Professional carers are paid very little and are expected to stick to a very strict time frame in order to visit all the aged individuals on their daily list. There will be no time for chats or additional help.
My daughter will continue to fight for her child’s right to be safe, secure and encouraged to reach her potential in a world where difference is still problematic and where real inclusion is a distant hope but it is an ideal worth pursuing.
How Much is That?
The real issue in both instances is cost. Is what either individuals want or need cost effective? Does it makes economic sense to use resources to either keep my aunt at home or help keep my grandchild safe and secure?
None of us is naïve enough to think that this help will automatically be there and will remain. We all want to play an active role in the discussions and follow-up conversations as life changes and people get older, with all that brings.
Our family is experiencing what many others are living through on a daily basis. It is only personal when it affects us directly. My aunt will be cared for and I am sure she will find fault even if she is to remain at home. That is her nature. My grandchild will be protected and nurtured and my daughter will find the strength to challenge anyone who does not see this as an absolute priority.
I will remain involved and observant. It’s the way it was meant to be.