Looking after the elderly has been in the news a lot recently, with particular reference to the length of visits from carers. I think most people agree that 15 minutes is not a long enough time slot, both in order that those that have no other form of contact in a day have time to talk to someone, and so that medical matters are not overlooked in the rush to get necessary jobs done in the allotted time. I think most carers feel they are not able to do all they might wish to in that time, and end up feeling guilty about having to rush away- but what can they do with such schedules to stick to.
The matter of who cares for our elderly is one very much close to my heart currently. One of my closest friends has just lost her mother, after acting as her live in carer for many years. Her mother died when she was out. And you know what – despite giving up her own life for so long to support and care for her mother, she feels guilty that she wasn’t there. She gave up so much more than many of us would be prepared to do, and yet she still feels guilty.
Equally within my own family, we are currently coping with my 90 year old Grandfathers sudden decline in health. He has currently been in hospital for 4 weeks, and we just don’t know if he will be able to go back to living alone. And I am watching my Mum, who is doing everything she can, feeling guilty. And then I am feeling guilty that I am not doing more to support her, but living 30 miles away with 3 kids and no car limits my input.
So guilt. Guilt seems to colour our lives so much- from the moment we become parents we seem to feel guilty for something or another, and then having come out of that period of intense parenting, many of us then find guilt coming from a new direction- are we doing enough for our parents?
Where is the line between what a family should do and when outside carers should step in? I think dignity is a massive part of it. What if your parent is incontinent? Is it your place to change their nappies in an utter role reversal? Some may find it not an issue, but for others it crosses the line of parent/child relationships, and removes the dignity that the parent still has left.
And what if your parent disagrees with the level of care they need? It is very hard in a role as a respectful child to dictate what your parent does, even if you think they are making the wrong choices. Do you step in and tell them it is time to stop driving for example? Let alone that they need to give up their home for a life in residential care. I think it is even harder than parenting, because in parenting you at least nominally feel in charge, but parenting your own parent is so much more complex due to the role reversal involved.
For us the situation is really distressing at the moment. Seeing my fully compos mentis Grandfather’s sadness at his inability to undertake simple tasks without assistance is heartbreaking. He is a proud man, and put simply, he has had enough. He would be happy to go now, and openly admits he spends his time hoping he won’t wake up tomorrow. If euthanasia were an option, he would probably take it, and I wouldn’t blame him for that choice. Of course, I am still hoping they can make him better, and get him back to where he was a few short months ago- living alone, cooking, cleaning, shopping, getting out to play bridge with friends. If he cannot get that back then what does he have left to look forward to? He is too weak to even take pleasure from a visit from his great grandchildren.
For us it may well be that we end up grateful for those 15 minute visits from carers. It may be the difference between him being able to return home or entering full time care. It may be the difference between my Mum running herself ragged, and my Mum being able to remain a daughter, who loves her Father, who does a bit of shopping, and keeps him company, but doesn’t have to become his nurse, or undertake personal hygiene related jobs. We will all be there as much as we can for him, and do as much as we can, but a bit of outside care will hopefully allow him to maintain a little more dignity in the roles that matters most- Father, Grandfather, and Great-Grandfather.