I suppose I first became a carer when my children were born, though perhaps I always cared, in some ways, and, indeed, professionally. I suppose I cared for my pupils when cycling up to the Valley of the Kings in 40 degrees with Elena Kimble on my cross bar (because she couldn’t ride a bike....) for example.....
So, I cared for my children, as one does, and I cared for my wife (who was caring for our children....)
Then, everything went a bit quiet, as our children decided they preferred us not to care too much (so long as it wasn’t a financial consideration), until..... My dad got ill, which, I find it difficult to credit, was some fifteen years ago now. Being well organised, he showed me his filing cabinet, but said he couldn’t give me a date.... and so it goes. He became ill, and was in and out of hospital. Being the geographically nearest of three sons it was natural that I would to and fro when I could, and take mum to see dad in hospital, or visit them both, or meet them somewhere if the going was good. This is what one does. I have no regrets – indeed, it was what I expected and partly, at least, why I moved and took work nearer to their home.
Then he died. So, I did my best to sort out the arrangements, the finances, etc, and to look after mum. Of course, I was not alone in this – don’t get me wrong – but I was there.
I visited mum as she coped - so well - with the bereavement; but dementia kicked in, gently, offside perhaps, and she was not able to manage. So, she moved into care homes.... We sold the house, and, again, because I was there, I dealt with the business and we settled her down....
Or so we thought.
Nothing is for ever. She had to change home – four times, I think, as they don’t all do what they say on the tin. But she remained in our vicinity and I kept up the appearances.
Then, eventually, she folded her hand of cards, and was rowed across Lethe. A serene passing, but not something my wife could understand, as she had already drifted into a form of dementia, the control of language wasting away, like a sandcastle washed by the tides. As an anecdote, last Christmas, well over a year since we had cremated my mum, Amanda insisted on going to the care home on Christmas Day, only to find, not surprisingly, that we couldn’t get in because of Covid, but also, not surprisingly, because she wasn’t there....
And so I sorted out the death certs, and the banks and the probate and so on, and we moved on, finally, sort of, being released from Hertfordshire, and able to move to somewhere with enough space for a care plan for Amanda....
And here we are. Amanda, my wife, not quite the wife I espoused, but then in a mirror world I guess she could question the pretence that I was the one she had selected all those years ago...
And here we are.
And I care because that is what you do.... Till death do us part? Who now remembers Else (Dandy Nichols)? Who remembers Al Garnett? And, inter ales, who might pick out of those memories any real affection or care in the relationship? Silly old Moo!
I think it was there. Johnny Speight had a heart.
We all care, I hope, in our own ways. Some have heavier crosses to bear, and some walk on water.
At sicksty-seven, Amanda is really quite well. It’s just that her mind is plated up and the connections aren’t there anymore. Chewing doesn’t always lead to swallowing. Needing a wee, doesn’t always mean going to the toilet. And so I - we - the whole team - are carers.
Financially this is burdensome. We are currently spending around £2.5K a month to have other people attend to Amanda’s needs some 34 hours a week, though this does not quite mean we can abdicate all responsibility during those hours. And then, there are still 134 hours a week when, while she may well be resting, she cannot be left alone.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not lamenting. Things could be far worse, and I know only too well that many others have been dealt a worse hand than me. But, for those yet to experience the trials that may come with ageing and slow deterioration, here’s the picture.
You are pretty much on your own. If you have a heart attack, or break a leg, or perhaps eat yourself into diabetes and kidney failure, the NHS (i.e. the tax payer) will pick up the bill. For those whose misfortune is to lose their minds (i.e. to suffer from dementia) the responsibility remains with the next of kin, if there are any.
We have been fortunate. And we are grateful. We have received support from Queen Square in London and, since our move to Norfolk, from Chatterton House in King’s Lynn, but their resources are limited and stretched. I cannot help but feel that behind these good people there is a government department energised in getting their agents to keep me alive to look after my wife, so the state doesn’t have to pick up the tab.
And in the meantime?
Life goes on, all around. We see disasters here and there on the TV. We hear of Covid striking down able-bodied postman on our doorstep. We live on. We do our best to care, whether for our partners or our family, or for our friends who may have different problems....
I know this is selfish, and who cares? But I now realise that my carefree life as a youth was a dream. I had a full life of fun and extravagance and foolishness – and I enjoyed it. Then I had children and learned to care. And so it came about.....
And it hasn’t really changed much. Dad. Mum. Amanda. Then girls still seeking true independence. That seems to be what life is really all about.
Why should I question it?