Having read Giles Fraser’s article ‘Why won’t Remainers talk about family?’ I am filled with anger at his presumptions that remainers, like me, won’t talk about family. We do talk about family all the time and quite frankly I find his words dismissive, arrogant and ill-informed.
I do agree that the woman who called her surgery to ask about help with her father’s ‘accident’ could have sorted it out herself immediately (not least because it must have been hugely distressing for him), perhaps now she has considered alternative help for her father.
I spent time being around my sister when she was sick and then dying of bowel cancer, but until her final week she could pretty much cope. I took her to chemo and hospital appointments while working freelance, I gave up a lot of my time and I did so out of my own choice and willingly.
My father’s illness came fast and those speedy months were the most horrendous time of our lives, especially for my mum. During his final two weeks NHS carers came 4 times a day, they were sensational, yes all from other countries and they were kind and generous and he adored them all. They were the ‘new’ in his otherwise ‘old’ life. They provided a different attention to the one we gave him. The women who sat with dad at night so that we could sleep were possibly the most exceptional women I have ever met, respectful, courteous, humane.
But Giles Fraser is not talking about end of life care (though he does rather crudely mention Dignitas, ‘And care homes for the elderly become ways to warehouse those who cannot be persuaded to make the trip to Dignitas’. He never mentions the cost of Dignitas, unaffordable by most and a choice many don’t want or need). He is talking about the day to day care of the elderly. He is talking about my mother and countless other mothers and fathers.
When my dad died I took on my mum’s care, financial and emotional, actually I took on everything, because there is just me, with others helping occasionally. I look after her household. I pay the bills, I take her to Moorfields for her eyes and the Royal Free for her heart and hearing and to her GP whenever she needs a blood test or injection in her arthritic knee or flu jab or anything else. I do most of her shopping and call her about 6 times a day for a chat, a catch up on the news or just to say hello and I am with her for many hours 2-3 times a week, every week. But after mum had a couple of falls we spoke about full-time care. She already had a carer staying overnight, and yes it was hard for mum to have a stranger in her house, but after some time she became accustomed to it. She provides the care that I cannot provide, the very personal care that I do not want to provide. Why? Because it is vital I live my life otherwise I might end up resenting my mother and I never want to be that person. And mum wants me to live my life, because she has lived hers, although I can’t go away for more than a week and never far away. She says when I am gone you can go wherever you like.
Prior to my mum’s landscape changing from married life to widowhood, I always wondered why other people didn’t move in with their elderly parent(s) or have their parent(s) move in with them. I was quite critical of people until I found myself in their position and then I realised why. I don’t want to wash my mother or shower my mother and she doesn’t want me to, it is humiliating for her. I do not want to be my mum’s carer – I want to be her daughter, I want to have a mother/daughter relationship which is full of annoyance and laugher and memories and anecdotes not resentment and anger, me wanting to be elsewhere and worse still, remorse. I give my mother what her carer cannot give her and she gives my mum everything I cannot and do not want to give my mum. It works for us all.
We are fortunate that mum can afford to pay for care, she has a fabulous carer from the Philippines who chooses to work here, no one has made her live here. Yes, she has brothers and sisters in the Philippines, but she is the one sending money home. If she remained there her life and finances would be very different. Her tax, NI and pension and holiday pay are paid by mum as her employer. She has heaps of time off whenever I am with mum and when mum’s friends or family visit.
As to the woman whose family all live abroad, I wonder if they moved away before she became a widow or elderly? Perhaps her family asked her to go and live with them – we don’t know, so Giles Fraser cannot simply blame it on her children. We all, mostly, have choices.
What would I do if mum couldn’t have afforded private care? My wife and I discussed it long ago, we would either move in with mum (much as the thought of returning to my childhood postcode fills me with dread) or have mum move here, but she wouldn’t know anyone and would be out of her comfort zone – we live an hour’s drive away in SE London while she is in NW London – and because of her poor sight it is best she stays in her own home as she knows her way around her house and is safe there. I would never move her into a care home, to do so would encourage her to give up totally, live by someone else’s rules and it is vital for our elderly, if they are able, to do as much for themselves as possible.
Giles Fraser says ‘Ideally, then, people should live close to their parents’. Why? We live where we can afford to live and choose to live. We live on the south side of the river because my parents refused to accept my same sex relationship and I didn’t feel comfortable living near my parents. My mother often berates my long dead father for this and blames him. We all have different reasons for living away from our parents, it’s pompous of Giles Fraser to decide where we should live and why.
And the bit that really makes me angry is when Giles Fraser talks of children looking after their parents because he omits to consider those of us who, for whatever reason, do not have children. And by the way, there’s no guarantee that children would ever look after their parents, whether as full time carers or in my capacity. I hope I will live a long healthy life, able to look after myself without asking others for help. I have nieces and nephews, lots of them and am surrounded by wonderful younger friends, but I wouldn’t expect them to give up their lives in order to care for me, although I am sure they would. My wife and I already think ahead, about all the what ifs. There will be decisions to make, changes to be made.
If only Giles Fraser looked around and witnessed the extended family, the communities within communities who do look after and care for and help he might see a very different picture emerging of his otherwise ill-informed account. I only hope when he reaches a certain age that his children are living next door, on either side of him if not in his house and offer him every kind of support and personal care he requires, giving up their jobs and lives 24/7 in order to be his carers without an ounce of resentment.