To care for a vulnerable person, whatever age, is a profound privilege. Yet owing to its very nature, much of the work involved is performed unseen.
This runs in direct contradiction to the spirit of the age which calls for a high degree of visibility and self promotion in the name of ‘Success’.
Thus an element of personal sacrifice will be part of the woof and warp of caring, which is a word not often heard in today’s culture, for it appears not to have a ‘Product’.
Care-giving has run like a thread throughout the 65 years of my life; its seeds being sown in childhood, when I was loved and cared for in my family and had a mum whose primary role was home based.
From that secure foundation I was able to launch into the world of work, firstly as a model, then as an occupational therapist.
It was the birth of our two sons that gave me the first taste of sacrificial care-giving, and my experience was a tough one; I have great compassion for mothers who suffer post-natal depression.
As a full time mother in the 1970s, I began to hear powerful messages in the media telling me that my work with the children was unimportant compared to that outside the home, and that my brain would become like a ‘cabbage’!
So, what had been considered an honourable calling for my mother’s generation, had become a travesty in mine. I found it deeply dispiriting, as I had wanted to provide the loving security that I had experienced as a child, to my sons.
The inception of an organisation called Full Time Mothers by Kathy Gyngell and others in the late 1980s, provided balm to my wounds and I became involved in the work over a period of years.
I was 35, with our boys aged 9 and 11, when my husband nearly died from a brain stem tumour.
Mercifully it was caught just in time, but months of hospitalisation followed, until he returned home paralysed down one side of his body and in a wheelchair.
And so a new and painful chapter of our family life began, as we were all thrust into the invisible world of disability for the long haul.
Much adjustment was needed, especially in dealing with the sense of loss of our previous life together, for so much had changed.
In addition it was hard coping with the emotional and physical exhaustion that accompanied it. I discovered that it’s one thing to be a professional carer, as I had been in the workplace, and quite another when it’s a family member.
It was not long afterwards that my parents began their slow descent into frail old age: my mother losing her sight to macular degeneration, whilst my father succumbed to profound deafness.
The toxic combination of the two disabilities is not hard to imagine. Such was my concern that I travelled an hour each week to spend a day helping them.
Seventeen years of care-giving ensued, until the point when both had died. I found it a deeply emotional and challenging period of my life.
Amid these roles was the care given to people I met both in community and church work, of which there were many; my particular concern being expressed in a listening capacity.
The arrival of our four lovely grandchildren has ushered in a new and joyful caring season, which brings with it the awareness of my ebbing physical strength as the years take their toll!
It is with great pleasure that I see my daughters in law giving their primary focus of care to the little ones, in a generation when to do so is considered a waste of talent or the preserve of the very rich.
Thirty years on I remain my husband’s sole carer and am so grateful for the long journey of 45 years that we have travelled together.
In addition, I look back in humble amazement at the blessings that emerge when we give our lives away to help others.