A rock and a hard place

Juggling family responsibilities and finding a home for her mother was a challenging journey for Rosemary Hurtley. Robert Mair reports.

In this article:

  1. The ‘sandwich generation’
  2. Edith Brooking
  3. A suitable care home
  4. History repeating

The ‘sandwich generation’

For many people, finding a care home for parent (whether ill or not) is traumatic enough, but for Rosemary it was an ever-increasing pressure as she struggled to look after her own children, hold down a job, study for a master’s degree and provide the necessary care for two demanding, warring parents.

Her parents separated late in life, and their health consequently suffered; soon after her dad suffered a stroke and her mother started to lose her mental faculties – which was further exacerbated by the death of her main carer, a 92-year-old family retainer.

Rosemary’s children were away at boarding school and she felt torn between the duty to her parents and to her children – thus becoming part of the ‘sandwich generation’ – people who look after their parents and their children.

“We were a very close family,” says Rosemary. “The children were happy away at school, and my normal role would’ve been to be in touch with them a lot, but I just didn’t have the energy for it."

“The worst thing was doing the revision with them. I wasn’t in a particularly good state and I couldn’t concentrate on going through things with them. I wasn’t a great help to them and I felt very bad about that. You feel trapped by guilt and you think ‘I can’t even be a parent now.’”

Edith Brooking

Like many of her generation, Rosemary’s mum, Edith Brooking, was terrified of going into a care home despite her deteriorating health. Initially the family relied on homecare, but as the late-onset dementia took hold, it became increasingly challenging, and combining work and family left Rosemary exhausted.

It became clear that it would be best if Edith moved into a residential care home, but finding the right one would not be easy. Edith was an eccentric character; as an art dealer, picture restorer and model, she had lived the high-life in West End London – and needed somewhere suitable to stimulate her larger-than-life personality.

“I had to find somewhere that was a bit eccentric, quirky and had a sense of community,” says Rosemary. “At home she had just one carer, who she was driving into the ground and who I would have to pick up off the floor every night because they would be exhausted by the emotional demands, the repetitiveness and the mood swings."

“We had also suffered theft and burglary. My mother may have given them some things, but some may have taken more. I couldn’t tell you who these people were – they may or may not have been carers – but people came into the house. It was a big house, with lots of things, and it would have been easy to take stuff. I thought it was unsafe.”

A suitable care home

But Rosemary had to face finding a care home at the same time as her son took his GCSEs. “When the children are getting older, you think that they don’t need you so much,” she says. “But that’s not the case. They need you more at that age, and they need a lot of input and help revising. Juggling it was difficult.”

While her work as a consultant for the care home industry meant Rosemary had some idea as to what made a good home and a bad home, finding the special one for her mum was tricky. It had to be pet friendly - for Edith’s dog – and it needed to possess an eccentric and exciting spirit.

After a few weeks of searching, Rosemary settled on a home run by an actor. Donkeys roamed free and the home was set in acres of woodland, complete with wheelchair-friendly country walks. The home had a sense of fun, characterised by the manager’s love of role-play – a huge benefit to the residents, according to Rosemary:

“My mother had a huge sense of humour, and I thought this guy was really good value for money. He was an actor, and the home was just so different – it was far more interesting than some of the other dull places one has been into.”

History repeating

But joy at finding the home was short-lived.

Barely 18 months later, Edith was forced to move again as her care home was petitioned with closure. Rosemary had 3 weeks to find a new one. She admits the home “did take risks,” but that “our strong-minded family member would have it no other way to continue her life.”

This time though, the move coincided with her father’s death and her daughter’s GCSEs and the stress of all 3 events led to Rosemary collapsing of exhaustion shortly after.

The first home they found – a nursing home – was not right for Edith, and after a short stay she moved to an EMI [elderly mentally infirm] home.  Despite the previous experience of finding a home, the stresses of locating this one remained the same:

“When your emotions are involved, it throws up all of the same issues again,” says Rosemary. “Discussing it with the family, what’s the best thing for her, what can we afford, how long could she be living for and what level of care does she need?"

“She went into the nursing home too early – she wasn’t ready for it – and we had to remove her. We then had to find an EMI residential home with a vacancy and it was tough. I felt reasonably happy with it, but because it was so different from the other place it took me longer to adjust than it did her.”

These experiences led Rosemary to write 'Find the Right Care Home', a step-by-step guide through the complicated and often traumatic experience of finding a care home for a relative.

While the experience was traumatic, Rosemary believes it could have some positive aspects, such as providing a valuable lesson for her children: “As a relative, I think my children have learnt a lot. And hopefully, they’ll know what to do with me when I get to that stage,” she laughs.