Life after caring

Caring for a loved one can be tough, but moving on after they’ve gone to a care home can be just as hard. Dan Parton reports.

In this article:

  1. A new life
  2. Coming to a decision
  3. Finding a home
  4. Emotional time
  5. Looking to the future

A new life

Christine Ransome-Wallis admits that life is strange at the moment. For the first time in decades, she can do what she wants, when she wants – and it is taking some getting used to.

Since she was 24, Christine has been a wife, mother and latterly, she has been her mother’s full-time carer and so has always put others before herself.

But now Christine has time to herself: she separated from her husband some years ago, her children have grown up and left home and her mother has now moved into a care home.

“I’ve always been there for someone else and I’ve never been a priority,” she says. “That’s a bit hard to register because it feels like I’m being selfish doing what I want to. I’ve got to be realistic and get used to the idea that I can do what I want when I want. For example, I don’t have to eat at 6 o’clock – because mum doesn’t like to eat any later. If I want to eat at 7.30pm, I can. I’m coming to terms with things like that.”

Coming to a decision

Christine did not expect to be in this situation at the beginning of the year. While admitting that caring for her mother was hard work, she was happy to do so. It was only after her mother had an accident, which required two operations – and then contracted clostridium difficile – that it became clear that, for her to return home, would be very difficult.

Nevertheless, Christine was reluctant to have her mother move from the hospital into a care home. “My thinking was that I’d looked after her all this time, it was not quite ‘I know what’s best’ but ‘I want to [continue to] do this’. I couldn’t just say ‘I’ve had enough of you mother, you’re going into a home now’."

But in the end, Christine did not have to make the decision – her mother had already made up her mind to move.

She was facing the prospect of having to do intensive physiotherapy just to return home. Then, she would have had to sleep in the living room because she would not be able to get upstairs; and she would have needed outside carers to come in to hoist her in and out of bed. As a result, Christine’s mother decided that the best option for her was to go into a care home.

“It was her decision, which helped me to come to terms with it – it was what she wanted,” Christine says. “She had got to the point, not quite where she couldn’t be bothered anymore but didn’t want to do it anymore; it was too much effort. But when you’re almost 90, that’s not surprising.”

Finding a home

After this decision was made, Christine started looking for a suitable care home for her mother in Birmingham close to where she lives.

After whittling down the list to 8, she started visiting the homes. “I wanted to see what they were offering, what you got for your money, were the people happy, were people visiting, whether there were there activities going on, what the staff turnover was like, to get a gut feeling,” she says. “Half of them, I ruled straight out, and at a couple of others I asked difficult questions and wasn’t happy with the answers.”

Eventually, Christine and her mother settled on Selly Park Care Centre. “It’s not the poshest place I ever saw but it is clean, private and the care was the best I’d found,” she says.

Christine adds that she was made to feel welcome from the first meeting – chatting for an hour with the manager before she even looked round the home. “It was the only home I got that sort of reception at. The others were courteous, polite and fairly formal, but they didn’t quite feel as homely as this one did. Mum could have had a bigger room, a smarter room elsewhere, but there is nothing wrong with the one she is in, it is a good hotel-sized room, she has everything she needs, she is well looked after, happy, what more do you want?”

Emotional time

But while it was her mother’s decision to move into a care home, and she has settled in well and is happy there, it has still been a “terribly emotional” time for Christine - more so than she thought it would be. “I’d always said I wouldn’t put her in a home, but when it became non-negotiable you get all those feelings of guilt and think ‘what if I’d done this, what if I hadn’t done that?’” she says. “I know it is only beating myself up and I don’t need to do that, but you can’t help those feelings."

“I have to sit back now and think that I’ve given Mum 12 good years and she is probably still alive because of the quality of life I have given her. She is settled and happy now, so just let go. Even if it’s not perfect, she’s happy, stop worrying about it.”

But this is easier said than done. For example, Christine is now starting to sort out and get rid of some her mother’s belongings, which only brings back memories and emphasises that she is not returning.

“She’s not coming home so there is no point keeping things she’ll never want or need again but it feels like wiping her out of my life [while] she’s still there and that’s been hard."

“Even taking the stairlift out was quite traumatic. Yes, we don’t need it and I’d forgotten how wide the stairs were. But now it’s gone, it means she’s not there.”

Looking to the future

But while the past few months have been difficult, Christine says it is becoming easier as she gradually adjusts to her new life. “I know where I’ve got to be but I haven’t got there yet – I’m still in transition.”

Now, Christine visits her mother about twice a week. She deliberately does not go every day for two reasons: to start letting go; and because they run out of things to say to each other.

Eventually, Christine plans to sell her house and move to somewhere smaller, but she is waiting for the housing market to pick up again. In the meantime, she is learning to enjoy her new-found freedom.

“I can go to the gym, or go for a swim if I feel like it. I’ve still got gardening and the cleaning to do, but now I can clean when I want - I have flexibility.”