Carers are not volunteers.
I recently came across this sentence in a Carers UK report last week and I suddenly exclaimed “YES!” the way you do when you read something that absolutely nails it. I underlined it three times I was so delighted with it. I also startled the poor woman who was sitting next to me in the library at the time, who suddenly remembered an urgent appointment elsewhere.
It might seem a curious sentence to some people. After all, couldn’t you choose to bring in paid carers to do the job instead or help the person find in a residential home to live in?
In theory, yes. But it’s not quite that simple.
Good professional carers, available when you need them, are not always easy to find. In some areas they are a rare species indeed. That’s provided you can afford it (with or without local authority support).
And residential care can be a mixed bag. Some homes do what they can but are underfunded and short-staffed. Even the best are, when all’s said and done, institutions.
So neither option is necessarily available, affordable or desirable.
Carers care because they want the best for someone that they love, be they a parent, child, sibling, partner or friend. And for many (though by no means all) “the best” means staying in their own home, surrounded by friends in their own community and being looked after, at least partly, by a loved one.
Basically, carers try to make the best of a bad job. Everyone I know who is a carer is only doing it because something bad has happened to someone they love. It could be something dramatic like a car accident, a sudden stroke or diagnosis of a terminal illness. It could be something that has been building up over time, such as advancing dementia or complications from diabetes.
It’s not what you would choose or hope for. But sometimes life hands you a set of circumstances and you just have to deal with it.
In our case (my siblings and I) there was the option of putting Dad into a home when my Mum died. But she had died so suddenly and unexpectedly that we were all left reeling. The women my father had adored for 55 years of marriage had disappeared literally overnight.
It was a hard loss for any of us to comprehend. For someone with cognitive impairment, it was simply bewildering. To have taken Dad out of his familiar surroundings and put him into a home to be looked after by strangers would have been cruel (if not unusual).
We love our Dad. We want the best for him. And for him, the best is to stay at home with the family that means so much to him. As a single, self-employed women living chose by, it was feasible for me to become his carer. In the end, it was a no-brainer.
I’m glad I’ve done it. It feels right to have done it. In the same circumstances I’d do it again. But that's the point. The circumstances dictated the actions, not the other way round.
You don't become a carer in your spare time or on a temporary basis to help out. It’s not something you do for fun or to build up your experience or to contribute to a cause. Something you could just as easily not do, or walk away from when you feel like it.
Caring for a loved can be an incredibly positive thing but a free choice it ain't.