The following is an extract from ‘Who Cares?’ by Sara Challice and the true story demonstrates that just the smallest of changes can create the biggest of differences, making life much easier to bear.
Christine wakes early, climbs out of her single bed and heads downstairs. She is in her mid 30s, petite, pretty, with shoulder-length blonde hair and this weekend she is back at her parents’ house in Holland [..]
She hears the click of the kitchen door open behind her, and as she turns, she sees her father pushing her mother in a wheelchair, into the kitchen. Her father is in his mid 70s, tall and wiry with short white hair and a short white beard. He has dark bags under his eyes and the corners of his lips are turned downwards. […] As he wheels his wife to the kitchen table, Christine can see the years of caring have taken their toll on him. He has been caring for her mother for over 20 years, ever since she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Her mother, in her late 60s, has short brown hair, and sits quietly in her wheelchair and half smiles at Christine.
‘Right, let’s get your medication and breakfast,’ her father states irritably.
Christine stands to watch in silence as her father prepares her mother’s breakfast. Once it is ready, he brings a bowl of porridge to the table, sits down and starts to spoon-feed her mother in silence.
Christine notices how roughly her father feeds her mother. It is very matter-of-fact, another job to be done. He feeds her out of obligation, nothing more.
Once he has finished, he grabs his shoes from the corner of the kitchen, laces them up and finds his jacket hanging in the hallway. Without a word, he opens the kitchen door and leaves the house […]
She turns and comes to sit with her mother, holding her hand.
They smile at one another, but she sees a pained expression on her mother’s face. Life is not good and it hasn’t been for a long time.
Christine sits and chats with her mother, telling her of all her news from back in London, where she now lives and works.
Around lunchtime, her father reappears after his bike ride.
Whilst her mother rests in another room, Christine decides to have a chat with her father, as she is worried for both of them.
‘How are things, Papa?’ she enquires.
Her father lets out a huge sigh as he sits looking at his hands in his lap with a furrowed brow. ‘You know I love your mother very much, but I feel so drained. I am at the end of my tether. I feel I am purely existing for your mother, and when she is gone, I will be gone.’
These words upset Christine. She will be heading home the following morning, leaving her father caring for her declining mother. She worries things are likely to get worse.
Later that week, Christine is at a networking evening in London where a few speakers get up to tell their stories to help others. The topic of the night is ‘Making the world a better place’.
Christine watches as I tell my story from the stage of caring for Neal and how I made his world a better place. As I finish and step down, Christine comes running towards me.
‘I loved your talk, Sara. I would really like your advice.
‘Could we meet up later this week?’ I smile at Christine and we exchange contact details to meet.
The following Wednesday morning, Christine sits holding her coffee cup and starts to tell me about her father caring for her mother for many years. She describes how her mother is now very disabled and hoisted in and out of bed. Christine relays to me all that her father has said, including that he feels he is purely existing to care for another […] She also tells me about her mother’s head hanging onto her chest but not wanting help to support it. She then shakes her head despairingly, ‘But what can I do, Sara? My parents live in another country and I am working here in London, rarely able to see them.’
I gaze back at Christine, concerned. ‘I can understand how your father feels. He’s been caring for a very long time. It can get the best of us. I know. I’ve been there.’
‘From the sound of it, there are a few things going on here. This scenario is cyclical.
Apparently 80% of communication is non-verbal. As your father feeds your mother abruptly, she will certainly notice that he is helping her because he has to, not because he wants to. He’s feeding and taking care of her purely out of obligation.
The trouble is, your mother will undoubtedly be noticing this, which will make her feel even more of a burden. In turn, your father will sense this, and on top of his frustration at having to care, he may be feeling pangs of guilt, which she may then be picking up too. All these negative emotions will be circling around, not making for a good atmosphere for either of them.’
Christine has pulled a notepad from her handbag, quickly scribbling down my observations. I continue, ‘Your mother clearly feels she is a burden but she still deserves quality of life. She must love your coming to visit, and at the very least, she deserves to be able to see you when you are able to catch up together. I think it’s time to ensure the headrest is added to her wheelchair, so she doesn’t hurt her neck.’
‘Could you ask him [her father] to make an agreement with himself? When he awakes the next morning, can he agree to do everything with love, not just for his wife, but also for himself? Not just in feeding and taking care of her, and not just in every mall chore he does that day, but in everything he does for himself?’
‘Then, when he goes to bed that night, to ask himself, does he feel any better?’
Christine looks up at me smiling and puts down her pen. We finish our cuppas and say our goodbyes.
Although I don’t hear from Christine over the next six weeks, I then see her again at another networking group and we happen to meet in the doorway before we both head in. Christine greets me with a huge smile and gives me a hug, ‘Sara, thank you so much! Everything has changed.’
‘I shared your advice with my father and he took it on board. Then, when I was back visiting them this last weekend, I watched him taking care of Mum. He was completely different. He was very caring and lovingly fed her. Afterwards he actually asked mum if it was okay for him to go for a bike ride. She nodded and said, “Yes, of course”. He then headed off for a few hours.’
‘Not only that, but the atmosphere in the house has lifted.
They have noticed this shift, and are now looking at new ways to improve their lives. For example, previously Dad would physically pick up Mum to transfer her into the car – dangerous for both of them. But now they order a wheelchair taxi to save his back and keep Mum safe!
I suggested to Mum that the headrest be added to the wheelchair at all times, but she wants to keep exercising her neck, so instead, she is hoisted back into bed a few times a day to give her a rest.
And finally, before this change, I was calling them every day, worried sick, but now I know they are alright, I call them just once a week for a catch up. I can now get on with my life, here in London.’
I give Christine another big hug after hearing her wonderful news and we head into the event together.
In her parents making just a few simple changes to their daily routine, not only had it improved the quality of life for them, but for their daughter as well, causing a ripple effect.