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A meeting at the coast

For a variety of reasons which need not concern us here my November has been unusually hectic. As a break from everything else that is going on, yesterday I drove to the coast for a family meeting coinciding with the arrival of my father’s new live-in carer – in actual fact, one specifically designed to precede it.

From time to time all families cope with situations that are complicated to one degree or another. In this instance my aged father, having been finally compelled to accept that he could no longer live alone some two years after it was first proposed to (and then periodically rejected by) him, has been hosting a carer since the end of September.

The new set-up has – like the proverbial curate’s egg – been good in parts.

Given that my father, despite his own opinions on the matter, is genuinely unable to properly look after himself on his own, from the family’s point of view it has been a win. We still visit him as frequently as ever, but the knowledge that – when one or more of the family are, or cannot, be with him – he has somebody in his home to provide regular meals, assist him physically whenever he might need it, and also of course be on hand were some emergency or another to arise (e.g. a fall in the middle of the night) has been a source of all-round comfort.

Against that, inevitably, the arrival of a live-in carer has not pleased my father. This has nothing to do per se with the carers he has had so far – with whom, on a personal level, he has got on reasonably well. Rather his issues are those of principle: he still believes that he doesn’t need caring assistance (well, certainly of the live-in variety) and has regularly bleated to family members about the cost, the consequent ‘loss of independence’ it entails and the fact that he is uncomfortable with a ‘stranger living in my house’.

All of the above are totally understandable and indeed probably inevitable reactions. The onset of home caring is a huge change to accept for anyone who has lived on his own for nearly a decade, as my father has since my mother died. The transition to a new situation like this can never be easy. In advance the family knew it wouldn’t be and when visiting – even to his face – the representatives of the organisation supplying the carers, who no doubt must ‘seen it all before’ on innumerable occasions, have been consistently sympathetic and supportive whilst carefully steering away from any notion that – e.g. as would happen in almost any other business contractual situation – should the ‘client’ be unhappy with services being supplied to him – they can always be dispensed with.

It’s a weird position for such an organisation. In most cases, on the one hand, of course, ‘the family’ is the actual client – not the elderly relative now on the receiving end of the caring help they are supplying – but, on the other, they have to obtain (and react to) direct feedback from the relative concerned in the quest to deliver the best or most appropriate service they can.

We organised yesterday’s conference because we wanted my father to have the opportunity to speak privately to the family about how things had been going. He has made no secret of his reluctant acceptance of his new set-up and on occasions had given the impression that he had understood – perhaps deluded himself – that its onset had been some sort of ‘trial’, at the conclusion of which a review would take place and – if he made the case – he might thereby return to his previous (solo) living arrangement. The evidence for this was the frequency with which he would ask any of the family who was visiting him “How much longer is this chap staying?”, to which (without any prior collaboration) our standard response had always been to give the factually correct answer – in a context where every few weeks the carers change – without doing the obvious and going on to challenge him as to why he was asking the question at all.

The atmosphere at yesterday’s family conference was fascinating and yet strange – as inevitably it was always going to be – given the subject, the universal human tendency not to want to discuss uncomfortable issues and/or cause offence (or worse, conflict) and yet also the views that the participants held.

On top of the above – from the family’s angle – there was an ‘elephant in the room’. Although he is normally ‘on the ball’ and can hold a conversation like someone a decade younger than he is, there are also periods when, due to age and/or frailty, my father is distinctly ‘off the pace’, exhibiting instances of loss of memory, confusion, and constantly repeating questions which he may have asked only minutes previously, such as “What day is it?”. Knowing this, the family had prepared themselves for the possibility that – if yesterday’s meeting occurred during one of my father’s ‘bad’ periods – it might become a pretty futile exercise, e.g. if he couldn’t understand the rational and logical points being put to him, or just generally couldn’t focus properly on what was being discussed.

In the final reckoning, however, things went okay. My father raised his well-known issues about having carers at all [see above]. Others present put forward the counter-arguments and stressed the all-round benefits of having a carer on board, following which there were one or two slightly-awkward silences. Eventually, as tends to happen with this type of gathering, the conversation gradually dribbled to a halt without any conclusion(s) being reached. Well, apart from the unmentioned one that live-in caring help would be continuing in any event (as witness not long afterwards the arrival of the new carer taking over) and that some of us would be down at some stage over the weekend.

Thus life goes on.

About William Byford

A partner in an international firm of loss adjusters, William is a keen blogger and member of the internet community. More Posts