One of the main themes of a lot of the work I do is around carer support. Carers Assessments, of course, but increasingly individual budgets for carers which on my own caseload at least, have shot up over the last year.
I was having this discussion with a colleague in another team about the difference emphasis that we have on some of our work, in a specialist mental health team for older adults – as opposed to the CMHT for adults of working age that she works in.
My impression is apart from the more obvious emphasis on issues of capacity and the interdependence between deteriorating physical health and deteriorating mental health – we also provide a lot more carer support – as the client group that we work with may need more obvious care and support.
So I see a lot of carers. And I see a lot of love.
I suppose in some ways, you could say I see the manifestation of the promises made in youthful, happier times, to stick together ‘in sickness and in health’.
It makes me reflect on the nature of love and the nature of devotion. Often I am in awe and admiration. I wonder if I could do what the people I see do. I expect it is something that we don’t and won’t know until circumstance forces us into this position.
Some of the more difficult situations to walk into happen when a deterioration in cognitive functioning leads to a husband forgetting his wife or, perhaps more painful, being violently aggressive (either physically or verbally) towards a partner he would once have put beyond anything else in the world. The change in behaviour coming from the ravaging force of a dementia can be heart-breaking to say the very least.
I know the words to say.
‘Blame the disease not the person’. It is what we say to ourselves when we are at the mercy of violently aggressive anger, hatred and scorn.
It isn’t John talking – it’s John’s illness talking.
Of course that only helps to a point because the words are still coming from John’s mouth, with John’s accent. They are directed towards his wife, who is sitting next to help, gently sobbing, while trying to pacify and ease some of the venomous words.
It isn’t John – it’s John’s illness talking.
Sometimes it feels so shallow.
Last week, I was involved with a family whose current situation was tragic in the first order. I won’t recount the details so you will just have to trust me on this. I was speaking to one of the daughters. She explained to me the situation whereby both of her parents were very unwell in very different ways. Both had to be admitted to hospital.
I said to her that I was sorry for what was happening to her and her family. I couldn’t pretend to understand how it felt for her and her brothers and sisters to be in that situation but I was sorry, all the same.
It seemed so shallow just saying the words. So empty. I haven’t been faced with those levels of tragedy in my life and can’t imagine how it would feel so in that sense it was definitely authentic.
She cried. I listened. Later, I met her brother. Her brother cried. He tried not to. He is a young man. I suspect he was not used to crying. I said I could understand his tears. I could.
I see a lot of love in my line of work. Often it is veiled with tragedy. Tragedy of deteriorating health or forgotten moments, even forgotten names.
It has given me a different and much deeper understanding of the nature of love within a family and the nature of relationships that we forge and build through our lives and what happens when the health we presume will always be there, begins to fail.
In sickness and in health. I suppose most people think about physical sickness. Sickness is temporary, we recover. Some types of mental illness, progressive dementias, that isn’t so easy to recover from. Sometimes the scars left take much longer to heal. Recovery is always a goal but it is about recovering relationships as well as health.
The human spirit is a remarkable thing. Love is a remarkable thing and so are the ties that bind all sorts of different kinds of families together.
Love doesn’t have to be obvious. It isn’t always explicitly stated and sometimes it is the more subtle elements that remain stronger.
I’m not a great fan of St Valentine’s Day. I find it too cloying and commercialised. My partner and I haven’t bought each other presents or cards. We might have the first couple of years we were together but it has just tailed off a bit as we both realised it was about matching the expectations of others about ‘celebrating St Valentine’s Day’ rather than any expectations we had of each other. I think we are going to get a takeaway tonight to eat at home in front of the television.
Outward displays of ostentatious love have little bearing on the internal nature of the quality of the Platonic Form of Love. They are just shadows and presentations.
Love is about what families do for each other. It is not measured in cards, flowers and chocolates and if we, as a society want to value love, we need to value carers. We need to value love.
One day, it will be all of us.
My message for St Valentine’s Day? Look around you. Look around at the people you love and the people who love you. Not just partners, but family, friends, neighbours, pets. Appreciate it and appreciate them.
But then, that isn’t just a message for February 14th, that’s a message for every day.