I have several friends who are caring or have cared for a loved one – either a spouse, parent, or child. My experience of caring is limited to when I took care of my father in the last weeks of his life before he finally passed away after a rapid decline in health due to lung cancer. My observation of carers is this …
They are extraordinary people who provide a level of love and care day after day, week after week, month after month, and often year after year, frequently without acknowledgement or reward.
When I think of my friends who have provided care for partners or parents, or are currently caring for partners or parents I marvel at their patience, strength, determination and willingness to give so much of themselves and their lives to enable the person for whom they are caring to live as full and meaningful life as possible, despite their deteriorating condition.
My recollection of caring for my own father was that it was 24 hours a day and exhausting. Whilst there was other family around they had no awareness of what I was managing until I had to fly back home to continue working and hand over my fathers care. I slept on the floor outside his room listening to his breathing and navigated my way through the home care system to obtain a disabled sticker for his car and gain the support of the services of Silver Chain who were life savers. It also meant that I could leave knowing that he was in safe and caring hands.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2012 there were 2.7 million unpaid carers (an increase of nearly 18% or 400,000 carers since 1998) with females making up the majority of carers . In 2015, it was estimated that carers provided 1.9 billion hours of unpaid care. And, according to a report by Deloitte Access Economics, the estimated replacement value of unpaid care provided in 2015 was $60.3 billion – over $1 billion per week, or 3.8% of Gross Domestic Product.
Caring for our ageing parents, relatives, friends, or family is something we will potentially all face. Like ageing really.
Fortunately there are government and industry support services for carers. The government recently launched their Carer Gateway in an effort to make it easier for carers to access practical information and advice and to connect with services. Carers Australia is a peak industry body that’s purpose is “to improve the health, wellbeing, resilience and financial security of carers and to ensure that caring is a shared responsibility of family, community and government”.
I often wonder how I’ll manage when my mother requires increasing care, particularly as I would be the first to admit that patience is not one of my virtues. And, my ability to provide care is challenged by the Australian desert which separates us as we live on opposite sides of the country. My husband is already challenged as he attempts to manage caring for his mother who lives in London.
For a humorous look at caregiving I encourage you to read this article on ‘The Caregivers Guide to Sainthood’ in the New Yorker.
This Christmas, amongst all those people we remember and acknowledge I’ll be raising my glass to carers. A small token of appreciation and a healthy reminder to me and my family of the extraordinary role these people play in enabling the young, the old, and the sick to have some love and kindness in their lives and provide a level of ease and comfort that they may not otherwise experience.
To all those carers, past and present – thank you and Merry Christmas!