Making decisions on behalf of those who have been so involved in our lives, caring for the ones who used to care for us is a daunting and emotional task and so having a provider like Susan Care, who provides support and advocacy for families who need help to navigate the Aged Care Placement, Respite and other types of Care for their older loved ones is essential.
When I see the work Susan Care undertakes, I am called to think of my own experience of watching that journey with my grandmother, Nana.
Nana was 91 years old when she passed away almost a quarter of a century ago and yet when I think of her, my memories are fresh, it is like it was yesterday.
I feel so lucky; there is much to recall and many aspects to consider about her life, about our times together and what she meant to me.
The care I know she received in her last two years in a nursing home provided me comfort as I recognised by then she need care round the clock, care specialised to her physical and emotional needs and care administered by people who understood how to treat her with dignity and how to keep us, the family, closely involved and with easy access to any information and support as we required.
It made that time easier and what can I hold onto now is the rich treasure trove of memories of who my Nana was to me and the times we spent together, there are no regrets, she cared for me and I saw how she was cared for too.
Sitting here, thinking about my Nana, if I close my eyes, even now, I see the veins in her hands. The way the skin folded and pleated upon itself and the stretch over the right hand knuckles that gave her wrist that “ever such a slight limp” look. Each finger a story, this one thick from working the till, that one crooked from missing the chopping block, way back in 1953, the other with the groove through the cuticle where a nappy pin was wrongly driven. Yet each nail careful painted and groomed with the right shade of pearly pink polish. When I am thinking about my Nana, I find myself smiling and at times there are tears in my eyes, because of course, I still miss her.
Smiling is something that came easily whenever I was with my Nana. She had a way of being comical, of making even the most mundane task a thing of amusement. Many an occasion when I was sent to the kitchen to help wash and dry dishes, Nana would parade through with her sherry and flourish the tea towel, unafraid to get involved in the dirty work. She’d grab the heavy saucepans and hold each high above her head as her marched about singing improvise lyrics to her kitchen-hit; “This is the dance of the pans”! Falling about laughing my siblings and I, the little workers around her feet, would all grab our own pan, or lid, or spoon and join in the jolliness. Entirely “Mary Poppin-esque” Nana made the chore a game!
My funny, feisty, little Nana was big part of my childhood. Full of energy, she’d descend on our house on a regular basis. We’d all love going to fetch her from the train station and we would always try to be ready early so that we were there when the train arrived and could jump up onto to her compartment to marvel at the luxuries of her first class travel. Nana’s travel case always had some little gift tucked between the layers of well-folded clothes and her handbag was a veritable trove of treats. Bus tickets and stamps she’d saved for our collections, feathers she’d gathered up in the park and little half pieces of chewing gum wrapped in silver paper. These we were given surreptitiously and we were told, “Don’t tell your mother!” with a little nod and wink.
Whenever Nana came to stay, I’d wake early in the morning, straining to hear if she was up making her tea. Then, tiptoeing down the hall I’d go to the kitchen to meet her. Like conspiring thieves we snuck the tea and a plate of biscuits back to her room, tucking snugly under her quilt. Dipping my biccie in her tea, I’d listen as Nana regaled me with stories of my own mother when she was young. Burrowing down, so my head nestled against her hip with the smell of her face-creams and powder strong in my nose and the taste of tea tart on my palate, I felt safe and cosy and loved.
In her long nightie embellished with many religious medals pinned on the shoulder straps, she’d always start these story sessions with her daily prayers and then some strange form of arm exercises. These were vaguely like air punches but also incorporated some kind of wrist twirling and ballet type flourishes. Unusual and hilarious to watch it was great entertainment, comical to witness. My giggles would eventually break her concentration and the two of us would laugh out loud until she remembered to try to be serious, “Shhh! You’ll wake the others”. That was enough to stifle me. I wanted her all to myself and with a sleeping household at this still-dark hour I was easily persuaded to wheesht.
Our bond grew strong and the association of her linked so tightly in so many things.
Things like the little birds she’d feed in the harsh Scottish winters. They’d come pecking away at the milk bottles caps left at an ungodly hour on her doorstep. You’d see their little hop-hopping marks footprints around the bottles in the frost. Her heart moved easily to sympathy with these starving creatures and she’d sprinkle crumbs to dissuade them from spoiling the milk. She was very fond of Robins (Master Robin Red-Breast) she called them and she’d make idle conversations with them as she washed the dishes as they hopped on the window ledge or bounced along the rim of the bird bath whilst she pegged the washing. Oh she did love those little robins, I remember one occasion she was moved to tears when she found a robin red breast dead – frozen on its back on the path and she performed a solemn funeral of sorts complete with prayers and blessings and songs. All in the memory of Master Robin.
Nana loved animals. A certain ‘Master Fox’ came visiting, prowling around the back garden in search of food. She’d take me outside in my dressing gown to examine his paw prints in the snow for proof before the marks disappeared in the warmth of morning sunlight. Years later when I was a student at Edinburgh University, I’d visit her on Sundays. Me typically hung-on, her peaceful as she sat for hours in her arm chair no longer so energetic. Even then she’d be full of stories, and go on to exclaim “Master Fox” came by last night” or fill me in on the latest fight between the black bird and the little finch. I’d try to not laugh and Nana’s gaze would catch my smirk, then we’d look at each other and laugh together.
I could talk about her love of music and her taste for silk. The need to dress for dinner and the reason one wore gloves. I could have mentioned how much she hated yellow flowers and that daily mass should be “a habit”. I could have shown the way she steamed off postage stamps and saved envelopes, how to play a good hand of cards, how to make a decent cup of tea and a batch of light scones, where to sit in church and how to set a table. She would have told you no doubt to sit up straight and stop fiddling whilst she demonstrated good “printing” when letter writing and that “manners maketh man.”
All these little and great things that I have as memories of an exceptional woman, and the love in my heart that will always be there; a living breathing thing that is the gift she has given me and one that lasts forever.
Having the support of providers like Susan Care allows us as families to remain focused on loved ones and the relationships we have with them. The administration and decision-making can be overwhelming. Empathic, caring people like Susan support us through these processes in a positive and stress-free way, giving us space to focus on our relationships with those we love.