In November 2017 Sue moved back to London to start caring for her mum Florence, now 96 years old.
Sue and her brother always said they didn’t want their mum to move into a care home. So, up until Coronavirus hit and lockdown began, Sue and her brother, when he was back in the UK from Thailand, cared for Florence at home. They were also receiving some help from paid carers which, since lockdown began, has stopped to protect Florence’s health.
When Sue first started caring for her mum she recalls having very little patience, in part due to a lack of experience in providing an in depth level of care for someone else. After chatting with her friend Sarah, a retired nurse, Sue learned that her attitude needed to change. Sue knew her mum’s attitude wouldn’t change, so she needed to adapt her mindset to continue to look after Florence as best she could. She became a better carer for her mum and now they enjoy being able to spend so much time together.
A typical day for Sue involves getting Florence washed and dressed and making her breakfast, before sitting down for a few hours in the living room listening to music and having a sing-a-long. After making lunch Sue goes out to get the shopping and they spend the afternoon on their balcony, drinking tea or watching Downton Abbey. Sue often enjoys a glass of wine with dinner whilst Florence prefers a whisky and dry ginger. They then settle down for bed ready to start another day.
Sue says that being a carer has impacted her mental health. There have been times when Florence has been in and out of hospital and battled numerous urine infections which left her feeling confused - this was an incredibly stressful time for Sue.
Sue and Florence are keeping their spirits up during lockdown by looking through old photographs, listening to music and taking part in almost daily Zoom get-togethers organised by North London Cares – a community network of young professionals and older neighbours hanging out and helping one another. They’ve done quizzes, origami and more recently a North London Cares virtual museum, where everyone was asked to bring a special item and talk about why it deserved a place in the museum. They are both so appreciative of the technology that is allowing them to keep in touch with their friends.
Coronavirus has meant Sue has to take extra precautions when going to the shops to get food – she’s very worried about getting the virus and bringing it home, thus putting Florence’s health at risk. But she’s taking all the necessary precautions to stay safe. She’s grateful she has a car so that she can travel to the shops safely and she’s happy she can be there to support Florence who wouldn’t be able to go and get food on her own.
This got Sue thinking. What about all the elderly or vulnerable people who don’t have anyone to support them? So she decided to start volunteering with a scheme called redgreencards.com. Set up by NHS cancer surgeon Shilen Patel, the idea is simple – people in self-isolation can place a green card in their window if everything is ok or use the red card if they need help - there is space on the red card to write what they need help with.
Sue’s advice for other carers is to find someone you can talk to and take any opportunity to get some respite when you can. Caring can be stressful and exhausting so it’s important to be able to share how you’re feeling with other people and get things off your chest. It may not always be possible to take breaks but Sue recommends taking all the help you are offered when it’s available.
“Get help so you have time to yourself, otherwise you’ll have no life. It not the fault of the person you care for, but you need that bit of social life, you deserve it.”