Last week, the care home where Dad resides held its monthly relatives meeting. The first time I attended one of these, it was a joint relatives and residents meeting. I found it instructive listening to the residents’ points of view – albeit those who felt able to verbalise their thoughts. However, this approach has gone and residents and relatives meetings are now separated – I can see both pros and cons to this move.
At the last relatives meeting, there were very few attendees and I was conscious of points being especially directed to me, as a vocal and regular visitor to the home. My main contribution was to bring up the issue of how relatives could be better informed of the care given to residents but I was conscious of a ‘good news’ approach to the meeting. As the fee increase, though not mentioned, came soon after this meeting, this might explain the upbeat tone.
At the meeting last week, I resolved to sink into the background and listen more. However, since many of the items discussed had been brought up at previous meetings, I did point out that we needed to hear about what had been done to try and resolve these issues and to go over minutes of the previous meeting as a matter of course. I could see, again, that the manager was aiming for an informal atmosphere to the meeting but several of the issues brought up needed addressing with a more serious and, if you like, formal response.
In the event, most of the contributions from relatives at the meeting centred on the standard of care in the home and it was helpful for them to be aired. Issues such as staffing levels, accurate administration of medication and appropriate diet were usefully discussed and I was able to take a back seat and hear about things from other relatives’ perspectives.
As a relative of someone in a care home who is also writing about the experience, I’ve been thinking about the parallels between caring and writing. It occurs to me that both of these can be done either about, for, or as another person. The difference is the distance involved between the person who is caring/ writing and the subject of the caring/writing. Let’s say you care about someone. That means that you take an active interest in someone else’s welfare – it matters to you. He or she is the subject of your concern or, if we apply this to writing, he or she is the subject of your essay, novel, poem or, indeed, blog.
Caring for someone else brings you closer to him or her. It matters more to the carer to be in tune with the person cared for – to get it right. If you try and write for someone, you have to petition on his or her behalf and focus on the issues and feelings which concern your subject.
Finally, caring or writing as someone else requires the greatest imaginative talent. It means walking in someone else’s shoes and trying to imagine living someone else’s life. I doubt the extent to which this is actually possible but imagination is a powerful tool.
Distance is also the issue for a relative of a person in a care home. You have a connection to a ‘loved one’ that entails certain responsibility and implied fellow feeling but the distance you have (which may of course vary) is then changed further by a care home. I would say that being a close relative, such as a spouse, son or daughter of someone in a care home changes the relationship you have with your husband, wife, mother or father into that of an advocate and that it would be useful if care homes embraced that more openly.
The shape and size of advocacy is something I have been trying to get a feel for since Dad entered the care home. Staffing ratios mean that a highly individualised concern and knowledge of someone’s character may be unrealistic to expect. On the other hand, carers need to know how and when to prioritise an individual’s needs as urgent. As a relative, I have on occasion drawn attention to Dad’s situation when I think something important or significant may have been overlooked which could head off a crisis but, unless you have a persistent relative like me who visits frequently, this is unlikely to happen.
This worries me – reacting to a crisis is not a good way to exercise care about, for or as someone. Crises need to be headed off, if possible (and I accept this may not always be), and plans put in place to create different possibilities. When I wrote about activities, it was to suggest that imaginative activities are opportunities for different experiences. Being an advocate, it seems to me that people in a care home need the level of interaction and reassurance which such activities can offer.
Which brings me back to writing. As a form of communication, this blog aims to reach out to both relatives of Dad and relatives of other elderly people and, by covering relevant issues and stories, to show care about, for and as him. Being a relative of someone in a care home is contradictory at times. It feels like desertion. Maybe that’s what this writing is trying to say.
Featured image: Relativity by M.C.Escher. Available at mcescher.com. 1st image: By Cartoon Stock. Available at cartoonstock.com. 2nd image: typewriter by Matt Hanses. Available at bymatthanses.com. 3rd image: Chinese character by Alex Wu, The Epoch Times June 2 2014. Available at: theepochtimes.com – worth looking at for an interesting explanation of the evolution of this Chinese character for relative which originated from the meaning to visit an incarcerated one.