About a year ago, my family and I worried what we would do to help ensure the best care for my gran. I visited her and my grandad for the weekend and just an hour or two before I left we had the closest thing to an argument that Helen Soady ever got to. I couldn’t cope with the idea of leaving her without her agreeing to go to the doctor. She knew she didn’t want the inevitable tests that would result from a doctor’s appointment. I didn’t listen very well, but in the end she was so determined I gave up. I worried I wouldn’t see her again.
A few weeks later and I was sitting beside my gran’s bed, looking fiercely at a doctor who seemed to be suggesting she should go to the hospital to have tests, defending her right and capacity to refuse. A week after that (with no hospital visit) the doctor also agreed that she should remain at home, uninterrupted in her departure by medical intervention. We as a family would care for her at home for as long as it took.
My mum was the most amazing person in this caring role, but we were all with her as often as possible. My sister and I stretched ‘possible’ as far as we could. Thanks to a very understanding employer, I took carer’s leave for several weeks. For the first few days my mum and I were there just the two of us. We would take it in turns to almost-sleep on the floor by my gran’s bed whilst the other slept upstairs. We were almost never away from her side. We supported one another, we exhausted ourselves, we cried by Gran’s bed, we laughed in the kitchen (in sleep-deprived hysteria); we forgot what day it was. My sister arrived and the three of us spent our days telling Gran how much we loved her. I told her that when I want to know I am being ‘good’, I think to myself, “What would Gran do?” I told her that I would use the lessons she had taught me to teach my future children about how to do the right thing. We listened as she told us the best stories of her life. What had made it the good life she felt she had? Walking on the beach, sunshine, family…
I have never worked so hard. I have never had such conviction about anything. My gran should have the best death possible.
Since then, I have had plenty of time now to reflect on why this was so important. Gran was a special person. I know everyone thinks that about at least someone in their family, but you are a lucky person if you have ever known anybody as selfless and loving as Helen Soady. Gran was happy if everyone around her was happy, and she was unhappy if not. She never complained about the difficulties she experienced, but she fretted about other people’s difficulties. She cared about people. Not about status. Not about money. And here is how I see it: for people who live their lives ambitiously chasing status and money, well, hopefully they are able to pay for excellent professional care when they come to need it. For people like my gran, they have earned the love and commitment of the people around them. It wouldn’t matter if she had been penniless – Helen Soady that knew she was rich when her family created a rota of full-time care to tend to her every need in her last few weeks.
I am lucky to share family and work life with people who support and affirm my efforts. But I know what my compass is. If I do something to achieve the praise of other people, I have lost my direction. If, like my gran, I focus my efforts on what I can do to help other people find happiness and am content to be invisible in doing so – then I know I am on the right track.