The joy of caring

During the lockdown, this country saw an upsurge in caring for others in the community.  For some, caring felt like a duty, for others it was a joy.  Here, Elaine Biles, recounts her long history of care for those around her.

I suppose I have always loved caring.  I loved to visit my grandmother who lived in the village and as soon as I learned to drive, I would drop her off at her sister’s in Fulbrook.  And when that great aunt fell ill and was in Burford Hospital – I was only 12 then – I visited her in my lunch break, so I suppose it all started at that early age.

I have always loved older people as they have so many stories to tell and they love to hear our stories too.  This is caring because we both feel good.

I helped to care for my mother during a short illness and then I looked after my father for the 22 years that he lived with us.  That left me to look after Steve, my husband, who developed dementia in 2009.  This was very challenging and I had my work cut out.  I soon realised there were two people in this struggle and to survive, it had to suit us both.  Extra help was needed so I employed carers to take Steve out and about, to local clubs, coffee mornings and the like.

This meant I could still get out to lunch with friends or my hobby of line dancing.  I gave talks in Oxford about how to care for dementia sufferers and I found attending Dementia Cafes a good help.  I know that I needed to prepare my own life for when the inevitable happened.  I was only getting two or three hours sleep per night so my own mental health was suffering.  So Steve went to a care home in Faringdon and the staff there adored him.  He passed away in April this year.

Now it’s time for me – or is it?  The caring role continues.  To fill the void in my life, I volunteered at the ICE centre in Witney, helping at their Saturday club.  I visit a few local people for care and companionship.  I’m also busy up at the allotments which I find very satisfying.

So the joy of caring is, I hope, plain for all to see.  It gives back as much as it takes from you.  Looking after my husband for over 12 years was the most precious gift I could ever have given; time spent together was tough but priceless.

April-May 2021