There were two main reasons why I was drawn into being a home and community carer; firstly, I was a people person, and secondly, there were relaxed working hours. When I had started, 33 years ago, I had a five year old son and a seven year old son at home, and a husband who worked as a full time shearer. I was only able to work within school hours.
It was vital that was able to balance my home life and work life. I have been very fortunate in my career that I had an understanding boss at work and a generous husband at home. It hasn’t always been easy to fulfill the wishes and expectations of the clients, however, by building trust with clients and their families our role as the carer is more accepted, especially when clients may initially not feel they need our support.
Being a carer is not just about being the cleaner
Being a carer is not just about being the cleaner. Our role is to care and support those in need, sometime that includes helping them do things they cannot do by themselves and sometimes it’s as simple as keeping them company so they aren’t so lonely. When I look back over the past years I am eternally grateful for the role carers play in caring for others.
One of the biggest highlights of being a carer is the social connection you form with the clients. Over the years we have been discouraged against developing too close a bond to clients but sometimes, in a smaller town, it becomes hard not to bump into clients socially, whether it be shopping or just out and about. Through experience, and perhaps my own maturing over the years, I soon learnt what my boundaries were.
However, all my years of being a carer could not prepare me for my experience when it came to caring for my own mother.
Caring for my mother taught me patience
My father was ten years older than my mother. Dad died twenty five years ago the day he turned 74. He died with from a condition that had slowly deteriorated his health since World War Two. Mum was 64 and for the next 16 years she had good health. With us four children she was able to be well looked after in later years.
Sadly about three years before she died her memory and behaviour began to change. She was living with my brother in the family home and my sister, who also worked as a carer, and I would help out and support mum. Despite having so much experience, I actually found the later years extremely hard with mum. I was so patient with my clients and I loved my job but my heart was breaking seeing mum go through what she did. I used to cover it up and not acknowledge how it was affecting us all.
After three years of battling to support mum at home emotionally with the day care centre, evening activities and respite, we all had to accept that Mum would have to eventually be moved into an aged care facility. We were all happy to do what we could, but we also had our own homes, husbands, wives and families. After many discussions with my siblings and our families, we finally made the decision to place her into care.
The first two months were awful, she had tried to escape and even turned on me even when she tried to strike me with her walking stick. To this day, it still makes me sad that she blamed me for putting her into care. The turning point was after those two months they reassessed her as needing full dementia care. It was a godsend as it meant she was given more appropriate care and turned into my beautiful gentle mum again. At that time she wasn’t much for conversation, but you could see that she was happier. I went each day to see her. And everyday I cried when I left her place because I knew in my heart, as did the others, that this was now her home from now on.
It was an extremely hard time emotionally, I used to think “why I am feeling like this? I work with clients and see them go into care when our services were not enough. Why am I not coping?” After Mum died, I had wonderful news two months later – my first grandchild was born, a baby grand daughter. I wouldn’t say that her birth helped me emotionally, I was completely drained, but spiritually I was alive again.
My mother was one of ten children. Recently, my sister and I visited the aged care centre that mum was in, my uncle, her last brother, is also at this facility. It was bittersweet, we both felt sad to see his condition, but felt happy we could go and give him a cuddle and talk to my cousins and their wives. Sadly, he will probably pass very soon and will be nearly the same age as Mum was. Of the ten siblings, I will only have one aunt left. It’s moments like these where you realise time catches up with you.
Advice to new aged care workers
The best advice I would give new aged care workers would be to try to switch off your own personal life and start as soon as you walk into the client’s home, to show interest and compassion as you provide the care. One other thing I myself would change, if I could go back time, would be to learn not to be so emotionally involved at times and perhaps not take so much to heart.
We see it all in this job. Tears. Happiness. Stress. Tension. Having a sense of humour can make things better, but most of all having a lot of patience and compassion helps us all to survive and enjoy the carer role we have with the aged and disability services.
We have certainly come a long way in being recognised as a wonderful career to be part of. For the young ones thinking of entering aged care as a career, there are so many wonderful opportunities to be educated and apply for and many different positions available. You could be a home carer personal career, assessment officer, administration, case manager position, counselling roles – the sky’s the limit.