Mam, aka Peaches, is 76 this year. Dad 75, aka Yorkie, looks after Peaches. Mam was diagnosed with dementia about eight years ago. Although we now realise, she had it for many years before her diagnosis. She was always a character with a mouth like a sewer and a heart of pure gold. It was normal to find anything from alcoholics to drug addicts or any other outsiders at our dinner table, as we grew up in Finglas. She would feed them and listen to their woes, as she threw a stew together. She ran summer projects and was involved heavily in activism and her community. She was one of the first people to receive the Unsung Hero’s Award from the Lord Mayor. She reared eight children, often on a shoestring, despite Dad being an exceptionally hard worker. But this never stopped her generosity of time, spirit, food or money. She was a walking talking saint with a fondness for the odd filthy joke. Dementia took everything, but her spirit. She no longer knows our names and relies on all eight of us, plus Dad, to give her the 24-hour care she needs. She still laughs, at what we’re not sure, but she laughs and curses a whole lot too.
Dad, another saint, applies her make-up (thanks to a quick lesson from my sister, Carmel) shops for clothes (sometimes even gets it right) and showers her every day to maintain her dignity. The whole family try to help by giving Dad time out to meet friends in the pub (he’s old school, can’t teach an old dog new tricks). He gets 5-6 days off per week, from 10-6 pm, through a combination of day centre, home help of six hours per week, family members routinely stepping in and private care from Bernie our saving grace. This routine is only in place in recent times. Before then, it was exceptionally difficult, as the whole family put in long hours while also working full time and raising our own families. This routine is so important for Dad, as caring for a person with dementia is exhausting. Last week, we sat down and talked to Dad about what was about to unfold with the Coronavirus and how incredibly dangerous it was for both of them.
We outlined Mam’s other conditions that would mean certain death if she caught this virus. He listened, didn’t agree instantly. Our sister Christine from America drove the message home. As did our sister from Wexford and myself. Maybe we reinforced it about five times before he acknowledged we might be right. It wouldn’t be the first time he took us to the task either. As usual, he “listens to the radio ” and thinks he knows it all.
Since Friday, the 13th of March, our Dad has not seen the outside of his hall door. He doesn’t know when he will either. He has not only given our lovely mother full-on 24-hour care, with no help, but he also has not complained about it once. He is giving her life, literally. He will not risk her health, such is his absolute love for her, by allowing anyone to cross his door. When we call him, he cracks jokes and chats to the grandkids. He will talk about what he fed Mam that day, how much she liked her dinner and how he’s managed to clip her toenails (a huge victory as anyone caring for a person with dementia knows!)
When we talk about heroes during this time, we are inclined to talk about doctors, nurses, midwives, and HCAs, even shop assistants. But we seldom mention these unsung heroes. The elderly men and women who are at home. Some scared and vulnerable, in this time of uncertainty. Some like my Dad, taking care of their loved ones, with conditions that would wear thin a person half their age. Others may be all alone. This is a tribute to you all, but most of all my Dad, Michael Carroll. As the old saying goes, ‘they broke the mould when they made you’, a true hero. Thank you, Dad.