W Bro Martin Vidler SLGR (LGCR) speaks
As part of my work within the Metropolitan Grand Almoner's Team, I attended two of the first three carer aware workshops organised over Zoom in association with the Carers UK Charity, who were happy to receive our recent donation of £48,000. At one of these sessions, I was invited to talk about my experience as a carer for my elderly mother who now, at the age of 89, has Alzheimer's disease as well as a plethora of other debilitating conditions.
Following a sudden illness in 2014, my mother was hospitalised and underwent surgery for intussusception, a condition that usually affects young children. Following her eventual discharge from the hospital, I moved in with my mother to look after her while she convalesced. From previous experience with other family members with Alzheimer's and informed by the lectures we have organised at Florence Nightingale Lodge No 706, I realised that my mother had started to exhibit some of the early signs. I organised an assessment, and sadly, it confirmed that she was in the early stages of Dementia.
She was initially able to live quite independently, and I was aided by an aunt, my mother's older sister, who lived locally. I was able to split my time between my mother and my own family. Sadly, the following year my aunt developed Myeloma and had to undergo cancer treatment. My caring duties had certainly been cranked up a notch, with my aunt, who lived alone requiring more assistance than my mother. At the same time, I was trying to run a business.
Luckily, I was able to scale my business down and devote the necessary time to look after these two old ladies who have done so much for me throughout my life. My aunt's deterioration was quite rapid. The time from diagnosis to death was only three months. The end of her life was totally horrendous, and, when I think back on it, she seemed to have suffered for much longer than three months.
Over the next couple of years, my mother steadily got worse and on a cold November morning, at around 2 am, she decided to go see her sister wearing nothing but a nightdress. I suppose if she could forget to get dressed, she could also forget that her sister has passed away. She only managed a few hundred yards when she fell, broke a hip, and went on to develop Pneumonia. Once again, my mother tweaked the nose of the Grim Reaper and was discharged from the hospital. These circumstances prompted another assessment of her mental capability, and she was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Up to this point, the support I received from the NHS and the local authority had been somewhat sketchy, to say the least. But once the Alzheimer's diagnosis was confirmed, support became much more forthcoming. The Carers UK Charity can provide sage advice for carers trapped in that limbo period.
I took steps to ensure that what happened in November was not going to happen again. I installed cameras in several rooms backed up with Amazon Echos, enabling a two-way audio exchange without my mother having to answer a telephone. I made her home as safe as possible, allowing me to enjoy a modicum of freedom, without which I am sure any carer would struggle mentally.
When my mother was initially informed that she was in the early stages of Dementia, she asked me not to take her away from her neighbours and friends and the home she had lived in for fifty years. So, I made her a promise, and as a Freemason, I completely understand the importance of an obligation. For the time being, then, I am happy to do what I consider my duty, and to do it with a good heart. When it comes to the people we love, we are all capable of doing the things that we thought we would never have to do. Strangely, her not always knowing that I am her son makes doing what must be done somewhat easier.
I am privileged to have a good support network in place. This allows my unfettered participation in the fraternity, and that has certainly helped maintain my mental health throughout lockdown. I know there will come a time when the next level of care will be required, and I will ultimately do what is best for everyone. I will at least know that I did what she wanted for as long as I could.
My story is hardly unique. There are an inordinate number of carers within our fraternity, many of them unaware that they are actually 'carers' because they are only doing what comes naturally. Carers UK and the Metropolitan Grand Almoner's team will help those in our fraternity who care for a parent, a wife or partner or even a child to realise that there is support available and provide direction on how to access it.
To contact the Carers UK Charity: https://www.carersuk.org/
if you are a Carer and wish to attend a CarerAware workshop or get some advice to email firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 46 October 2021 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons - Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.
Read more articles in the Arena Issue 46.