Saturday, 11 August 2012

On Being a Carer

Jean and I have been partners for 35 years. For half of these she has suffered from Alzheimer's Disease, and I have been at home caring for her for the past 7 of these. Plymouth University genrously let me work from home; Jean used to accompany me to classes and on lecture trips abroad, but it became too stressful for her. We have had Anna as a live-in carer for 15 months. (By the way, she has gone to the BMX Olympic biking contest in Leigh-on-Sea today.)

We first met when we taught together at Exeter University, where Jean was the Head of the programme. It was great working so closely together for 20 years, and we remain in touch with many of our former students. Some are visiting us this month.

Jean was always a beautiful woman, and she has put on not an ounce of weight; she is 79 years old now, but is often taken to be 10 or 20 years younger. She walks 20 miles a week, and even runs a bit, though she never did when she was younger. But she suffers some existential as well as orientation distress now, which is horrible for her.

I can never forgive the writer John Bailey for publishing his account of the decline into dementia of his wife, the great novelist, Iris Murdoch (later made into a film). A literary pygmy in comparison with his creative genius of a partner, I see Bailey's book as a kind of retaliaton for her deserved fame and his equally deserved lack of it. In my eyes, he demeaned her in an attempt to draw some attention to himself.

I owe a vast debt of love and gratitude to Jean, who always supported me (for a time financially as well as emotionally, when my children were younger), and who never sought her own advantage, though she was universally respected as a researcher in public services for children. It is both a pleasure and a privilege to be able to be with her for a few more years, perhaps longer.

Jean's mother cared for her father, her parents-in-law, her brother-in-law and her husband for over 40 years; Jean herself cared for her parents. As you sow, so shall you reap.

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