The world has changed
Whilst working as a hospice chaplain, I was part of a team, teaching others in the local community about holistic palliative care. I facilitated a spiritual care session to employees from nursing, residential homes, and domiciliary services. I was dumbstruck when one of the course participants described this incident: she was once providing care for an elderly resident whilst the resident’s son and grandson were visiting. The son, turning to his own son as he pointed to the carer said, “You’d better work hard at your exams, or you’ll end up doing a job like she is doing!”
Caring has never been a glamorous, well-paid, or respected occupation. It has not been rated highly as a career choice. People who provide care, the majority of whom are women, work unsociable hours, get paid barely the minimum wage, and have to do some tasks that many of us balk at. There are also a whole army of carers who do all these things, and more, with barely any financial recompense, even less notice, and no time off. They care for a member of their own family, in their own homes.
Coronavirus has thrust carers, and all those who work in the National Health Service, into the limelight. They are making the headlines; they are being interviewed on the news. Now it is not highly-paid famous footballers that we are applauding from the terraces on a Saturday afternoon; it is these unsung, unnamed, selfless individuals whom we will be clapping from our doorsteps and balconies on a Thursday evening.
In 2008, when there was a financial crisis, there was not a great deal of sympathy for the bankers. Many of us barely understood what the crisis really meant though we paid for the banks’ bailout with years of austerity. No one was clapping then. Now we are dealing with a different kind of crisis, and the focus of our attention is on those who are providing medical and practical support to those most vulnerable, the sick and the dying. This is tangible and we can all identify it, for it could be our Mum, our Gran, or ourselves needing their care.
The pyramid of what society perceives as important has been upturned. The previously undervalued and the low-paid have found voice; carers are finally respected. The financially successful, the glamorous, the celebrities, are like the rest of us, behind closed doors.
Heather gave up her job to care for her elderly frail mother who has dementia and is bed-bound. She cares for her so well, that what was expected to be for a matter of weeks, has turned into months. For much of this time Heather has been at odds with the rest of society: unable to further her career or to socialise. Since this coronavirus pandemic has struck, however, more people from Heather’s previous life have been in touch with her. Suddenly people’s fast-paced, hectic way of life has been forcibly slowed, and they are remembering people like Heather, and empathising with her.
I used to visit Heather and her mum, and we spent a meaningful hour playing beautiful music, saying prayers, eating cake and watching the birds; a restricted lifestyle but with simple pleasures. It is a very mindful and attentive way of living which Heather and her mum have discovered by being in isolation for two years. Perhaps we should not only applaud Heather and other carers like her, but learn from them; how to live in a gentler, slower way; valuing the gifts of giving and receiving kindness; and noticing and appreciating the delights that are all around us.