Kate Mosse has written an extraordinary book about caring which highlights not only her personal story but how we, as a country, care for others.
She writes about dignity in ageing and how we balance that difficult tightrope of being a daughter, partner, sibling first and a carer, second. What I found especially moving was the discussion about how we are all people first and the roles of carer and patient, which nobody really wants(!) should not define the new status quo that we find ourselves in.
I’m just starting to be in this position myself, I have elderly parents and a Granny in her 100’s, which is an incredible privilege. But as the years progress, and in particular, as my dear old dad has Alzheimer’s, I can feel the role reversal and feel keenly the need to ‘step up.’ Reading this book felt like having a friend in the same position as me. There was comfort in that sense of not being alone and, even though our circumstances are different, there were commonalities, that I think run across the board.
I’m not alone and the figures are quite stark for women in midlife. Did you know that if you are a middle-aged woman, you have a 50% chance of being a carer for an elderly or sick relative? Mosse discusses how caring is a feminist issue, an often-unrecognised labour force working tirelessly to keep the cogs turning. She touches on the care home crisis in the UK, and the horror of how politicians treated our elders during Covid. The mind-numbing expense of care homes and it all! There is a sense of rallying against the situation, whilst still having a very real and practical and loving (all at once!) job to do.
“Unpaid carers are the pillars of our health and social care systems, yet many say they feel invisible and ignored,’ wrote Hele Walker, CEO of Carers UK in 2020 and is quoted by Mosse.
Mosse writes from a position of privilege which she often notes. She can afford good care for her elders allowing them to live with her, but the emotions are felt by us all. Occasional guilt, frustration, exhaustion. She also feels incredible love for her family and caring is not a duty that she feels she must just grit her teeth and get on with. Again, she is fortunate to have such a great relationship with her family and she recognises this.
There was a touching honesty to this book. At times Mosse worries that she is coming up short, something I can relate to, living so far away from my beloved oldies. There is guilt and sibling relationships to navigate. Who does what? Who is best placed? Do they even want you to help? Lots of big conversations to be had, whilst trying not to upset anyone.
I really enjoyed the balance in this book, it isn’t doom and gloom. It is about the pleasure gained from multi-generational relationships, the pleasure, the fun times. It is joyous in the celebration of life as well as being aware of the negatives. In many ways, it is a book about respect and compassion for others.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is caring, or to those who have a family member that is doing the caring. I’ve bought a copy for my siblings and am so pleased that I have found this book. She will be a friend in my pocket over the next few years.
Book club questions
- What does the phrase ‘an extra pair of hands’ mean to you personally?
- Do you think this book would give emotional support to carers?
- What does ‘caring’ mean to you?
- Do you need to have a conversation with your family about care and the future?
- Have you changed your view about the ageing process?
- Have you changed your view about carers?
- What is your biggest takeaway from reading this book?