Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: From ‘wife’ to ‘carer’

03 Dec 2022 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

In her fifth instalment of ‘Midsummer madness,’ blogger Geraldine Durrant reflects upon the moment she officially transitioned from ‘wife’ to ‘carer’…

You can find the previous instalment of Geraldine’s column here.

An envelope dropped through the door a month after Patrick’s diagnosis, it looked innocuous enough but as I opened it and shook out the contents it delivered a stab to my heart.

It was official – I was no longer my husband’s wife, I was his carer and had a laminated card to put in my wallet, and a second smaller one to attach to my keys, as proof of my change of status.

I was glad to have them, not least in the face of the myriad of posters at the hospital sternly warning that only patients themselves would be allowed to enter “because of Covid”.

But in the event, they were scarcely necessary.

The sight of a tired wife tugging a reluctant and shaky old man to his appointments was proof enough of my right of co-entry.

One receptionist, as she ushered us both through without question, paused for a moment, and whispered to me “It’s not easy is it..?”

She meant to be kind.

But kindness was something I could no longer bear and as we took our places in the waiting room, I felt my eyes start to fill…

My status changed in other ways too – not least because I was now our sole driver.

I had been aware for some time that Patrick was less and less keen to get behind the wheel – the long months of lockdown had greatly reduced the occasions when we went out and his confidence had suffered accordingly.

But while I still felt safe being driven by him, I could see his increasingly timid driving style was beginning to grate on other road-users, and one afternoon in particular brought things home to me.

We had had to go to Crowborough, an un-alarming and pleasant half-hour trip across the Ashdown Forest which saw Patrick honked at four times by other more impatient drivers.

He had done nothing “wrong” but he was no longer quick enough not to irritate his fellow road users – and irritation leads to accidents.

There were one or two incidents too when we had been out in the evening and he had suddenly been “lost” in the dark on familiar roads around our home, and I realised it was time to hang up his car keys.

I had my own car, which I used mainly for shopping and buzzing around locally, but like very many other wives I had always left the “serious” long-distance driving to Patrick.

Now I was going to have to get my act together – starting with learning how to put petrol in the car.

Ridiculous as it sounds – and it IS ridiculous – Patrick had always taken responsibility for maintaining and filling the cars, and after 40 years on the road I realised I had no idea even what sort of petrol it took. 

Nor had I ever driven the “family car”, preferring my own 16-year-old Metro which was entirely devoid of any modern bells and whistles. 

Then my little car failed its MOT. 

I felt a pang of sadness when I abandoned it at the garage. It had never caused me a moment’s discomfort and as I stripped it of its story tapes and shopping bags my fond pat of farewell on its roof felt like a Judas kiss.  

I told my eldest son I had behaved with monstrous ingratitude after its many years of faithful service, but he assured me it wasn’t destined for the breaker’s yard after all – it would be spending its retirement years on a lovely farm, watching lambs and baby chickens gambolling in the grass…

I tried hard to believe him…

But if Patrick was relieved to hand over responsibility for household transport, I had to get to grips with modern technology.

My Metro had only dreamed of headlights that went on and off by themselves; air conditioning; central locking and endless warning bleeps about backing out, seat belts, or who-knows-what… 

While a parking brake which puts itself on and off is an innovation I continue to regard with healthy suspicion… although I confess it has yet to let me down.

But if Patrick was happy to give up driving, he was also anxious that we should tell someone to make it “official”.

His preferred choice was Boris Johnson, but to be honest I felt, post Covid and post Brexit, Boris had enough on his plate, so we settled for taking Patrick’s name off the car insurance.

I had heard of new widows who, like me, had only ever been named drivers on their husband’s policies, being denied the years of ‘no claims’ their careful decades of driving should have earned them.

But the young man I spoke to was kind and understanding, and he transferred our blameless record to a new solo account.

So at 70, I found myself – for the first time in my life – with a car insurance policy in my own name, which felt both very sad, but also very grown-up.

Geraldine Durrant is a retired journalist, feature writer and children’s author who – since her husband was diagnosed with dementia a year ago – has kept a diary about her experiences as his carer. We have the privilege of publishing Geraldine’s incredibly personal story on our blog every Saturday, so keep your eye out for more on this series next Saturday.

If what Geraldine’s writing resonates with you in some way, please do leave a comment to let her know.

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