Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: I join the night watch

06 May 2023 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

Geraldine Durrant, full-time carer for her husband, Patrick, extends her thoughts to all the others out there who must stoically make it through the night, staying awake through the early hours of the morning…

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

At 2.45am one morning I was in bed, both utterly exhausted and quite unable to sleep.

For 48 hours Patrick had suffered from one of his increasingly regular bouts of diarrhoea and I suspected both the shower and the washing machine – which had done sterling service – felt quite as tired as I did.

Before settling Patrick to sleep at 10.00pm, I had given him his second hose-down of the day – which was rapidly followed by his third at 12.30am and his fourth two hours later.

Wobbly as he was with tiredness, and befuddled with sleeping pills, getting Patrick into the shower was like wrangling a balky toddler; he was less than cooperative and I was frightened of him falling.

But eventually I got him washed – again.

And back into bed – again.

Then I plodded wearily back to my own room where I sat for 20 minutes listening for the regular breathing over the intercom, which would tell me he had finally dropped off and I could consider settling down myself.

But sleep wouldn’t come come, so I threw the bedroom windows wide open and looked out over the local neighbourhood, where a few lights pierced the inky darkness leaving me to wonder who else was also awake in the early hours – and why?

Were they young parents soothing a crying baby? 

Tired shift workers? 

Battered wives, or anxious insomniacs?

Or were they on 24/7 duty caring for a family member who – like The Windmill – never slept…

We can’t know what goes on behind closed doors, but I knew that all over the country there were many other lights burning quietly through the night… 

And I wondered how previous generations had coped.

I have the internet, grocery deliveries, disposable nappies, a washing machine and tumble dryer and I can drive…

My own grandmother, left widowed and penniless with ten children to support, took in laundry to feed them – with ten children of her own to keep clean and no washing machine…

There is a family story that she went to the dentist to have a tooth removed and was told it would cost “two shillings with anaesthetic, or a shilling without…”

She stoically chose the “shilling without” – those twelve extra coppers being beyond her purse.

And even 30 years ago my mother faced a tough time caring for my father without a car, or family close by. 

“When you are too old to drive,” she said sadly when my father gave up his licence, ”you are too old to walk.”  

I simply cannot imagine how they did it.

A monk I once interviewed said the reason religious rise to pray throughout the night is that “the hours of darkness are when the world has most need of prayers…”

So I offer one for all those other silent watchers in the night.

God bless us. Every one…

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

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