Caring – an act of love

By Chief Advocate Ian Henschke

Many of our values come from our own experiences growing up. None of my grandparents went into an aged care home. When they needed care they moved into our home.

I can still see my grandfather sitting on the veranda in the late afternoon sun raising his hand and giving me a wave as I came home from school. I didn’t realise it at the time but my first weeks in Grade 3 were to be his last weeks of a long life.

Riding a bike in the city he was knocked over. He needed to recover but got a lung infection. He had been a railway worker and eventually a stationmaster. He liked smoking tobacco, even chewing it. He was born in the 1880s of German speaking parents and English was his second language.

He used to ask me to come and tell him what I’d learnt at school that day. He told me about his time on what we now know as “The Ghan” railway line. He had helped load a piano onto the back of a camel and saw it head off to a station homestead. I loved his stories.

He would reach into his pocket after we had our after school catch-up and take out a peppermint from a brown paper bag and give it to me and then say “Why don’t you pop around the shops and buy you and me another bag of lollies. But don’t tell your parents I gave you the money.” And then he would glance around and slip me a coin.

Grandfather had that coin ready when I came home because he never put his hand in his pocket. He would have checked his stationmaster’s watch and known when I was due.

I don’t remember exactly how he died but he went away in an ambulance one night and not long after there was a funeral.

"I was too young to be a carer but I learnt a lot about caring. My mother cared not just for her parents but for her husband’s parents as well and others in the family. When it came to her time we cared for her."

She died just before her eighty eighth birthday. She was due to go into respite care on the Monday that she died. She said on the Friday before she died “Oh well, if it’s come to this.” 

Caring for someone can be hard work but it is an act of love. Blanche D’Alpulget spoke beautifully about her caring role with Bob Hawke recently.

You can watch her interview with the ABC here.

"Carers provide more than a billon dollars of unpaid service to the community every week. More than two thirds are women and most carers are older Australians."

National Seniors cares about carers and so we are continuing to get them the help they need.

Our CEO Professor John McCallum told the Royal Commission into Aged Care back in February “We have more than 120,000 older Australians who have been through all the hoops and have been assessed as needing home care at a certain level, but they are dying before the help is delivered.”

That list has now grown to almost 130,000 and includes 16,000 who died waiting. 

One of those was my sister-in-law Laurena. 

My brother Phil, and his family and friends cared for her but they needed that extra help that should have been available. Phil put a submission into the Royal Commission telling his story in the hope it would bring about action to help others. If you have a story I urge you to do so. 

You can make a submission here or share your story with National Seniors via the button below.

It is important we continue to fight on this and the government should not wait until the end of the Royal Commission to take action. The Commission Chief counsel, Dr Tim McEvoy QC said in his summation about the home care wait list: “It’s cruel, unfair, disrespectful and discriminatory.”

We can and must do better.

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