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“Keeping my promise to care”: Ana’s story

My name is Ana, I’m 29 and I’m a carer for my grandmother who has dementia for 15 years. I started caring for my grandmother (Babcia in Polish) on 30th May 2016, the day my grandfather (Dziadzio) passed away. In June 2016, I also gave birth to my daughter with my grandmother as my birthing partner.

Those few months: becoming a carer, a mum and a funeral planner all at once felt huge, all of which I’ve never done before. In 2020 I also split up with my partner, so my support circle got even smaller. Although I wasn’t feeling 100%, I couldn’t stop as I still had my grandmother and daughter to look after. This affected my mental and physical health, but since then it has got better.

My grandma is 85 and relies on me for everything. I change her, take her out, organise hospital appointments. But it’s also days out, holidays, dancing, singing, and smiling. My daughter gets to grow a beautiful bond with her great grandmother, and I get to help my grandmother lead a fun and fulfilling life. Both my grandparents took the time to look after me from the age of 14 so to me, it is an honour to look after such a kind-hearted woman.

Although this is my life now, her routine is my routine, it’s all become second nature. In a way, she is just like another child (but one I didn’t give birth to). My daughter is 5 and getting bigger and my grandmother is becoming more reliant on me.

When the Covid-19 lockdown hit it was a tricky period for us. We missed the dementia days out, trips to enjoy the cinema, café and music based at the Wyvern Theatre and Swindon Arts Centre. Having to stay in really affected my grandmother’s mobility. Three and a half years ago she had walked up Jacob’s ladder in Cheddar Gorge. Now I have to hold her hands to walk down the hallway. It was such a drastic change, despite walking around the house and in the garden my grandmother has lost a lot of leg strength.

However, I also had my daughter to entertain, so we made the most of it. We were in the garden constantly; we built a Wendy house and my grandmother planted flowers. Thankfully it was a beautiful summer and we made everything come to us.

Joining Swindon Carers Centre in 2017 and the ‘Our Time’ group for young adult carers has been a real blessing. It makes a real difference to have those few hours to take time out and forget almost everything. The first outing after Covid-19 was bowling. Although I felt like I had forgotten how to socialise, it was lovely day out to spend time with people who are in the same position as me.

Caring for someone can be challenging, but as soon as I see my grandmother smile, or the secret language between my daughter and grandmother, it lifts my heart. Sometimes I wake up in the morning to see my daughter missing from her bed, because she’s curled up and cuddled in with my grandmother. There is no better feeling to see the love my grandmother has from my daughter, they dance in the kitchen, they make sandwiches, do crafts and paintings on the table. My daughter shares her chocolates, they read stories together and each night she gives her a kiss before bedtime.

I do think people need to know more about the work unpaid carers do. They need to come to someone’s house, be in the background and watch everything they do. Or they need to wear their shoes for a day, to do the non-stop running around needed to make sure the people we care for are happy, safe and cared for.

Thankfully I have an amazing support bubble thanks to my daughter’s godmother. For the past 5.5 years of caring for my grandmother, she has always been on the end of the phone. Even with her own struggles after catching Covid-19, having long Covid, and relatives passing she has been a rock in my life.

When you’re a carer, it’s 24/7. If we get back home from work, we’re still working. And when we don’t have a job, it is because we’re caring for someone full-time. Unpaid carers always have something to think about or to do. We don’t stop. When I’m ill, I can’t rest and stay in bed. There is always something to do whether it’s the washing, cooking or making a cup of tea, it’s all for someone else.

A promise I will always keep is the one I promised to my grandfather the day we went to put fresh flowers on his mother’s grave. That promise was to look after my grandmother for as long as I physically can, and I will keep that promise.