By Claire Henderson, People Coach

She was ace my Mum. During the 1960’s, she was one of the first women in the country to be coding computer mainframes. By the time she retired, she was a maths teacher and also Head of Computing at Manchester High School for Girls. She loved tennis, rambling and Cliff Richard. One summer holiday in the early 1980’s, I fondly remember her bringing a Research Machines 380Z home from school. This was my first induction into computing. She was loving and caring and always there for me and my big brother, no matter what.

My Mum, Elizabeth, was diagnosed officially with Alzheimer’s about seven years ago. At that point she still knew who she was, where she lived and who we were, but she was starting to get a bit forgetful and confused. The disease has continued to progress and during the pandemic she went missing a few times. We had to call 999 to help find her. Thankfully, good samaritans found and rescued her from harm.

Since then, she started to feed the cat muesli, we’ve found bananas in the dishwasher and spent cat litter in the washing machine. All of these things were manageable, but every day the disease continued to eat away at her brain. She’s now incontinent, unable to walk or communicate and she struggles with swallowing. My 87-year-old Dad is a legend and provided care for her without question until she moved into a care home last year – a true test of 55 years of marriage.

Co-op have been brilliant in supporting me to be able to be there for both Mum and Dad over the last few years. I’ve worked really flexibly to be able to provide them with the support they need.

This has varied from things like being able to take Mum to medical appointments during work time; being there when medical professionals were coming to their house; working from their house so that Dad was free to go out; dropping everything and dashing round when there’d been an accident or Mum had gone missing or just simply taking time out to be with them, providing company for Dad and care for Mum.  Dad’s been very lonely, almost a prisoner in his own home as Mum wasn’t safe to be left in the house on her own.

At times, the emotional burden feels colossal. Watching my Mum deteriorate before my eyes, a shadow of her former self who can no longer communicate, feed herself or even recognise me. I feel very fortunate that my manager and team genuinely care for me and continue to trust to me with the space to perform to my best and balance the caring responsibilities for both Mum and Dad. 

More information

Carer’s provide unpaid care and support to a family member or friend who has a disability, illness, mental health condition, or who needs extra help as they grow older. Many carers are invisible in the workforce, reluctant to discuss their personal situation and unaware of the support available to them.

This week, Co-op are marking Carer’s Week, an annual campaign to raise awareness and highlight the challenges carers face and recognise the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK.

PACT is our dedicated colleague network to provide a safe environment for colleagues who care for children, elderly parents, disabled partners, or other family/friends, to share experiences and support each other whatever their circumstances. You can find out more here including how to get in touch with them if you need some additional support.

Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your story Claire – very emotional. Your mum sounded amazing and sounds like you have been amazing too. Mine is a similar story to yours and I have found things really horrendous over the last year. My mum has dementia and lost her eyesight last year. Her husband is losing his memory too and they are refusing external care. I live 60 miles away and am an only child. I am also not in the best of health but I go every week and work on the 6 trains I have to get there and back. I am still trying to live life but am riggled with guilt but I know it would be but my mum would have wanted. There have been times where I didn’t know if I could carry on but somehow found an inner strength. I will be reaching out to the support group as its comforting to know we are not alone.

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  2. Claire thanks for sharing your story. Your Mum sounds like an inspirational lady and it must be so difficult for you as a carer for my Mum I know how difficult it is watching them change.

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  3. Thank you for sharing, this is a really touching read and you deliver the experience you are having with grace and dignity – I can feel the joy and pain but happiness and love are so obvious within the family unit. Powerful.

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  4. What a moving story, Claire, and what a wonderful memory to have of your mum in her earlier years particularly. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. Hi Claire, sorry to hear what you are going through. Our family have been through something very similar over the last few years and sadly we lost my Dad to dementia only a few weeks ago. I’ve only been at co-op for a year but I couldn’t have asked to be in a better place whilst all this was happening. Everyone has been so kind and supportive. If you ever need to chat with someone that understands what you are going through please reach out. Cat Ellis (S&T)

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  6. Your Mum sounds fantastic Claire, thank you for sharing her story and yours.

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  7. Thanks for sharing Claire, such a touching story. Both you and your mum are amazing!

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  8. Elizabeth sounds incredible and she has obviously passed on those super woman genes. Well done for sharing this story to help others Claire xx

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  9. Thanks for sharing your story Claire in such an honest and moving way. Your Mum sounds like an incredible woman.

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