Love your elders

Susie Fowler-Watt's mother and brother

Susie Fowler-Watt's mother and brother - Credit: Submitted

Value the opportunity to help your older relatives, says the BBC Look East presenter as she spends some important time with her parents

I AM writing this at my parents’ house, where I’ve been staying for a few days. Both my mother and father have been poorly, and so need an extra pair of (slightly more youthful) hands to help out. It is just me and them, and despite the worry about their health, it feels like a mixture of mini-break and time-travel.

Mini-break because it is very peaceful, and I only have one thing to think about: them. At home, it is an endless juggle of work, children, animals and chores. Here, I wake up naturally, when my body tells me to, rather than the 0-60mph awakening I get at home, usually from the human alarm clock that is my three-year-old boy: “MUMMY! It’s morning time!” Also, my parents are so grateful for any food/drink/help I provide. I am more used to the “Ughh! That’s DIZ-GUST-ING!” reaction.

Time-travel because in a way it’s like going back to the 1980s. My two brothers are quite a bit older than me, so often it was just the three of us - my mother, father and me - at home together. At the moment I can hear my Dad watching the sport on telly, and my mother talking on the phone: the story of my childhood! There’s something wonderfully relaxing and reassuring about just hanging out with your parents, whatever age you are.

Then there is another emotion added into the mix - one of my old school friends heard my parents weren’t well, and dropped me a line. She said she too had been looking after her parents, and what an honour and privilege it was. I thought it was such a beautiful thing to say, and I couldn’t agree more.

If, like me, you have been lucky enough to have parents who’ve always been there for you, providing constant unconditional love and support, it is wonderful to be able to give something back. My parents taught me all I know about being kind: they have given and given, without expecting anything in return. Now, finally, I have a way of repaying them - with kindness.

Let’s see the full picture of patients

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When my mother was in her local hospital, she was in a ward with several other elderly women. They all looked old and frail, and some were very confused. The woman in the bed next door was not at all well. I got talking to her niece, who was visiting, and she told me about her wonderful aunt and the kind of person she was.

It made me stop and think about all those patients. Most of them weren’t in a position to tell the nurses and doctors anything much about themselves and the life they have lived. I thought the medical team was doing a wonderful job caring for these ladies, but I wished I’d taken in some old photos to show them just who my mother is - this beautiful woman who brought us up, who trained as a nurse herself and came top in her year, who’s worked hard all her life, volunteered, and infuriatingly, never makes a fuss.

There are probably some sort of hygiene rules against this, but wouldn’t it be good if all elderly patients had pictures of their younger selves or their families by their hospital beds? Not only would it help doctors and nurses get more of an idea of the whole person they are, it might also prompt conversation and memories for the patients themselves.

Face to face though far apart

One of the things that has made it easier being away from home for a spell is FaceTime. I’ve had to break off from writing this column several times in order to talk to my daughter, who’s been holding up her maths homework to the camera and asking for advice! I get to blow kisses to my little boy, and he can show me the card he has made me at nursery.

Last night my brother FaceTimed us from Sri Lanka, where he works. He could see how my parents were (although, let’s face it, none of us look our best on video calls!), and it was like he was just next door.

Technology may have changed family life for the worse in lots of ways (everyone looking at their gadgets rather than talking to each other), but for those separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, it’s a massive change for the better.