Finding meaning in these challenging times

In the last month, my dad has died of lung cancer and my mother has been moved into a care home to assess how to best manage her dementia and physical health issues. Having spent most of the last year caring for them with my siblings, and having had them there as anchors in the 52 years of my life, I suddenly cannot speak to or see them. It is at this time I have been thinking about how we find meaning in all this.

I was asked to make a short reflection on meaning by Andy Ryan from Changing Lives around Christmas time. Over the course of the last year, during COVID, I have been heavily involved in caring for my mum and dad as they reach the end of their lives. At times I have struggled to make sense of it.

At the same time as this, my life goes on, living with my partner and teenage daughters in lockdown and working full time in a health and social care charity during COVID.

I have been able to draw motivation from my parents’ resilience and acceptance of life’s challenges. Being with and watching my dad’s health deteriorate, I was able to witness how he stoically made sense of what was happening to him and his impending death and the meaning he took from activities he could enjoy. Towards the end, these enjoyments became ever decreasing and were family, dogs, having a bath, fancied food such, as fruit loaf and sausage rolls, and smoking. For my mum, although she could not always grasp what was happening to him or who he was, they continued to share loving moments and banter. Her dementia is such that she has always found meaning in the present and what is going on around her. She can, for example, connect with a baby in a café and make them laugh. She continues to find meaning and contentment in her new life in the care home.

So, I can draw inspiration from the meaning I can see them making out of the end of their lives, both together and apart.

At times like this I look for and find meaning in connecting with others. Meaning for me in this sense is the strength I find from the connectivity and support I can draw on from others. I have learnt that in the darkest of times I have to reach out to others for that support, as it does not just appear unsolicited. Whether this is my parents’ neighbours, support service staff, siblings, good friends, colleagues or the Rington’s tea man, I’ve found that if I look for support in the challenges I face, it is there.

As I was caring for my parents, I focused on making it as good as it could be and that is what I am still doing for my mum. This often means discussing and doing things I either thought I would never do or was afraid of. Self-development and improvement is still possible as you get older and face challenges. In this respect, I have found myself considering my own mortality and what matters in life. At this stage I am both sitting with the grief and also looking to enjoy all the great privileges and relationships I have both in my personal and in my working life.

At work I have been holding listening sessions with staff at work, hearing what the impact of Covid has been on them and what we can learn from this period. It has been humbling and connecting to hear how challenging this last period has been to many people and how fortunate I have been to be able to care for my parents and to be supported in this. I have felt genuinely inspired to hear about the courage of staff during this difficult period.

Finally, my recent experiences make me painfully aware of the fragility and speed with which our lives play out. I am focused on trying to make sure I live the rest of mine with resilience, purpose, and connectivity.

I live in Sheffield with my partner and two teenage girls enjoy my life working in health and social care

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