When My Husband Moved Into A Care Home, My Young Grandchildren Changed Everything

Young woman holding elderly handsYoung woman holding elderly hands

When I was visiting my husband, Norman, in his care home,I would listen to both sides of that age-old debate about whether or not children should visit care homes. As everyone knows, there are those parents who prefer to leave their offspring at home because they want them to remember their grandparents as they were – and then there are those who do not see it as an issue.

I came down on the side of the latter. Though my views are only those of a layman, the fact that I used to reel off old tunes from the musicals on the home’s grand piano gave me a privileged insight into care home life overall.

I would watch the residents tapping their feet in time to the music and, on those occasions when my four granddaughters were tagging along, there were times when I would play ever so quietly in order to tune in to their conversations.

Not just with their grandfather but with his fellow residents, many of whom were always crying out for a chat, be it with a passing adult, a child, or a friendly carer.

Norman, of course, was the children’s priority. The fact he liked to hear about their sporting activities rather than schoolwork, was typical.

Norman once played rugby for Scotland while simultaneously putting in some work as a trainee lawyer – he was well-known for having shoved some all-important legal briefs into a pair of filthy rugby boots. He’d end up becoming known as “one of the finest sports writers Scotland had ever produced.”

It was when Norman would doze off that the girls, who would be waiting for their mother to pick them up on her way back from work, would take off on the equivalent of ‘ward rounds’ at the care home.

Jenni, at 15 the oldest of the four and a would-be doctor, struck up a lovely relationship with a long-retired orthopaedic surgeon who was understandably worried about a pair of knees which were beginning to give up on him.

Whenever Jenni arrived in the lounge, you could see from his face that the old gentleman was just waiting for that moment when she would come across. And when that happened, his eyes would light up and he would soon be deep in conversation about worn joints and hip operations. 

Victoria, who was two years younger than Jenni, was inclined to gossip with a mini-women’s institute, a group of ladies whose lives had been filled to overflowing with good works. She would ask them what had been on that day’s agenda in the way of art and yoga classes, and they, in turn, would want to hear all about her day at school.

Yet it was the 11-year-old twins who furnished the most intriguing of case studies in that they would ‘interview’ all the residents in turn.

Though they had been advised to give one of the more fanatical jigsaw-loving residents a miss, there came a day when they risked checking on her progress with a 1,000-piece puzzle of Edinburgh.

They knew little of the centenarian’s reputation as a somewhat touchy individual and, when they started hovering over the good lady and her puzzle, the expectation was that they would be sent packing straightaway. Instead, she wanted them to check the floor for a missing jigsaw piece, one which belonged to the Scott Monument.

When they found it, she patted them on their heads as they made to stand up. Only then, Charlotte, the older of the pair by a couple of minutes, pulled half of the city on to the floor. The child went white as she watched the pieces tumble to ground almost in slow motion.

The old lady’s response, as it turned out, was very much of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” variety. Once over the shock, she said that she had lived through the Blitz, and that together the three of them would be able to put things to rights. Which they did. 

Norman, meantime, left all the children wide-eyed on that day when he had an altercation with a ninety-plus-year old lady who had drawn attention to how his sweater was on back-to-front. 

I doubt he would ever have taken particularly kindly to such personal criticism but, at this stage in his dementia journey, politeness was no longer on the agenda. “You’re not looking so hot yourself,” he told her.

The grandchildren heard everything and saw everything at the care home and, perhaps as a result, they have never shied away from anything other than the odd spider.  

And, just as they benefited, so it seemed that much the same applied to the residents. Others might not agree, but to me, it was a win-win situation.

Lewine Mair is an acclaimed sportswriter and author. Her new book Tapping Feet: A Double-take on Care Homes and Dementia is available in Paperback and E-book, with a third of profits from each sale going to the Head for Change Charity.