Caring from a distance

Gillian Kemp cares for her 89-year-old mother and is responsible for the day-to-day running of her life. However, Gillian lives in Hertfordshire while her mother lives 200 miles away in Dorset.

The difficulties of caring for someone from a distance are very different from the challenges of caring for someone you live with.

Carers who live separately from the person they care for often feel guilty that they can't do more for them.

Feelings of guilt

Gillian feels that she should be there for her mother more often. “She relies on me a lot, which I find difficult at times,” says Gillian.

“I feel guilty because things are easy for me compared to carers who are more closely involved with the person they look after. I can rely on my husband and family for support and advice.”

Gillian’s mother has had many health and mobility problems over the past few years, including an arterial bypass.

On the rare occasions that she leaves the house, she uses a wheelchair. She has a Zimmer frame and stairlift to help her move around at home, and she has a call button, which she can use in an emergency.

Becoming a carer

Gillian became responsible for her mother’s daily care after her father died seven years ago. Because she was an only child and neither of her parents have siblings, Gillian was the only person able to care for her mother.

The first challenge was financial. Although Gillian's father left all his money and assets to Gillian's mother in his will, neither Gillian nor her mother could use any of it.

“My father handled their finances all their lives,” says Gillian. “After he died, my mother couldn't get any money because she didn't have her own bank account.

“I spoke to a number of banks to try to set up an account for her. But they all said it couldn't be done if she couldn’t come into the branch, because of data protection and money laundering laws. This made life extremely difficult for a while. Nobody understood our circumstances, and there seemed to be no system to deal with our situation.

“I was very frustrated, but I finally managed to open an account at a local building society.”

Legal affairs

Gillian now has enduring power of attorney over her mother’s affairs. She pays all her bills and arranges for professional care workers to visit once a day. A shopper comes once a week, and her mother has a laundry service and meals delivered to her.

Gillian spends one day a week managing this arrangement. She calls her mother four times a week and visits three or four times a year. She says the visits give her a chance to meet the people who look after her mother. She also talks to her mother’s friends and acquaintances, who keep Gillian updated on important matters.

Despite all this support, Gillian always worries about her mother’s wellbeing.

“It can be very difficult to relax, and I have to plan my holidays carefully,” she says. “Caring from a distance doesn’t take up as much time as hands-on caring. But I'm always thinking about Mum. If the phone rings at night, I worry that there's a crisis.”

In an emergency, Gillian can contact her mother’s younger friend, who lives nearby and provides extra help and peace of mind for Gillian.

It may seem logical for Gillian and her mother to move closer together, but this isn't possible at the moment.

“My family can’t move because of our jobs, and Mum refuses to move because she has her friends around her. But she's 89, and when she's eventually unable to cope on her own, I'll try to persuade her to move to a home near us because there's a lot more help here,” says Gillian.

“But I worry that moving an old lady from her home will have a terrible impact on her.”

Establishing a routine has been an important part of managing the distance between Gillian and her mother.

“Having a routine has made it much easier, much more manageable,” says Gillian. “Good record keeping is also essential because you're responsible for running someone else’s life.”

Gillian has written a book about her experiences called 'Relatively Speaking'. She hopes that it will help other people in a similar situation.

“I wrote it because I found it difficult to get help, and I hope to help others like me,” she says.

“It was also a way of doing something positive with my frustration. For a long time I felt very alone. I constantly struggled to get information, and I feel that I wasted a lot of time by not asking the right questions.

“But the more I asked, the more I learned, and I found that people were willing to help.”