After a year of loss and bereavement for my family, including the death of my mum just three months ago, it was an unexpected pleasure for me, my partner and children to spend Christmas day in an extra care housing scheme, enjoying a jolly and convivial atmosphere amongst friendly strangers.
By way of background, as well as being the final year of my mum’s life, 2019 was also the year when my granny (my mum’s mum) finally decided that, now in her mid-90s, she could no longer manage on her own in her large, Edwardian terraced house (4 flights of stairs; 5 bedrooms; a lifetime of much loved possessions; many pressing maintenance requirements). This monumental decision having been made, and some cursory research undertaken, a vacant flat was identified in an extra care scheme in her small town, only ten minutes’ walk from her former home. After this, the move was made astonishingly quickly. We had a big family gathering in the summer (which my mum managed to attend – her final trip away from home, of any distance) to divide up the furniture and possessions which my granny could not take with her, in the spirit of respect and togetherness. The weekend was fraught with emotion, not just because of the farewell which the weekend represented to my granny’s long life and loves in that house, and to all our (almost Proustian) memories of the world she created there, but also because of our overwhelming consciousness of my mum’s terminal illness, alongside other significant bereavements which members of the family were suffering at the same time.After a year of loss and bereavement for my family, it was an unexpected pleasure for us to spend Christmas day in an extra care housing scheme, enjoying a jolly and convivial atmosphere amongst friendly strangers
That task completed, thanks mainly to the huge efforts of my aunts and uncles, my granny settled into her new home remarkably quickly. There have been some ups and downs, but overall, the safety, support and comfort of her new home has been absolutely invaluable on numerous occasions already – from the time when a carer sat with her for hours one night when she fell, and had to wait (far too long) for an ambulance; to the everyday routine of the lunchtime meals in the café providing a warm and friendly anchor to her days. At the same time, granny still has her independence and autonomy, essential for someone who is absolutely determined to wring every drop of enjoyment out of life, whatever mobility challenges and ever-complex health difficulties she finds herself confronting.
The flat is spacious, comfortable, and personal – it feels like granny’s home, absolutely, with her most precious possessions and pictures still around her. She can still go to the same supermarkets and shops in her town, now using her electric wheelchair, as she did before. She can enjoy the park, and her old friends and neighbours can easily visit her (and do so, regularly).
When I lost my mum, of course, my granny lost her daughter, her own little girl. It was hard for me to imagine how difficult it must have been for her. As I was reeling from grief and loss, my partner suggested that we take our young children to spend Christmas with granny (their great granny) - and it made perfect sense. We were, and are, all grieving; Christmas was always going to be tough under the circumstances. Why not spend it together?
So there we were, on Christmas day, in my granny’s extra care housing scheme, and what a tonic it was. Many residents were also celebrating the day with their own families and loved ones, and others were on their own. In any case, the residents of the scheme are themselves of all ages, including several younger disabled people as well as people in later life, so the atmosphere was fully intergenerational, just like Christmas in family homes up and down the country.
We gathered that the cooks had welcomed 40 people to Christmas dinner in their small café that day, and it must have been incredibly hard work for the friendly catering staff, who served us with great good cheer and festive spirit. Three courses (plus mince pies), Christmas crackers, and sherry or prosecco if you wanted it (we did want) – it was a peaceful, but extremely positive experience for all of us. My children ate almost everything with gusto, wished everyone a merry Christmas, and heartily enjoyed themselves. As my granny’s first Christmas in extra care, and our first experience celebrating there with her, the whole experience was a welcome distraction from our day to day worries, personal losses and concerns.
So, after a year of sadness, and reflecting on the toxic divisiveness of much of our national politics and public debate, I find myself feeling much cheered by our Christmas in an extra care housing scheme. In the midst of it all, I find that there are many good, warm people, working to help make life that little bit better for others. We lose, we grieve - but also if we are lucky, we find hope, friendship, and community. Thank you to the staff for providing extra care to many at Christmas this year!