Around the same time my grandsons Jack and Seb came to live with us, my husband Bryan was diagnosed with bowel cancer. He battled bravely for almost three years but died at home in October 2017 with his family around him. In those years I was caring for two teenage boys with autism, a sick husband and a daughter with mental health issues. So in terms of being a carer I’ve had a fairly diverse experience.

Carers are extremely vulnerable and I am passionate about self-care. You’ve got to look after yourself or you can’t do your job properly. Everyone has their own way of taking time out; I do yoga and listen to music, but it’s extremely difficult when caring is a 24-hour job. So my friend and I are on a mission to improve the lot for carers. We want to bring carers together, not just for peer support, but to learn how to look after themselves and just have a break from caring. We’ve got to get the powers that be to understand that if we don’t look after the carers, it costs more money to look after these children. I reached out for support at the most difficult time in my life and now I belong to a grand carers support group and an autism support group. Both are very valuable resources. You not only get practical support and wonderful help, but instead of sitting at home wondering how you can fix your situation, you go to these groups and realise you’re not alone by a long shot. When you find a group of people that understand your situation they become your support system.

Bryan and I had all these plans for our retirement; we were going to do what all our friends were doing and go on cruises. But when you become a grandparent carer your life changes and you essentially go back to being a parent again. I was thrilled when my two daughters left high school and there weren’t any more teacher phone calls, homework and packed lunches. But 25 years to the day I’m helping Jack deal with the pressures of Year 12. You can’t do the things you did in your forties when you’re nearly 70, but the maternal urges never change. You love these kids and they need you, so you do what you need to do. My wish is for the boys to grow up happy and lead fulfilling lives, and hopefully find work that interests them so they can achieve a level of independence.

Sandra Keeling
Grandmother and carer to Therapy Focus clients Jack and Sebastian Bailey

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