Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 66    

                             October 2007

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.


Caring, a duty, an honour or a curse?

In my last column I wrote about a dear friend, Annie. It set me thinking about my eldest brother.

He became carer for my father at the close of dad’s long life. His experience was, on the surface at least, different to that of Annie. He was a reluctant carer. He knew he wasn’t a natural housekeeper, cook or nurse. His care was constant, but the strain of running his business and working to maintain the house and large garden as well as dad’s needs was sometimes unbearable and he struggled with his anger at being the one to bear the burden.

But thanks to him, dad was able to spend all but his final three months at home. He was very deeply upset and confused when dad died as he was experiencing huge relief alongside the loss.

The sudden freedom is disorientating and the lifting of the burden of care creates a sense of guilt that can take years to subside.

My brother, like Annie, had saved the state a considerable sum by being there for both parents. Unlike Annie, he had no support from the state, no help, encouragement or recognition. And to be fair, he didn’t ask for it. Like many ‘hidden’ carers, he quietly got on with things and expected little.

There are many who give their time, energy and resources to the care of others who have no expectation or knowledge of help from the state. There is support. It is patchy in some areas but it is always worth asking your GP to be put in touch with local groups and Social Services. Your local public library will also have net access and many information leaflets that will give you details of the nearest groups and relevant organisations.

Elizabeth is another person who has cared on and off for years. With help, she has cared for her son since he became seriously mentally ill in his late teens. Schizophrenia is the sort of illness that can have a huge impact on the person socially, as sufferers frequently develop low self esteem, an inability to function adequately in daily activities and engage in social interactions with friends and family. The resultant low quality of life for them can be very a great burden to the person, their family and carers. Now in his forties Elizabeth’s son has stabilised enough to live nearby in sheltered housing. She found the local mental health team supportive and helpful and managed to maintain her career part time up to retirement.

After a few years of active and fulfilling retirement her husband suffered a stroke. After a period of hospitalisation, he came home fully intending to continue his doctorate. Sadly, although a once highly-able man, he couldn’t regain the mental agility to return to his studies. Elizabeth is petite, retaining her attractive elfin looks in her seventies. She struggled hard to care for him, encourage him with his physiotherapy, speech and concentration. The physical effort required to lift and support him was enormous for one so tiny. And the mental anguish at seeing her once strong and intelligent husband of more than forty years in this situation was painful and distressing.

Following a more severe stroke, he is now in a care home and looked after very well. The road to recovery for Elizabeth is a long one. She visits less often now, as she comes to terms with the knowledge that she did all she could for her life partner. He is unable to converse and is more interested in the sweets or the little bottle of wine she takes to share with him.

He then falls asleep and she leaves, feeling guilty, stirred up and confused, knowing that when he awakes he will remember little of her visit. She is now unable to share with him any concerns she has about their son or about managing their house.

She is effectively alone and feels panicky at times. Elizabeth has suffered broken sleep, depression, anxiety and a kind of agoraphobia and has had considerable difficulty in adjusting, but is now finding the strength and ways to do it. She has shared her concerns with friends and, with their help, has gradually ventured out for short trips then steadily further for visits to the cinema or to someone’s house for the afternoon.

Evenings are still difficult for her but she is determined to rebuild her life around her own interests and old friends; and hopes to make some new ones too, in time.

I am full of admiration for all Carers and wish them strength and time to find their own life again, health, happiness and fulfilment in times to come.


Schizophrenia Support:

This web site is for people with schizophrenia and their friends and families. Living with, and managing schizophrenia presents unique challenges.
For an information pack on schizophrenia please phone 0800 587 1153

The Stroke Association:

Stroke Helpline. If you would like further information or advice about stroke, or have any questions about The Stroke Association, you can contact our Stroke Helpline.
Stroke Helpline: 0845 3033 100 (calls charged at local rate) open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

E-mail: , or write to:

Stroke Information Service
The Stroke Association,
240 City Road,

Things you should know about stroke:

1. Every five minutes someone in the UK has a stroke.
2. A stroke is a brain attack. A stroke happens due to a clot or bleed in the brain, which causes brain cells to die.
3. The signs of a stroke are:


  • Facial weakness

  • Arm or leg weakness

  • Speech problems

  • A loss to half of the visual field.

These signs may only last a few hours (called a Transient Ischaemic Attack – TIA) but must not be ignored.
4. A stroke is an emergency. If you see the signs of a stroke act FAST and call 999. Early treatment saves lives and increases the chance of making a better recovery.
5. Stroke is the third biggest killer and the leading cause of severe disability in the UK.
6. Almost one in four men and one in five women aged 45 can expect to have a stroke if they live to 85.
7. More than three times as many women die from stroke than breast cancer in the UK.


Carers UK: Carers UK operate CarersLine and we are open Wednesday/Thursday only from 10-12am and 2-4pm.

Address: Carers UK, 20-25 Glasshouse Yard, London, EC1A 4JT.
TEL: 020 7490 8818
FAX: 020 7490 8824
Helpline: 0808 808 7777

Alzheimer's Society

Leading UK research organisation into Alzheimer's disease.
OFFICE: Alzheimer's Society, Gordon House, 10 Greencoat Place,
London, SW1P1PH.
TEL: 020 7306 0606
FAX: 020 7306 0808


You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

back to the Relationship Counselling Index


Advertise on

LaterLife Travel Insurance in Association with Avanti