As Kirklees Council decides the fate of dementia care homes in Newsome and Heckmondwike, Gemma and Sara Blagbrough tell, in their own words, about their family’s dementia journey and how closing Castle Grange could have a devastating impact on the life of their mum Janet.
Gemma Blagbrough writes: Loving someone with dementia is like being on a rollercoaster that you can’t get off.
If you are lucky you might get changes in speed now and again, so there are some moments of respite and even joy and laughter, but mostly it is an intense rollercoaster of emotions. The overriding one for me is guilt, closely followed by worry and fear.
Guilt that I am doing enough, and that mum is happy, and content, and guilt that I am doing enough for her as her daughter, whilst doing my best to balance my own needs and well-being with mum’s.
Dementia stole my mum’s voice, and now when some look at mum, they just see the mark that dementia leaves. My lovely mum a shadow of her former self, with only the shell remaining.
But mum is much more than that. She is a person to whom family means everything, as she does to us, a sense of humour, a kind and caring nature, and a love of being with people.
The thing I miss most since mum developed dementia is not being able to have conversations with her. We used to speak multiple times a day and spend lots of time together making memories.
When mum was living at home with her dementia as it developed, we couldn’t do that as our job became to meet mum’s care needs, as we did not know what we were walking into on any given day, and there was a sense of dread and fear. It was horrible seeing mum distressed as dementia progressed.
Since mum moved into Castle Grange, her dementia specific care home in May 2022, with staff who show love, compassion and care in abundance not just to mum, but to me as her daughter, I have been able to have conversations with her, and have new moments of joy, and make memories I will treasure forever.
In addition, the home is purpose built and is designed in such a way, that the environment promotes independence, reduces anxiety, and encourages residents and their families to feel like it is their home.
Hand in hand with this, is the high level of skill and training that the staff have to enable them to manage the differing and varied needs that people living with dementia have.
Mum was my strongest and steadiest advocate when I was growing up, and always encouraged me to live my dreams, no matter what, and gave great advice along the way, so now it’s my turn to be hers.
I ask Kirklees Council once again to find another way and reconsider the proposed closure of Castle Grange and its sister home Claremont House and let us continue to make memories with the people we love most.
Sara Blagbrough writes: It’s 11.30pm on January 3 2024. The public consultation regarding the proposed closure of Castle Grange in Newsome and Claremont House in Heckmondwike closes in 30 minutes.
I’m sat here wondering if there’s anything more I can do to help Kirklees Council understand what a huge decision this is and how much of an impact the wrong decision will have.
Since the letter to families at the end of August I have spent many sleepless nights worrying. I worry about my mum, and worry what will happen to her.
I cry tears over losing more of her as her condition deteriorates, knowing that uprooting her will likely cause a progression.
I’ve spent years hating dementia and everything it has taken from us. Been so angry that this has happened to us…happened to the best person in my life. The woman who gave her life to her children and family and lived life so positively. Why her? Why did this happen to her?
I had a new sense of loss when I became a mother knowing that my mum would have been the best nanna; knowing she would have embraced the role with such love.
I miss her…I miss the support she gave me and the things she would have taught me to be the best mum to my children. Every day I am reminded of the loss and the overwhelming grief.
For a long time that grief engulfed every part of my life. I described it as a huge dark cloud over everything I did.
I stopped feeling the happy moments because I was so devastated by what was happening to my lovely mum.
My family cared for mum at home for five years. We wanted to do that for her because of all the care she had given us over the years.
We went through the call outs from emergency services because mum had tried to cook but couldn’t remember how; the calls from tele-care because they had tried to talk to mum on the system but she didn’t understand where the voice was coming from or which button to press; searching the streets because she had gone out in the middle of the night; the hitting and screaming at us because she didn’t understand what was happening to her.
We went through it all and I was determined to continue to do that but had to eventually admit I wasn’t being fair to mum keeping her at home.
Seeking out residential care was so hard. I felt a huge amount of guilt but then we found Castle Grange and it just felt right.
There was something different and an unspoken understanding of how difficult the dementia journey is.
It still took me a long time to trust the staff and to be able to feel a sense of peace. I saw mum’s presentation improve – she was smiling and when she looked at me I saw a spark in her eyes that I thought was lost forever.
She looks at me with love and care – I don’t know if she recognises me but just to know she sees me as a friendly face is enough.
This means the world to me and, as a family, we were finally feeling like we could breathe again. Holding your breath for five years is something you don’t get over easily.
When mum had settled in at Castle Grange the enormity of the last five years hit me and it’s fair to say my mental health took a huge hit.
When the huge amount of stress finally started disappearing it all became too much. I only now feel like I am on the road to recovery.
I am pleading with you, Kirklees councillors, find another way. Please do not move forward with these proposals and fight to protect the family at Castle Grange. Show the love and respect to Castle Grange as they do to the residents and families.
I don’t think I could go through any more grief and the amount of loss would be unthinkable. Please. Find another way.