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3rd May 2022
What Makes Erskine So Special?
Erskine family Ambassador Sarah Smith recalls what it was that made Erskine so special to her family, as they journeyed with her beloved Dad Billy through the heart-breaking condition of dementia.
“When my parents, Aileen and Billy, started their own charitable foundation in the mid 1980's, for charities and needy causes, Erskine was one of the charities they supported, I don't suppose they ever thought they would need its care.
We lost Mum in 1996 just a few weeks away from the birth of my first child Molly. Despite his grief Dad was there for me, throwing himself into grandpa duties with Molly, then again with Max and Rosie who followed.
It was in 2013 my brothers and I questioned if all was well with Dad’s memory. Was he lonely and telling us the same old stories because they made him happy? Or was there something more to it? When he passed most of the tests satisfying us, and the professionals, that all was well, we felt reassured. However as more time passed, we realised there definitely was a problem. Perhaps Dad did as well, as he steadfastly refused more tests and more help other than my daily visits.
By mid November 2017 Dad was clearly very unwell. After one particular incident we realised we needed to get him professional help.
We started to look for care facilities that could offer the care and safety that Dad needed, that we sadly couldn’t give him if he stayed at home.
After viewing many care homes, I realised that Dad, through his military service, was entitled to be cared for in an Erskine care home. The closest they had to us wasn’t far away so I made an appointment and went along.
What can I say? The only thing I can compare it to is when you are house hunting and you walk into the house which you know is for you, When your intuition says this is the one. Erskine did that for us as a family. We knew immediately that this was the place for Dad. So sure was I that my emotions bubbled over and I burst into tears.
The tears, however, although of relief for finding such a good place, were also tears of guilt. There is no getting away from it, guilt can feature very strongly when making the decision that your loved one now needs full time care.
We are all different, but from other families I have talked to it this is the case with many. In some situations it can be overwhelming. In our case I'm not sure if it ever left us. However what I do know with absolute certainty, is that when you arrive at that point, it is the best decision for your loved one and indeed you as the carer. It is not that you abandon your loved one, far from it, you are giving them the professional expertise that they require. The specialist care that only specially trained staff can give as well as the safety they require. And you, as the family member, as well as gaining some peace of mind, can as I did, as a daughter, regain some kind of relationship as opposed to being a carer. Something I personally feel is so important.
I wish I could tell you what the journey is like there on but I can’t. Every family experience something different. However what I can tell you is that Erskine made our journey as good as it could be.
The staff were wonderful, always at hand to answer my questions and there to comfort me when it just was simply too much. Every day I learned a little more from the staff; how to answer my Dad’s questions; how to keep him calm and make his time there as enjoyable as possible.
The activities team proved to be a very important part of Dad’s life. The range of things to do was simply amazing from; concerts, quizzes, films, reminiscing, sports, trips out and simple one to ones. They became our lifeline with Dad.
As I settled into daily life at Erskine I felt a certain safety in knowing that I too was being looked after. Dad had dementia with Lewy Bodies, a particularly acute form of it and sometimes it felt that we, as a family, had only just dealt with one hammer blow, when another came. We could never have dealt with this without the support of the staff or if we had continued to care for Dad at home. The professional expertise of the staff at Erskine really helped me come to terms with what the disease dementia is. I naively thought it was purely a memory loss, not so, it is so much more than that, simple things like using cutlery can become difficult because the person living with dementia forgets what to do with it. This and so many other issues were always gently explained to me. Why this happens and for me, I just accepted it. To make sure that Dad was comfortable, I learned to concentrate on what Dad DID know and what he could do. That is so important and it was Erskine staff who taught me that.
You see Erskine is so much more than just a care facility, it is one big family, everyone supporting one another along the way. I could not have coped as I did without the support and care of all the staff, but also other residents' families, we were all in this together.
Inevitably, my wee Daddy approached the end of life, finally succumbing to the disease he so valiantly fought, on December 17th 2019, drawing his last breaths in my arms.
And now? Erskine had become my second home. In those two years, I spent more time there than with my friends but I’m glad to say I have become good friends with many of the staff, to whom I owe an enormous amount of gratitude. They cared for Dad so beautifully - even when he didn’t want them to! I witnessed this with each and every resident, always getting to know each one as individuals, what their hobbies and interests are, it was lovely to see.
In those two years with Dad at Erskine, I learnt so much, about dementia and myself and I’m still learning today. As a result of my time there I now volunteer with the activities team, because I want to give something back.
My volunteering is one of many good things which has happened to me since Dad’s passing. Last November my first book was published, ‘Because I know who He is’ chronicling our family’s journey and so far it has been well received. I also hope it will help others, embarking on, or already on that journey, showing that you can still have a happy, loving relationship with your loved one living with dementia. I firmly believe that I was able to do so, because of the support and care we were given as a family by all at Erskine and everything they taught me about dementia. The book is so called as that was my answer when people asked why I visited Dad everyday if he did not know who I was…Because I know who He is…my lovely Dad.
I have been fortunate enough to do some media about the book and also how good Erskine is and just in February I was asked to be the first Family Ambassador to Erskine, I am highly honoured to be so and I hope I can support other families as Erskine did me because at the end of the day, Erskine is just one big family and a very special place to be.
Because I Know Who He is by Sarah Smith is published by Olympia Publishers and is available to buy direct from them, on Amazon and to order online for in store collection from Waterstones, Blackwell’s and Foyles.