Doutta GallaNews – In My Shoes: Justine Heath

In My Shoes: Justine Heath

July 11, 2024

Members of Doutta Galla’s Board share their personal journeys in our new series, “In My Shoes.” Through these articles, you’ll get a glimpse into the lives of our Board as they navigate the aged care system as caregivers and family. 

A daughter’s journey through Aged Care

Justine’s mother at 3 years old, with friend.

As they entered their twilight years, the dynamics of Justine Heath’s relationship with her parents underwent a poignant transformation. Justine, once the recipient of unwavering parental care, found herself navigating the unfamiliar terrain of providing support, grappling with her parents’ staunch independence, and ultimately confronting the complexities of aging and elder care.

Justine’s parents, reflective of their generation, embodied a resolute spirit of self-reliance, shunning assistance and reluctant to confront potential frailties. Witnessing her father’s gradual decline, both physical and cognitive, was an emotionally charged experience punctuated by moments of crisis. Home care services offered a beacon of hope, enabling Justine’s mother to continue tending to her husband’s needs within the familiar confines of their home until his final days.

COVID Arrives

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic further underscored the fragility of life and the complexities of caregiving. Justine’s father’s final illness coincided with the initial lockdown, imposing a layer of isolation and disorientation upon his already fragile state. Navigating unfamiliar healthcare facilities and enduring separation undoubtedly amplified his confusion and vulnerability. Yet, Justine remains deeply grateful for the compassionate care providers who delivered difficult news remotely and facilitated precious final moments of connection.

Justine’s mother at 83

Justine’s grief was compounded when her mother received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer during this already tumultuous period. Drawing on the resilience acquired during lockdown, Justine and her family opted for in-home care, prioritising quality of life and familiar

surroundings for her mother. This decision yielded moments of shared joy amidst the struggles, facilitated by the invaluable support of the community palliative care team. Justine’s mother ultimately departed peacefully in the comfort of her own home, surrounded by loved ones.

A New Chapter

Observing the vibrant life and independent spirit of her husband’s grandmother, who thrived in her own home until well into her 100s, offered a glimpse of an alternative path. This centenarian’s experience at an aged care facility, where she fostered a deep friendship with another resident, highlighted the potential for meaningful connections and continued enjoyment of life within such settings, even amidst the constraints imposed by pandemic restrictions.

Currently, Justine faces a new chapter, supporting her husband’s parents remotely as they grapple with the progression of his mother’s Parkinson’s disease. The increasing limitations imposed by the illness necessitate the implementation of home care and, likely soon, a transition to a more supportive living environment. Navigating these decisions from afar adds an additional layer of complexity to this evolving family dynamic.

Throughout these multifaceted journeys, Justine has been profoundly affected by the exceptional care and unwavering compassion exhibited by the healthcare professionals entrusted with the well-being of her loved ones. She expresses sincere gratitude for the dedication and often under-appreciated work of aged care professionals, recognising their vital role in navigating the often-challenging terrain of elder care.

Ultimately Justine’s story offers a poignant glimpse into the universal experience of caring for ageing parents. It highlights both the challenges and opportunities inherent in supporting loved ones as they navigate the final chapters of their lives.

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