In a cruel twist of fate, Ray’s health was to be tested again, when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2010. He says: “I knew something was wrong. I’d been experiencing migraines and problems with my vision, so as much as it was a blow, I wasn’t shocked.”
After undergoing surgery at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Ray was off work for six months and was unable to drive, but that wasn’t the only thing he had to adjust to.
“The brain tumour definitely changed me. My personality changed, I lightened up. I stopped worrying about material things and concentrated on the quality of my life. It made me grab life and I become much more impulsive,” says Ray.
It was that new-found spontaneity that led to Ray finding a new career. He explains: “Four years ago, Liz, my wife, kept telling me I couldn’t keep working like I was. After the brain tumour, I’d carried on with my property maintenance business, but to be honest, being up ladders and doing manual work was taking it out of me, I was tired. We agreed I’d retire but within weeks I was honestly tearing my hair out. I’m not one for sitting around and doing nothing.
“I was walking past my local newsagents when I saw an advert for a company looking for carers. I’m not sure what grabbed me but I took the number and put it in my phone. I got home and within 10 seconds of walking through the door, I’d made the call. I’d never heard of Home Instead Senior Care and made the call on a whim, I just thought it’d be a nice way to slow down into retirement.”
A different outlook
However, after attending an interview the next day and hearing about the care provided to older people in their own homes, Ray was instantly on board. Impressed with Home Instead’s model of matching CAREGivers and clients, he said: “I’d have never dreamt of sitting with an ‘old’ person, but this job gives you a different outlook on life. Age definitely means you see things differently. I know I’m mature but I wouldn’t say I’ve grown up. I can see that now about our clients. I can also see that you have to be compatible with clients to make their life better.”
Five years later and Ray has put retirement on hold, working 22 hours over six days every week, looking after five clients.
He says: “If I can make them laugh and ensure they’re better when I’m leaving than when I arrived, then it’s job done. I get more satisfaction from leaving a client’s house knowing they have a smile on their face than I ever did fitting a French door! It’s the only job that I’ve ever had where I look forward to getting out of bed.”
Caring and chatting
One of the clients Ray sees most days is 90-year-old Richard.
“I go to see Richard two or three times most days. I’ll go first thing to help him out of bed, make sure he’s taken his medication and make his breakfast. He’ll usually have cheerios and a glass of fruit juice, followed by toast and marmalade and a cup of tea. I’ll make the bed and help tidy up a little.
“He’s very independent and definitely enjoys life. He lives on his own but has a really close-knit family who are always popping in or phoning. For them, me visiting offers the reassurance that someone is there regularly,” Ray says.
After visiting other clients, Ray returns at lunchtime. He laughs: “The first thing I do at lunchtime is pour him a glass of lager! His daughter prepares a lot of meals and freezes them, so often it’s just a case of cooking his lunch from frozen and preparing vegetables to go with it. Usually, he asks what’s for dessert before he’s finished his meal!”
During his visits, Ray offers more than just practical help, he offers companionship.
He says: “We chat about all sorts of things. He loves rugby so we often talk about that, and he absolutely loves cricket, it’s always part of the conversation. His memories of yesteryear will often crop up and we’ll also talk about current affairs. He’s very well educated and surprisingly for a 90-year-old, he has two tablets and a laptop, so manages to keep up with what’s happening in the world.
“I spend at least an hour with my clients which gives us time to chat. Talking to him is like chatting to a friend and in many ways, it’s more like two friends catching up than it is a job. We just click.”
More than a job
Reflecting on the role that he plays in many of his clients’ lives and the brain tumour diagnosis that led to his new career, Ray says: “The loneliness of some people surprised me the most when I started this job. Especially those who’ve recently lost husbands or wives, I see a real emptiness sometimes. That’s hard but it’s so rewarding to know that what I do really can make a difference to how they’re feeling.
“Working as a CAREGiver has also completely opened my eyes to dementia and Alzheimer’s, I’m a lot more aware, not just of how it affects the person with the condition but the impact it has on their family and loved ones too. That’s thanks to the training we get, which is second to none.
“My wife thinks what I’m doing is great, even though she thought I’d struggle with the personal care and emotional side of the job. I bump into old friends and they’re gobsmacked to hear what I’m doing now. I tell them it’s because I love it. I wish I’d done it 30 or 40 years ago, but in all honesty, I couldn’t have, I was different then and the way I look at things has changed now.”
As he contemplates his plan for retirement Ray says: “We’ve set 75 as the age I’ll carry on until. That’s a couple of years away and feels like the time I may look at retiring. Having said that, I may do another 10 years!”