When 80 year old Phyllis died, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren each tied a bright, helium-filled balloon to her casket.
Phyllis' nickname was ‘Nana Balloon' because she loved to give them as gifts to her grandchildren.
At the end of the celebration of her life the children let the balloons go. Thus ended a stressful era for Jean, Phyllis' daughter, who for several years had supported her Mum through a series of health traumas.
Jean began caring for Phyllis when she was recovering from an operation for colon cancer. Phyllis seemed to be doing well and was to return to her retirement village, where she was very happy. But overnight Phyllis suffered a massive stroke and survived, "much to her horror", says Jean.
"Before the stroke we did talk about what Mum wanted done if anything like that happened to her. She didn't want to be resuscitated. Despite that, she came through and managed to say, 'Jean, the angels came for me in the middle of the night ... but it wasn't my time'."
Phyllis was left incapacitated by the stroke and needed help with most things, except eating. Jean decided then and there to care for her mother at home.
With the support of her partner, Jean gutted the bathroom at her place and made all the necessary alterations. Phyllis required complex nursing care. Jean had some nursing knowledge through her job as a medical secretary, but was ill prepared for her caring role.
"I had no idea how to get the help I needed." Sometimes Jean spent hours trying to find a hospital to take her mother for a weekend so she and her partner could have some respite. When Jean did find a suitable facility, it was always traumatic to leave her Mum in the care of others.
At times Jean had to battle to get the most basic things for Phyllis, such as a prescription repeat. "Very few people understood ... only those who'd had similar experiences."
Finally, Jean had to admit she could not provide the level of nursing care Phyllis needed. Her Mum's home in the retirement village was sold, and Phyllis shifted to a private hospital.
Jean says her mother had made the decision that she wanted to die, and stopped taking nourishment to achieve her wish.
Jean says she respected her Mum's decision.
Despite their strong feelings of grief and loss, and their difficulties accessing help, Jean says she and Phyllis shared many laughs and fun times together.
"It's amazing how you manage. She always appreciated everything I did and the opportunity to look after her was a real gift. My partner was awesome, as were the grandchildren and great-grandchildren."
"Others in the family also did what they could, and I was extremely grateful for their help."
Before Phyllis died she told Jean she could see those angels again. This time the time was right.
Tips from Jean
You do have options; find out what they are.
Seek out the help you need and be persistent, for your sake, and your family member's.
Trust your instincts; advocate for what you believe in. Tap into helpful information (how to shower, asking if the solicitor will come to your home, etc).