Caring and relationships: How can we help carers bear the strain?

As I start this blog, I’m not sure where I’m going. But I know that I want to tell the stories of a jazz musician, an elderly mother and a Scottish film star who are all connected in some way…

I was sitting in an old Edwardian theatre in a small city, Perth in Scotland, hundreds of miles away from where Courtney Pine and his international jazz band normally play.

Debbie Purdy with husband Omar Puente

Omar Puente cares for his wife and cared for his mother

Pine and his band could not quite believe that they had found themselves in such a place playing to an audience that was probably less mixed and a bit older than what they were used to.

I remember thinking that it must have been especially strange for one man in particular: Omar Puente, their Cuban violinist. Did he ever think growing up in Cuba that he would end up in Perth Theatre?

It was only a couple of months after that I saw Omar Puente on the news. Omar Puente is the husband of Debbie Purdy who is dying of MS and has campaigned to clarify the law on assisted suicide. Puente not only cares for his wife but also cared for his mother.

A few years ago, I read an article about a mother who had been the sole carer for her son since birth until his death, aged 36. She had just received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to his manslaughter.

Reading the article I remember trying to imagine how bad it must have been for a mother who brought her son into the world and devoted her whole life to loving and caring for him that she “snapped” and suffocated him.

The judge said that there were circumstances that meant the mother should be shown mercy and that her sincere grieving for what she did will be punishment enough.

Considering these people’s lives and the families covered in the media recently, the first thing that strikes me is not whether people are right or wrong, but what horrible situations they have to deal with. I find it hard to imagine the torment these families must be going through…

There was a late film on last week called Summer. Robert Carlyle plays a carer who looks after his boyhood friend who is paralysed from the waist down. The film shows the frustration that can arise in a caring relationship and the devotion to each other that grew in both.

But it’s not exactly a “Robert Carlyle is a hero” story. The reason that he is a carer is because he broke a boy’s skull at school in a fight, got expelled, burnt down the school gym and then when he and his friend are escaping on a motorbike, they hit the police car sending his friend flying. Yet, despite this obvious culpability, you do warm to Carlyle.

In my first blog (six months ago), I said “Carers come from all walks of life – young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural, straight and gay, black and white. Each has their own set of problems to face meaning there isn’t a single magical solution.”

I forgot to add that there will be huge differences in the issues that arise within the caring relationship. Carlyle was a carer but he was also a human, and as such less than perfect. A key question for me is how can we help caring relationships remain supportive, like Puente and Carlyle, rather than distortive like what happened to the mother and son.

Take care,



February 2, 2010 - Posted by | Relationships | , , ,


  1. Interesting one, Gordon – and thought-provoking. But for me the issue is about true recognition of carers: identification and support rather than a pat on the head and either “you’re all doing very well” or being treated as though incompetent.

    Recent cases where the carer has taken the life of their caree have never questioned why things got to be that bad. And yet it is such a simple question – where was the help they needed? But increasingly the government and local authorities are relying on carers to provide the care – and making it harder to receive support, with not even a half-hearted attempt to ensure that the money meant for carers actually gets to them.

    Comment by charles47 | February 3, 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Charles
      I wholeheartedly agree that we should be looking at what support we are giving to the carer and the person receiving care to stop such circumstances arising. In the case of the mother killing the son, the judge did say that the lack of support was a factor.

      Comment by Gordon | February 4, 2010 | Reply

      • “In the case of the mother killing the son, the judge did say that the lack of support was a factor.”

        True – but I was referring to the lack of media attention around that point, the lack of action to address those issues and the lack of recrimination within the local authority to see WHY there was no support.

        Comment by charles47 | February 6, 2010


    Perhaps we should listen to the man who has seen the road ahead for himself and others, he has an off the roader and can take a detour but he recognises that many do not have that choice so he is speaking for those who have to stay on the road directed by society.

    He has seen the way ahead and he wants to be able to take into his own hands his own destiny, to die with dignity.

    Comment by webglynne | February 3, 2010 | Reply

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