Family’s tribute to grandma, 95, after taking her out of care home for final weeks of ‘joy’
- Credit: Anna Perrott
Families have been forced to face lockdown away from loved ones in care homes. But one family’s decision to take their grandmother out and care for her at home means her final weeks were filled with new memories. Lauren Cope reports, as they pay tribute.
It was a Saturday evening in September when 95-year-old Rita Perrott was wheeled out of her Norwich care home.
Her belongings were bundled into a car, as she, at first confused, was let in on the plans - her family had arrived to take her home.
Lockdown had, as in so many cases, forced the family apart, with infrequent visits and weekly video calls deepening a longing for more contact.
And as doctors warned she may not have long left after years living with dementia, it felt like an easy decision.
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Her granddaughter Anna Perrott, 30, said: “Visiting restrictions for people with end of life care and people in care homes are so poor and so restrictive that we were getting more and more frustrated at not being able to see her.
“We were allowed the access but no touching or hugging. It’s just one person going in, no support for that one person. So my mum was amazing and said ‘let’s get her out.’
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“My mum is a retired nurse and has the space. She was happy to look after her.
“We got in touch with the care home and fortunately because we know the home well, they knew where she was going and the experience in care we had, they were happy.”
Plans were in place. With a private ambulance booked, they headed to the care home, Homestead House in north Norwich, to take Rita home.
“We didn’t know what condition she would be in, or whether she would be able to stand up,” her granddaughter said.
Visits before had been limited - video calls where possible, a trip to the hospital with Anna the day before Rita’s 95th birthday which became a mini “car party” and a four-day stint in hospital to monitor Rita’s breathing (during which four relatives had made the most of the more relaxed hospital rules).
But now was time for their reunion.
“We had a really big hug, which was lovely, with no masks,” she said. “It was quite emotional.
“We told her we’d decided to take her to mum’s to stay, and she said ‘that’s lovely, your poor mum’. She was delighted to be going to see people. I think she imagined it was a bit of a holiday.
“With dementia it can be a blessing in that she wouldn’t always remember how long it had been since we had seen her, she wouldn’t have a clue how long it had been going on.”
After laughing about their heist, with everyone now in on the joke, they took her home to North Walsham - where Rita, who was born in Ipswich but moved to Norwich as a child, tucked into a bowl of chilli con carne.
Rita hailed from a well-known family - her mother worked as a midwife at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, delivering in the region of 2,000 babies during her career.
Her family moved around Norwich frequently, but Anna said Rita was still able to remember every place they had lived.
She was a lance corporal in the war effort, helping with administration and demobbing, and, after a stint living in Italy, worked in jobs at Norwich Railway Station, the Britannia Barracks and, most notably, City College Norwich, where she was the examination registrar until 1990, when she retired.
In the evenings she taught shorthand, and later in life moved to Stalham with her son and daughter-in-law, Anna’s parents.
Rita’s nine weeks at home, Anna said, were “pure joy”. She died, surrounded by family, at the end of October.
“Every day she had a visitor,” she said, adding that her two sisters were able to come back as much as possible, including one who works as a nurse in London, who timed her visits around coronavirus tests.
“There were some difficult moments,” she said. “After the joy of being somewhere else settled in, dementia and anxiety crept back in so we had to keep her calm.
“But she was a joy. She was so grateful and we continued to make memories for those nine weeks.”
Their decision, she said, ensured that Rita had a “perfect death” - an uncomfortable phrasing for some, but a reality that thousands of families, unable to see dying relatives, have been confronted with this year.
“You think of people who have all the money in the world, and they aren’t going to have a death like my grandma’s, surrounded by people who loved her as much as we did,” she said.
The BBC radio presenter said the family thought Rita’s 24-hour care at home contributed to her living longer than expected.
But she was clear to say she had no criticism of care homes, and said her grandmother had been happy living at Homstead.
“They are sticking to the rules, which all care homes are doing,” she said. “There’s no doubt she was being well-looked after.
“But for someone with dementia it does improve things being around family, she had a lot of anxiety with dementia... You can’t expect members of staff to stay with her 24 hours a day.
“The rules for visitors, they feel - I know they are necessary - but a bit cruel. People shouldn’t die alone.”
For the family, it is reassuring to know they gave Rita - who her granddaughter described as being a “third parent” to her - the best final few weeks they could.
“She is hugely important to me,” she said. “I hated the idea of her not being visited, I used to see her three or four times a week.”
When her granddaughters were young, she was hands-on in their upbringing, in turn helping her daughter-in-law to work as a nurse.
“Grandma had a wicked sense of humour, and she laughed until the very end,” she said. “Her family were deeply important to her, and she was a huge character - and she loved her sherry and jelly babies.”