Caring Through the Pages

Carers' Week 2020

Carers' stories are a useful way to help others understand caring in the real world. To recognise that one of us can become a carer, at any time in our lives. For Carers' Week 2020, the theme is ‘Making Caring Visible’ and so I wanted to put my own spin on carers stories and look for those that are already visible in books, TV and film.

Alongside the characters we found, I asked the Mobilise Community to add their own ‘Characters who Care’ to the list and share their thoughts on what makes a character a carer. It’s surprising just how many ‘Characters who Care’ are out there when we start looking.

Why is being visible important? 

We are often told that there are 7 million carers in the UK, and many of us will be in a caring role at some point in our lives. But, how do we know? When we started talking about this in the Mobilise community, we found many didn’t know that they were a carer straight away.

Our unpaid carers were keen to talk about the importance of carer visibility when recognising that their role were different to medical professionals or employers. I also heard that many do not like the term ‘carer’, but rather that they are a spouse, parent, child, sibling or grandparent.

For them,

“It’s just what families do.”

For others,

“It was in our vows, in sickness and in health... a promise we made to each other on our wedding day.”

Whether we use the term 'carer' or we prefer something else, it’s important to know that there are others who share similar experiences, challenges and emotions out there. It reminds us that we are not alone. The characters in books, TV and film let us follow their stories and find out what makes them a carer. By highlighting their caring stories, it might just help us to identify the carers in our own stories too.

Physical disabilities and condition-specific films

As in the life of a carer when I started this project, I naturally found myself thinking of ‘the cared for’ first. I found stories where one character had a physical disability or the storyline focused on a particular condition. For example, Dot Cotton (Eastenders) took on a Caring role for her husband, Jim Branning, following his stroke, both in their home and later in a Care Home, before his passing. The soap opera explores Dot’s caring role, her struggles and the difficult decision of placing her husband in a Care home, an experience which many carers face within their caring journeys.

There are also many carers in stories which focus on a particular condition, including the Fitzgerald Family in ‘My Sisters Keeper’ and the families of the teenagers (Grant Family and Meredith Newman) in Five Feet Apart. Although they both have tragic endings, the storylines focus on the family’s determination to go to any measure to keep their loved one safe and alive as well as their personal emotional battles. 

Another example is Jo March from Little Women who cares for her sister Beth at the end of her life. Interestingly, Jo speaks of her caring role as an opportunity for learning as she gained skills and qualities which help her in her life including patience, forgiveness, faith and trust.

This is a reflection of many carers, who whilst facing challenges and struggles, wouldn’t have the situation any other way. It is also a great reminder of the many skills carers can gain within their roles and the transferable value this can provide to those outside of that caring network, such as employers. 

When exploring narratives which focus on an individual with a physical disability or condition, there were some themes which emerged including hospitals or care settings and the emotional journey of the family surrounding the character who is being cared for. Importantly, the distinctions including the age and familial connections of the characters highlight how everyone involved in the support network of an individual can be seen as a Carer. 

Young Carers

‘Young carer’ is a term becoming more well-known in society but it is often hard to determine what makes someone a young carer as the role can vary greatly. By looking at some of the characters that represent young carers, it helps us to understand what their roles might look like. When thinking about younger carers, the first character that came to mind was Charlie Bucket.

In the story, Charlie’s four Grandparents share a bed in their tiny home (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and are primarily cared for by Mrs Bucket. The grandparents are described as so old and tired that