Three Heathcote women reflect on their lifetime as carers for their loved ones

Cheryl Connally is a carer for her paraplegic husband, Marisa Dallalana cared for her sick mother for 40 years, and Lorraine Mulvihill cares for her non-verbal daughter with autism. Picture: ADAM HOLMES
Cheryl Connally is a carer for her paraplegic husband, Marisa Dallalana cared for her sick mother for 40 years, and Lorraine Mulvihill cares for her non-verbal daughter with autism. Picture: ADAM HOLMES

MARISA Dallalana made a promise to her sick mother: she would never allow her to end up in a nursing home.

It’s a promise she kept for more than 40 years.

Mrs Dallalana’s mother passed away at the age of 98 in the Heathcote home they shared together.

“I never considered putting her in a home because I knew that she didn’t want to go. She made me promise that I wouldn’t put her there,” she said.

“When she died I said to myself, ‘There you go mum, I kept my promise’.”

To fulfill this commitment to her beloved mother, Mrs Dallalana became her carer for those full 40 years.

In the beginning, she would travel from Heathcote to Carlton regularly to care for her mother who suffered heart failure, kidney failure, and could not walk.

She decided to bring her to Heathcote in 2005 where they could live together in Mrs Dallalana’s home.

Apart from a weekly visit from a Heathcote Health nurse to aid in showering, she was effectively on her own to care for her mother.

Cold nights provided some of the toughest times.

“You know how you get really, really cold at night? She was screaming every night, ‘Marisa, Marisa’. At three o’clock in the morning,” Mrs Dallalana said.

“I knew what was coming.

“I had to change her bed because she was wetting it. Then I went back to bed and I couldn’t sleep.

“After you are interrupted like that, you can’t sleep.”

It placed a strain on her relationship with her husband who refused to eat with Mrs Dallalana’s mother.

She would make separate meals for them both.

Her social life also suffered.

“Being a carer you don’t get much time for a social life – that’s what was missing for me,” Mrs Dallalana said.

“I got very depressed.”

But even as her mother approached the end of her life, Mrs Dallalana never stopped feeling that sense of love and acknowledgement.

She knew her mother was eternally grateful for the devotion of her daughter.

“Being a carer is not easy, but it’s worthwhile because you do the proper job and you’re happy with the way you do it,” Mrs Dallalana said.

“And they love you for it.”

Her mother passed away recently, but her role as a carer immediately started again when her husband was seriously injured in a car accident. A large piece of metal severed part of his throat and he has limited mobility.

He cannot drive.

“Now I’m caring for him,” Mrs Dallalana said.

“I take him everywhere, I have to – to doctor’s appointments, shopping, the lot.”

It does not faze her – she knows what she has to do.

She told her story to the Bendigo Advertiser as part of National Carer’s Week, which had its Victorian launch in Heathcote on Monday.

Close to two decades as carer for paraplegic husband

Fellow Heathcote resident Cheryl Connally has been the full-time carer for her husband since 1999, when he became a paraplegic in a car accident.

Like for many carers, her role was thrust upon her without any notice.

“We’ve been married 47 years. I don’t see it as an obligation, I do it anyway,” she said.

“It depends on the sort of person you are, but you’ve just got to face the world.

“Life can be a lot worse, you’ve only got to look around and see how many people are worse off than you.”

She had a feeling of isolation to begin with – until she found out about the support that exists for carers.

“I didn’t think there was much support, but then I didn’t know because I was just so busy being a carer at the start,” Mrs Connally said.

She has since joined the local carer’s group, and recently attended a conference in Adelaide to learn about other ways in which carers can be supported.

The TAC has provided her husband with a high level of support.

Yet they still face regular challenges.

“The paraplegia is just the first thing that goes wrong,” Mrs Connally said.

“There’s all the other health problems that come as a result of that. We’re both ageing, in our 70s, so it gets a bit harder as you get older.”

‘There’s a lot of love at our house for Angela’

Lorraine Mulvihill, also of Heathcote, cares for her 40-year-old daughter Angela for three nights every third weekend.

Angela has autism and slight cerebral palsy, and is non-verbal, relying on Makaton sign language. She lives in a community residential unit in Kyneton with five other women.

Mrs Mulvihill is responsible for her medical care, and describes herself as her daughter’s “administrator”.

She said the family always looks forward to having Angela come to visit.

“She loves to be home. She loves to be with me,” Mrs Mulvihill said.

“There’s no one like a mother’ s love and care. Angie loves her siblings, and they love her. There’s a lot of love at our house for Angela.”

Even having to put Angela to bed seven times a night does not frustrate Mrs Mulvihill.

“Her main thing is she loves to go to the bakery,” she said.

“She’ll put the light on and come up to the bed and tap me, and so this sign, and I’ll say ‘yes Angie’ and put her back to bed.

“An hour later she’s up again with the light on.”

Seeing her daughter’s smile – and unique laugh – makes it all worthwhile for Mrs Mulvihill.

For the three women – Mrs Dallalana, Mrs Connally and Mrs Mulvihill – National Carers Week allowed them to tell their stories, and to receive the recognition they deserve.