SPOTLIGHT: Bridget Jane Pou

Bridget Jane Pou (known as Jane) has professional and personal experience within the family carer community, putting her in a unique position. She’s a needs assessor for the NASC Bay of Plenty DHB assisting older people and their families for funded support services.   Together with her partner, Tangiwai, she’s also a carer for her mother, Mary.

“So many people fall through the gaps in terms of getting the support they’re entitled to,” she says. Getting in touch is the first step, but she knows it can be difficult territory to navigate, with many carers often unaware of what they could potentially access. Which is why she’s also a trustee for Carers NZ; she passionately believes in creating and nurturing support networks to connect people to each other.

Jane has been looking after her mother for many years, but has taken on more responsibility since the end of 2015, when Mary moved into her and Tangiwai’s home in Papamoa, Bay of Plenty. Formerly very independent in her Auckland home, it became harder for Jane to return to Papamoa from weekend visits with Mary, who would become very teary when it was time for Jane to depart.

“It would really upset me,” says Jane. “Many times I tried to get Mama to come and live with us, but being Ngāpuhi, having lived on the North Shore for 60 odd years, her feet were firmly set on the ground to remain there.”

It was manageable for a few years, until Mary dislocated her left arm and was struggling to shower. Jane arranged for personal care assistance three times a week for over two years. During her visits, Jane would spring clean the home and help with showering, however it became more difficult to balance care of her mother with the rest of her busy life – a common experience for many women supporting elderly whānau .

“Since my Dad passed away in 1994 I basically have been caring for and attending to all mum’s finances. I used to phone Mama six times or more a day to check on her, talk and have karakia with her which I still do today.”

Jane was supported by some of her whānau during this time, and for a while, Mary’s brother and his mokopuna lived with her, an amicable arrangement with her brother cooking and supporting her whenever she needed it.  However, with most of his whānau overseas, Mary’s brother was often away visiting them at Christmas time. 

This arrangement came to a head in Christmas 2015, when Mary came down to Papamoa because her brother was overseas on holiday again. Over the next week, Jane discussed all the options with her mum.

Jane and her siblings, along with 18 Whangai and mokopuna, were all raised by their parents in Bayswater and then Northcote. But it was soon clear that Jane was to be the one Mary chose to care for her permanently in her old age, who could offer her stability of care.

 Their Catholic faith is very important to them, so to help with a decision, they first prayed together and shared The Word for Today for guidance on New Years Day 2017.

“There were a few things to consider. Mary was concerned that with me working, much of the caring would go to Tangiwai.”

They didn’t have to wait long before guidance turned up. Jane’s brother-in-law Dr David Chaplow and his wife Rebecca called in after church. Speaking to Mary in Maori (which she speaks fluently) he said, “it’s time Mama; let the girls look after you.”

Closely followed by Tangiwai’s response: “Mama please come and stay with us, its time, we will take care of you.”

Over the next few days they discussed the viability of keeping the family home within the whānau. Jane says she would have liked to put one of siblings in the home, but this wasn’t economic given Mary’s growing support needs. So it was sold, and Mary moved to Papamoa.

“Tangiwai just turned everything around, routine, caring, loving, making Mama do things for herself and to walk independently. Such a turnaround. Mama didn’t want anyone else, not even me, showering her, she just wanted Tangiwai.”

Funding from the sale of the family home is used to pay for private daily care and respite every weekend.

“We are blessed. They are caring, loving and trustworthy ladies and have become a big part of our whānau.”

“This has enabled Tangiwai and I to have some quality time on the weekends to enjoy each other’s company,” she says, adding that in practical terms, it mostly means just catching up on sleep and rest. When she can, she takes her 20ft Stabi Craft hardtop boat out, spending what time she can on the water fishing and diving with her nephews, whanau and anyone who loves gathering seafood.

She’s also been singing for 55 years, and continues to do so for kaumatua, birthdays, functions, and fundraising, anything which is important to her.

Jane says having Mary make the move was absolutely the best decision to make.

“We are blessed to have our Mama live to 89 years old and I am now preparing for a luncheon for her 90th birthday next July. I believe that every day is a ‘gold’ day having our Mama with us. I have loved her all my life and I guess I was destined to care for her in her older years, which is probably why I never had children or got married.”

“My life with Tangiwai and our whānau and mokopuna is rewarding enough for me, and having the blessings to continue to care for our Mama is all that matters. I pray to the Lord every day to keep us in good health so we can continue to share our lives with her.”