Still Game’s Isa on life as a ‘sandwich carer’

Image caption Jane McCarry plays pensioner Isa Drennan in the BBC sitcom Still Game

Still Game actress Jane McCarry is one of the growing number of people coping with the demands of having young children and looking after an elderly parent.

Jane, who plays nosy, busybody pensioner Isa Drennan in the BBC comedy, knows she is not alone in finding that working full-time, having two children and looking after her 89-year-old mother takes its toll.

She says being a “sandwich carer” – trying to look after the generations above and below – is “overwhelming” at times and she often feels there is “nothing left in the tank”.

Jane, from Glasgow, says: “You can’t be everything to everybody and just keep going.”

Image caption Jane has been caring for her mum Jean

According to Carers UK, a fifth of 45-60 year olds are actively caring for elderly parents while their own children are still at home.

It also found carers were much more likely to be women, and that 42% were struggling to cope.

Despite playing a pensioner on TV, in real life Jane is just 46 and has two boys – 12-year-old Alexander and Iain, who is 15.

Over the summer her mother was in hospital and she was working “hugely long hours on Still Game” as well as trying to look after her children.

She says: “It was running back and forward and never getting to see the doctors because when they are there, you are at work.

Image caption Jane McCarry’s mother Jean and with Jane’s two sons
Image caption Jane says Still Game does not make old people the butt of the jokes

“I feel like I am running harder and harder and I am never getting to where I need to be.

“You never quite get there and that’s how lots of people feel.”

Image caption Still Game has just been filming another series

She says her mum has to see a consultant about her hip but Jane has never met him because every time her mother has had an appointment she has been working.

“I feel really guilty about that,” she says.

“It is so hard and yet I feel guilty saying that it is hard because my mum is such a pleasure.”

Image caption In real life Jane is only 46 and has been playing Isa since she was 32

Jane says that until four years ago her main focus was on her children.

However, things had changed “quite dramatically” after her father fell ill, followed by her mother needing care.

She adds: “I’m either at work or with the kids or with mum, and everybody feels that I’m not doing enough – although they would not say it.”

Jane, whose father died two years ago, is an only child whose mother was 42 when she had her.

Image caption Jane’s mum Jean is 89

She says this can be a benefit in that there is no sibling who wants something completely different or who is not pulling their weight.

However, she says: “It is difficult because all the decisions are down to me.

“Just now I have got to decide whether my mum goes on a blood-thinning drug because she has got something wrong with her heart.

Image caption Isa’s son Colin is never seen in the programme

“They want to put her on the drug but she keeps falling. If you don’t go on the drug you are likely to have a stroke and if you do go on the drug and you fall you are likely to have a stroke.

“If I say yes and then she falls and has a stroke, I would feel bad.”

The decision on the drugs falls to Jane because she has power of attorney to take decisions on behalf of her mother.

She took on that responsibility when her mother was very confused after her hip operation led to infections.

She says: “It is a great thing to have and I would recommend anyone to have that, but with it comes responsibility.

“If there is anything that she needs me to do it is much easier to do it when you have power of attorney.”

In the hit BBC comedy Still Game, Isa’s son Colin is never seen but it is made clear he wants as little as possible to do with his mother.

Jane says: “If she didn’t have Jack and Victor, Winston, Tam and Navid, really she would have nobody.”

On Still Game, the characters are perennially in their mid-70s but Jane was just 32 when she began playing Isa.

Image caption Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan star as Victor and Jack in the comedy series

All the other actors in the show were also much younger than their characters.

She says: “We have all developed our characters from older people in our lives that we have really loved.

“Because my mum and dad were older, all my aunts and uncles were older and their friends.

“Even when I was 32 I was seeing lots of my mum and dad’s friends being ill and getting dementia.”

Family secrets

Jane, who also played Granny Murray in the children’s series Me Too, says: “I think that is why I played older parts and older people because of the connection that I have had because of my mum and dad being older and their peer group being older.”

She says old people are never the butt of the joke in Still Game.

“We all love older people and it is a real celebration of the good and the bad,” Jane says.

She says unlike the characters in Still Game her dad never swore and was “not rude at all”.

However, her mother Jean has started to say “much more outrageous things” as the filter on what is considered taboo disappears.

Jane says she talks about when she would skip school and about “the weekend she ran off with a sailor”.

“She keeps telling family secrets, she is so much fun,” she says.

Jane added that her mum was worried about the impact that caring was having on her daughter’s life.

“She does not want to be a burden.

“She say to me all the time: ‘This is what I didn’t want to happen’.”

BBC Scotland’s Timeline programme will talk to Jane McCarry on Thursday 21 September at 19:30 on BBC Two Scotland

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