Aug 14 2009

Stop mumbling

Category: Generalfootlight @ 08:50

Ageing is something we all take for granted, yet dread in our own future. We know that we are not immortal, yet push the inevitable to the backs of our minds as long as possible. Some of us spend a fortune every year in an attempt to stave off the ravages of time, but it is only surface cosmetics. Medical research is done on a daily basis to find ways of helping the human body to repair itself – or be repaired – so that it can go on for longer than the manual states. No-one has really thought about how this will affect society. What will we do with all this nonogenarians and centenarians who will need looking after – unless the treatment of the future also makes them physically independent?
On a recent visit to a ninety-three-year-old great-aunt, this all very much came home to me. No-one has interfered with her body, except to remove cataracts from her eyes, give her eye drops (which don't help her to see any better) and generally look after her physical welfare. They also look after her mental welfare, but that is where it starts to fall down. She is in a very good care home for the elderly. It's like a five star hotel – three good meals a day, chosen by her from a menu the day before. That used to be the case but it is quite likely that the staff now make that choice for her. A single room with en-suite bathroom. Medical staff on call. A cafe on the ground floor that leads onto the beautiful gardens. Religious services for those who want them. Enrichment classes in pottery, art etc. Guest speakers. Trips out – yesterday's was to the RHS garden at Wisley. Sounds like heaven! And it was, until my aunt became too weak and less mentally alert to enjoy them. For the very first time, on my visit yesterday, she didn't want to go down to the cafe for tea. I had taken my father – her nephew and himself eighty-eight years young – as I try to do as often as possible. Neither of them are youngsters. The nurses said she only ever leaves the floor with her daughter.
This woman was a dancer. She was beautiful, graceful, a real lady. The youngest of twelve children, she managed to be the most ethereal. She is actually only five years older than my dad - she was the youngest of her generation and he was almost the oldest of his - and they and their spouses were always good friends. Now she is a thin little woman, losing body mass, sitting in a chair all day and sleeping for most of it.
I know it upsets dad to see her like this and it certainly does me, but I would not stay away. We both have our memories of her, although hers of us are just out of reach, and that is what we need and want.
I am sure that she will just slip away one day and that is what we would all want for her. Not to have her existence dragged on with drugs. Not to be maintained in a physical state of being but with no quality of life. I want to remember her as a dignified person, insisting until the last that the reason she can't see is because of the drops in her eyes and the reason she can't hear is because we are all mumbling.