I realised this week that its 20 years since my Godmother died of breast cancer. She was ever a warm presence in my young life. Her ability to name each wild flower, to nurture her own garden and her aura of gentle kindness enriched my childhood in a way I will never forget.She was my Mum's good friend and one of many she has now outlived. A sad situation for her ........but she has also been luckier. She has been able to see her grandchildren thrive and make her proud, enjoy many a family celebration and find joy in her great grandchild. And she has even in her 85 year moved to a new home and starting a fresh...life is still an adventure, even if that can be scary too.
And in the same week the House of Lords committee have reported on our response in the UK to our aging society. We are woefully unprepared they say. We need to look at so many of our structures like housing, pensions, workplaces, care services, it effects them all. But it does strike me that we tend to see all of this in terms of deficit; not cause for celebration but instead for concern. I wonder if this in part reflects the ageism that defines our society. That worshiping youth makes us judge longer life as a challenge to our lives as we know them rather than a blessing and a good fortune.If we re-framed it, would we see less gloom and more opportunity from this changing demographic? Would we celebrate those who enjoy longer years rather than express them as a burden?
Of course we will need to change our approach to care, to build more suitable housing, invest in pensions properly, have age appropriate cities and so on but if we see this as investment in the future it may help us find the way....positively. Language can be so telling and influential. I noticed recently a care of the elderly facility renamed as a centre for the third age. That different name already creates a different expectation and approach. And I have seen the difference that name can make. They offer a joined up service with NHS, social care and third sector working together.......and more this is done with great kindness. It does show that these approaches and alongside a culture of person centred care can enable a transformation in care for older people.
If this were the case everywhere we would not have a society that has a care system that feels its acceptable to create a service I read of recently that suggested a visit of 15 minutes a day could meet the need of a 90 year old man. His situation means that he only sees that one carer each day and their role is to address his needs in 15 minutes and then leave him...... to his loneliness. Their contract means they cannot make contact with their clients beyond their role, or they could be sacked. I cannot imagine the price each carer has to pay personally to engage so briefly with such need, then move on swiftly. It seems cruel for all involved does it not?
But there are some innovative solutions to meeting care needs, like the robot seal , programmed to respond to human contact and engagement. It's use with older people has led to them being more alert and engaged, which in turn has led to their carers also being able to reach them. The robots touching a deep place of contact, unlocking emotions hidden by dementia. Powerful and also ....maybe just a little scary? As a dog lover I was more drawn to the concept of dementia dogs, trained to provide support to people with dementia. Undoubtedly unlocking emotions too and providing love and care for human and dog alike. If my time comes, I'll have the dog ok?
And finally this was the week I learned that the life of one amazing young woman was lost at the age of 34. Lisa wrote a blog called Alrightit about her experience of breast cancer, diagnosed in her twenties. It's both funny and shockingly illuminating. She also wrote a book about the experience and said it was always her ambition write one but writing it about her cancer was a bit like taking the Heathrow Express ; it got her there quicker but it cost a lot more. Indeed it did. My thoughts have been with her family and friends this week. A very stark reminder that there are many things much worse that getting older.......in particular never having had the chance.
I once read the following poem out at a conference in the Royal College of Physicians. I hoped it might reconnect some people to why they came to a caring profession. We of course need the systems, organisations and communities that support this too.
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain ;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
by Emily Dickinson
Reasons to be heartful
I visited my Mum in her new home this week. Her new community is reaching out and that's so heartening. Her favourite birthday gift last month was from her grandchildren. It was a bird table. The robin, blackbirds and many others enrich her day. As you will see the dog was intrigued but happily didn't scare them off.It's my reminder that its the simple things that can lift a day, ease a pain.....and maybe we can all do that for each other at some level? And lets be grateful that we are living longer as well as keeping in our hearts those who don't....