AGEING, Globalisation and Family

A letter from a close friend of mine reaching her 80th birthday.
Dear Rina,
No I do not mind if you post this letter on your blog. I imagine that other old women may have the same experience. But please do not divulge personal information.

As you know i have lost my sister who lived in the South of France and my ex (husband) also died last year. I have been so busy since I retired. I have had a few affairs, I have worked teaching English, I have helped in a centre for disadvantaged youth and travelled around the globe to visit my children. But now I feel tired and need to be rather than do. It is something that you have written to me about but being younger than you I did not quite see what you meant.
I feel a need to be with people who have known me for a significant length of time, people who know my background, where I come from, people who have known if not all my own family at least some of them. The few friends I made in my nomadic life are now gone. I know that it should be easier for me compared to you. I live in Paris now, French is my language but my life as mother of two sons and a daughter was spent in England for a period of time in Willesden where I met you. I envied your big family. I knew your mother and your brothers who came to visit you and I have still some oriental gifts that you brought back from Beirut. You were so comfortable in your own identity. I was lost between my French background and my English husband that I finally divorced in the painful circumstances that you are aware of.
You know that my children did well but the little family feeling that I had then in Willesden, has gone forever and I blame globalisation.

Do you remember how we disagreed on feminism? You would be proud of the career women both my daughter and in laws have become. I see my daughter not very often when she comes to Paris. She is still a very busy foreign correspondent for an obscure American TV channel. I know nothing of her life – she has never enough time in Paris. Although full of attention for her old mother, she does not feel she can share her difficult life.

You were very impressed when the two boys graduated from Polytechnique and Supaero. Yes they did well, you know, but I have never felt the fracture there when I was living my own interesting life. S. works for an international outfit in Hong Kong. His wife is Chinese and they have a son. They are very close to her own family and during their visits they stay in a hotel rather than in my flat. I found it interesting when I visited them and her family and toured a bit. But the links were too tenuous to last in spite of my attempts to learn Mandarin.
R. after a dangerous life as an environmentalist has finally settled. He married a divorced Moroccan woman with two children and they live in Rabat. The children used to come to Paris and stayed with me when they were young. But not anymore. Again they all feel closer to the maternal family and after all, the sun shines more in Morocco than Paris.

I never felt this isolation until now that I do not travel much. I wonder if like me you find the importance of being with people who know where you come from without actually having shared all  your past. I wonder too how easy it is for you to have mixed-race grandchildren and great-grandchild, these days of creeping racism.  How do you feel to have your brothers scattered over the globe:  California, New Zealand, Paris? Are you fully integrated in London? and does Leon’s family give you this family feeling? I am sorry that you cannot go birdwatching anymore because of your poor eyesight but I am sure that your feel for nature is still as strong as ever.

I am so grateful for our correspondence. You will never know how much I miss your visits to Paris. Now that we do not see each other I felt I had to revisit my trajectory. The boulangerie/cafe in Passy where we used to spend hours sharing our lives has gone. I feel a need to reinforce our friendship and share my consciousness of a new stage in my life: the 80s.
Not easy,
……..

THE TERRIBLE 92 – part 2

Advice to myself and carers

There is no fooling ma tante Salma, her senses are all there: with her eagle eyes she will notice any minor change you dare make in her surrounding, any change of expression in your face. Her nose will smell the cucumber being cut in the room next door or the tiniest drop of sweat you may harbour. And I swear she must have a 7th sense that allows her to guess people’s thoughts and their next move within a centimetre of precision.
Her memory is all there and my ears are going to explode with tales of money, success, status, past splendour: les soirees, les brilliants et les toilettes (the evening parties, diamonds and chic clothes) often repeated again and again…
And now what? With all her money, she is pacing round and round in her room and in her head, worrying about the next pipi. Worrying about millions of minor problems, not being able to abdicate her authority on her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren…after all I have done for them
She lives in anticipation of what will happen in the next days with great anxiety.
Are these common features of old age? Or is it the result of living in exile? Past traumas not digested?

After my three weeks’ stint caring for Salma, I made myself some observations about old age .
It is very important to explain to anxious older people when and how things will happen, even if it is not what they want, rather than being vague and letting them build scenarios in their head
We must not think that age diminishes the intellect or the senses and we must treat old people as normal adults
Do not contradict old people, they usually know best but sometimes when they don’t, let it pass, or you may get a tantrum, it is not worth it
It is vital not to forget who the person is and recognise all what they have achieved in their life when they are still alive, not only at their funerals
Old people still need touch, kisses, love and little gifts of the things they like

Reminders for myself:
Do your pelvic floor exercise on the hour every hour
Notice any obsessions that may develop, acknowledge them and try to move on
Ask for help and accept help graciously, don’t forget to say thank you
Do not expect people to communicate with you if I you do not put your hearing aid
Make sure you have a non-judgmental friend or two to whom you can lash out all your woes without being contradicted
What money you have, USE IT! for your comfort and amusement, what are you waiting for?

Someone should devise a course on growing old that is not only about how to eat well, how to stay active and warm, but about the behaviours we can develop, how to deal with psychological changes. The usual response from the near and dear is : ah! she needs antidepressant”, donnez lui un calmant…

Ageing and Feminism

This month I attended two important public events. Both corresponded to a part of my identity but they could not have been more different in content and form.

I was invited to the OLD’UP colloque in Paris by Moira Allan who founded with Dr. Jean Hively the international ‘Pass it on Network’. The conference took place in the prestigious government building of the ‘Conseil Economic, Social et Environmental.’ The auditorium had perfect sound and vision from its 400 seats. We were treated to 6 panels: Being Old , The Apprentice Centenarians, Old’Up Workshops Reports, Links and International Input, Initiatives, Prospects. The 20 panel members (16 women) were all specialists of ageing: theoreticians as well as workers at the grass-roots: philosopher, academic, sociologist, researcher, psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, geriatrician, gerontologist, social and health workers. I was fascinated by the breath of approach to the day. I felt that I belonged to a demographic group worth thinking about, theorising about, researching, studying, providing for and innovating. The day was invigorating. One commentary from the stage did mention that women were in a majority and my searching eyes delighted in the sea of white-haired heads in the auditorium.

I was just as enthused by the Feminist in London Conference  that took place at the Hilton Metropole Hotel: 1000 women, 4 keynote speakers, 16 workshops, art exhibition, film room, children activities, stalls campaigns, crafts, books . The energy was electrifying. Intergenerational contacts and acknowledgement of our past were made, but there was no presence of the old woman here and now. No voice represented me as an old feminist even though many speakers were ‘old women’: the legendary Nawal Saadawi, Bianca Jagger looking magnificent all in black including her mane of jet black hair, Bea Campbell, Jay Ginn. I only mention the old women I actually heard speak  but there were others.

In spite of this presence I felt that we, ordinary old feminists, have not raised our voices loudly enough and have not shared our concerns and contributions. The crisis in care, for example, is without doubt a feminist issue but more personal experiences are worth sharing and understanding also. What does an old feminist grandmother look like? Why are the grandmother and grand-aunt roles not appreciated? Why is the family important as we age? What does an old feminist feel about her ageing body?  What does an old feminist feel about losing independence? What are the changes that a feminist couple need to adapt to.  What are the feminist possible alternatives to the choice between getting isolated and living in a less than liberating care home? How do old feminists  see approaching death?

But also what brings us joy and zest for living and making a difference?

Active Ageing and Disability

I am angry, I am very angry.

‘Active Ageing’ is the buzz expression these days. Mention the magic words and short-term projects will be funded, academic research will be supported and women who want a contemplative and quiet life will feel guilty.

I believe that the expression was introduced by the WHO about people over 60 years of age and has been taken up by the EU and other organisations. What are the ageist assumptions that underpin the Active Ageing concept? I do not know about men, or other countries and I talk from an 80 years old Londoner’s point of view. I know that fit and healthy old women do not sit doing nothing all day. Some are still paid for their work, the majority work for no pay: they look after their grandchildren, they are carers for parents or partners, they volunteer for hundreds of charities, hospitals, hospices, schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, they take courses or lead courses. They write, they sing, they paint.
They tend their gardens and allotments and care for the environment and campaign for peace and justice. And some have earned the right to choose not to be ‘productive’. Fit and healthy women do not need help in being ‘active’. I sometimes think that they would benefit from help in slowing down.

In the field of education I am angry because Adult Education courses where old and young adults learned together have been severely curtailed for lack of funds and new courses are funded specially for the ‘old’ to be active – very often without provisions for the disabled old.

Quoted in Age-Friendly-London Report: “Older people are living with disabilities and longstanding illnesses for a greater proportion of their life, although this varies with social class, ethnicity, gender and location. At age 65 men are now expected to live with disability for 7.9 years, women 9.9 years (ONS 2014a).” I am angry because the Active Ageing campaign does not address this fact and seems to me to concentrate on the fit and healthy.

There are no courses on living with impaired hearing or vision. There are no courses in adapting to creeping disabilities. There are no courses in adapting to the changing relationship in couples when one becomes disabled. There are no courses on how to talk to your doctor and learn about the medication prescribed. I only know of one course on living with a chronic illness. And apart from the growth of independently organised Death Cafes I know of no courses about death.

Active Ageing? Yes, of course. Give the old the means and they will need no help to be active. State-of-the-art hearing aids for the hard of hearing that is one of the causes of isolation. Mobility scooters for all who want one. Local Community Centres with good transport and facilities for the disabled that will provide daily social contacts.

I am angry because the problem of isolation and mental deterioration is not solved by a befriender visiting once a week even if there are caring relatives who can visit sporadically Sheltered accommodation, care homes, nursing homes are of an appalling standard unless you are extremely rich.

Yes Active Ageing: Fund community hubs, adult education, local activities, adequate transport, meeting spaces, age-mixed housing areas with cultural activities. We are social animals and need daily human contact however superficial.

Simone’s thoughts on ageing and disability

It is Josephine’s post that inspired me to write this. I am 79 and have been in retirement for 20 years. For the last twenty years I have gone through constant adaptations: to  the liberation from work, the loss of working in a team, the freedom of travelling where and when I liked, the new responsibilities of looking after my parents, their death, the involvement in political activities, the  new social networks, the role of an active grandmother, the children’s separations divorces or other crisis.

Now nearly 80 I am getting progressively deafer and my energies are declining. The two losses conspire to make me conscious of what I fear most of all about ageing : isolation. My children, grandchildren and step grandchild (child of my son’s partner by another father) live in other towns. I see them on holidays or during the rare visits they have time for. I have no friends who live locally.

I have always relied on public transport and distances did not affect my attendance at cultural and social events. Now I tend to avoid these not only because of the effort necessary to travel long distances but also because once there I do not follow most of what is being said on the platform or the noisy environment. Theatre going is out and English and American films are often hard work. The foreign ones with subtitles are the most comfortable.

I talk to old the old women who sit next to me on the bus. I am often told : “Well one has to get out doesn’t one”. “You cannot stay at home all day”.  “I like going to the shopping centre it is an outing isn’t it?”. Will I get to this stage?

I fear the creeping isolation. Will I be able to adapt to it?.

 

 

 

 

Josephine thoughts on ageing and disability

First appeared in the Older Feminist Newsletter No 210 October-November 2014

1. Old age lasts a long time – I’ve been drawing the old age pension for 25 years!

2. It is a dynamic process, with physical fitness and abilities constantly changing and imposing the need to learn different behaviours. For instance, after slipping off a kerb and fracturing my pelvis while talking as I walked, I learned to watch my feet all the time. Similarly, after misjudging traffic speed while crossing the road after dark, I learned I could no longer run without falling over (and thoroughly frightening a poor driver!)

3. There is also a reduction of cognitive abilities. I can no longer count on completing crosswords.

4. There is no point mourning all this. I think of it as a survival tax.

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