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…

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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