LIFE REVIEW AND EXILE

Family and friends on holiday.

The daughter of a cousin is visiting. A French academic, she briefly lectured in Aleppo before the recent wars and destruction.
She often stayed with her grandparents (my aunt and uncle) in Beirut and Israel and heard them talk about their lives in Aleppo . She is interested in this past.
I was delighted to find a listening ear. I unearthed photos, my school reports and other documents and relived the past for a few days.
My early life in Aleppo that I left at the age of 10 (late 30s/early 40s ), seemed more important to me than later life in Beirut that I left aged 21. It seemed vital that I should transmit my recollections to somebody familiar with this background.

I am left wondering in the days of globalisation how old women experience their uprooting. I am sure that each exile is different depending on the country of origin, the conditions of leaving, the process of acculturation in the new country, the assimilation of the children,  the community.

In her last days in a French hospital, my mother in pain would utter a sound approximating to …AKH, AKH. When I visited her, a concerned nurse asked me what she was asking for, not realising that this utterance expressed pain (physical or even psychological) in her native language.

I am wondering if exiled people with dementia are misunderstood by carers of a different cultural background and even language.

I am wondering what the life review of old age feels like if not shared.

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Brief note on a nature walk at 82

Nature walk is not what it used to be,

On this beautiful summer day I went on a walk in Sussex. The pain of it. Bird watching has become a frustating exercise. By the time I put my walking stick down, removed my sunglasses, focused my binoculars and tried to locate the source of the bird song, the creature had long departed.

Yes vision is not what it used to be, neither is hearing but the legs are still strong and the sun is shining and walking in nature under the sun and a cool breeze  is still exhilarating and I can still hear the lark rising.

 

Quite Old Women but not Very Old Women

Quite Old Women but not Very Old Women
Today is my birthday. I will have lived 82 years with ups and downs in all fronts.
Yesterday my little family came to celebrate with me and it felt warm and loving.

Now, on the roof ridge outside my office window, a male pigeon is displaying rather ridiculously. All puffed out he turns round and round more and more frantically. The female is observing him patiently. Eventually she turns her head sideways and flies away.

It cheers me up to observe nature already preparing for renewal. But two items on my computer screen clash uncomfortably.

A person’s chronological age doesn’t necessarily indicate their overall health or their risk for certain conditions. http://www.livescience.com/57409-aging-biomarker-signature-blood-test.html

The Older Women Rock Project. It seems that Older here refers to women in their 50s and 60s. Shouldn’t the title of the exhibition and project be called “quite old women – but not very old women- rock”.

I am left wondering do I rock? … Or do I roll?

Once again ageism resurfaces in unexpected contexts and I feel excluded again.

Edit

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,
……..

My Aunt Salma or The Terrible 92s

I was hoping that this blog would permit some of my friends to contribute to our experiences of ageing. Finally a friend (aged 66) who was asked to look after an aunt for a month’s holiday sent me the following:

My Aunt Salma
My aunt Salma left her home town of Aleppo aged 22 to marry an old millionaire from Cairo, they then settled in Milano. Now aged 92, and a widow for many moons, she has lost her past glory and beauty and is looking more and more like a bird of prey with a hooked nose, piercing cold eyes that notice everything and fingers that have morphed into bluish claws.

She rules the roost with an iron beak, maybe she always did? But now with her faculties in decline and being dependant on others for her basic needs, she has become a tyrant. Who will she pounce on next?

Are these genetic traits that I will inherit? Maybe I am already a tyrant and not aware of it!

Do we all grow old in a similar way? Do we share common characteristics? I wonder…:

The desperate need to be recognised for who we were and what we have achieved

The need for love given without asking

The need for touch and kisses

The frustration when things are not done the way we want them

The over active brain that cannot settle on the moment, because what is there anymore now? And it races 100 miles ahead, worrying and anticipating, rehashing bad deeds that people have done to us recently or in the past

The obsession with our bodies: where is it hurting today? how high is the blood pressure? Why am I peeing so much suddenly?

Lashing out at carers who are not following the proper routine on how to apply the Nivea cream, the order in which to put on garments

Lashing out at family members who do not care to phone or visit regularly or say thank you for all what we have done for them

Blaming everyone else for everything that goes wrong, it is never our fault

Refusing to acknowledge our limitations and making everyone’s life miserable because we won’t use a wheel chair or a stick or pay for a taxi when we can afford hundreds of them

And I want this and I don’t want that or is it the other way around?

This is all very tiring ….

Nothing really that a good dose of Arsenic 200c cannot solve

AGEISM AND ANGER

I was considering changing my lifestyle to keep healthy in my 80s as advocated by hundreds of  Ageing Advice sites on the net.  I am already eating healthily, and I try to take regular exercise. To avoid stressful situations is more difficult but I thought I was doing rather well until I came across Angela Rippon two programmes entitled How To Keep Young * . I started to see red, to get angry, to lose my temper. Not a very healthy response but for pity’s sake I am not young, Neither is she. Who is she addressing? 18 years old, 30? Older? is 50 young or old? is 71 Rippon’s age young?

God knows why I took the online  test What Is My Real Age? Do I need to have a test to know my real age? I know how old I am. I was born exactly 81 years, 4 months, 23 days and 4 hours ago. The test gave me a body age of 85. Does the body include the brain? Keep my cool ?  the blooming cheek!  I am all of 81 -and bits – years old no more no less.

“Give the programmes a try” says my husband foreseeing a vicious outburst.  “Blame the programmes not the presenter.”

I viewed and suffered both programmes, the stress increasing by the minute. I will not go into details.  I cannot waste  time to quote the vacuous images, the outlandish research projects and the comments of privileged, self-satisfied Rippon: (” I’m in a job people would give their right arm for, and in 50 years I’ve never felt bored.” Express Newspaper). Suffice it to say that in the first two minutes of the introductions to the programmes I saw smug Rippon (in the mirror) looking ‘half her age’, heard her say how to slow down ageing,  how research help us younger for longer, which exercise holds off ageing the most, what can make us all live seven years longer, how to ‘cure’ ageing, search to find the best way of keeping us all young, keep our minds younger than ever before, the fountain of youth.  The programmes ended with young 71 years old Rippon dancing frantically and desperately?

Now – I tried to forget about the stress of my anger in order to live longer but frankly I would rather rage against this ageism that so pervades our culture. Good friends of mine excused the programmes on the grounds that it does give some good advice about ageing well.  Really? how about employing old people if they want to work? how about fighting poverty, fighting abuse of old people in care homes, prevent malnutrition, isolation.  How about funding community projects and spaces?  How about fighting ageism in all spheres?

I may have shortened my life by a few days but I feel calmer.

 

* broadcast on BBC1 and still available on iplayer.

** coincidence. As I was thinking about this post Channel 4

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/unreported-world/on-demand/63201-006