CATARACT AND CHANGES AT 80+

My friend, long deceased, had told me about the experience of seeing the amazing brightening of colours after her cataract operation and even wrote a poem about it. Now some younger acquaintances mention this effect. But nobody told me that while the silver of my husband’s curls look shiny his face is old with lines and folds and wrinkles. Nobody told me that suddenly all white surfaces in the house look dirty, the curtains need washing, the bathroom tiles show black joins and I did not know that the carpets were so threadbare.
My face in the mirror tells me why people automatically assume that I need help, or ignore me something that surprised me often in the tube or the bus, in public.

I wish I had cataract of the mind. I wish I could not notice the effects of ageing: the struggle to find some words, the losing and finding, the repetition to the same person of some information, the too often referring to the past, the hurt of being dismissed, ignored, or plain disliked.

I will have to look for S.’s poem that I have filed away somewhere as irrelevant to me…

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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.

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,
……..

OLD PEOPLE FOCUS GROUP

I am rather upset with myself. There was a golden opportunity to express the gendered factor in the perception of old age and I missed it. I am also depressed that this blog does not seem to interest  anybody. But carry on I must, since there is no other space for me to express my experiences as an old woman.

I was invited to take part in a focus group on the perception of old age. The researchers worked for a prestigious organisation in a prestigious building.  I was there on the strength of my film blog and felt rather out of place. Apart from the two young researchers there were 4 women and 4 men round the table.

The four men, all in their 70s, were still working: a film producer, a designer, a photographer, and as he described himself a professional very busy volunteer worker for charities (at a very high professional level).

None of the four women were still working, two of them were over 80, me 77 and a woman who would not divulge her age.

I was struck by the fact that three of the men did not identify themselves as old.  One of them declared that he had written his autobiography for his grandchildren to know about his life  and he brought with him a file of his past work. The only one who talked about age discrimination was in relation to the ‘other’ old people in care homes.

Three (including me) women did elaborate on being old: the perception of others of oneself as old,  the importance of memory, , the unpredictability of the future and putting affairs in order…

There were also the usual clichés: ‘I do not feel old, I do not think of myself as old, you are as old as you feel, inside I feel 18, we do not respect the old when in other countries they do.

I am sure that the researchers will take note of the gender/age bias of the participants. I am wondering: Did they not find working women in their 70s and over? I would have introduced them to my 92 musician female friend who is still teaching and who drives herself across to France on a regular basis. Or my 80 years old female volunteer friend who is the pillar of her church and rushes around helping her whole community, my writer friend and so many others.

Of course instead of speaking in measured tones I blurted my feelings. Well ! I just hope that some of what I said did make sense.

Another subject. At our U3A French group I had asked in preparation for this Focus Group to talk about  old age.  Grandchildren, importance of music, possibility of disguising old age, false teeth etc…  What resonated with me was  the observation of  the sensation that time goes faster as you get older. I remembered Douwe Draaisma’ book “Why Life Speeds Up As you Get Older” that I must reread.

I find that just as   my available time is shrinking there are more and more events, conferences, films, plays,  articles about old age that I cannot possibly keep up to date with.