Last Saturday my parents celebrated their birthdays (yes, they were born on the same day) and I chatted with them about getting older. My father had spent the beginning of the week in hospital due to heart complications, and although my mother wasn’t in hospital she has certainly had her fair share of hospitalisation over the last year, somewhere around the 17 week mark thanks to a knee replacement and a broken femur.
There is a saying ‘Getting old Gracefully’ – I’m starting to question this quote, is there really such a thing? All the older people that I have known that have gone to a greater place have done so as a result of some horrible disease or complicated health issues. Both my grandfathers died suddenly in their 50’s of heart attacks, well before I was born and they did not have the opportunity to grow old. Both of my parent’s mother’s died in their 80’s – 1 of cancer, the other of a heart attack. Both ladies died in hospital. My husband’s grandfather is still with us, yet has had some horrendous health issues including skin cancer and pre-diabetic symptoms. He now resides in a care facility and is well loved by all the lady residents as there are not many men in the facility. My husband’s nanna died from cancer at home, as per her wishes, this was only doable as my mother-in-law took leave from her job as an aged care worker and nursed her.
‘Getting old Gracefully’ – all the above-mentioned family members either didn’t get the opportunity to grow old, or were reduced to ‘leaving their dignity at the door’ as their illness or condition got worse. This message of dignity was said to me during the labour of my first child by my midwife, and I will never forget it. My midwife, Ken, promised that my baby would come once he finished his shift, when Ken returned to work the next day and I was still in labour he was very apologetic. As things were getting serious I made a joke about my dignity and he responded with the quick response of “Didn’t you see the sign on the door – please leave your dignity here and come and collect it in a few days”. I know that nurses all over the world try their best to treat their patients with the utmost dignity, whether they are young or old, but with some situations there is simply none!
I recently took a group of students to visit residents in a nursing home, some of the residents had dementia, some were quite with it, and some were quite sad. I know that their spirits were lifted by our visit, but our spirits were lifted ten times higher. We were so grateful for the opportunity to visit and chat and to hear their stories. I was extremely proud of the students for the way they carried themselves and listened and responded to the residents. As we de-briefed after the visit they all said that they were a little scared or nervous, but once they started chatting, they became more comfortable and were happy to listen and ask questions.
By showing a little more care and compassion within our everyday, particularly to those who are older than us, we can create a feeling of purposefulness for both ourselves and the older person. Older people have a lifetime of knowledge and experience to share, they just need someone to share it with.