In another few days I will be entering my 81st.year. In the past few years I have been told I talk too much about being old, & dying. But no one else raises the subject, so I am the one who does so, & takes the fall-out.
I'm sure most people I know deplore Ageism, and certainly don't consider themselves Ageist.
They may not realise that the most common & harmful form of Ageism is the widespread denial of ageing, including in the ageing themselves. "Old" has become a perjorative, politically incorrect, a condition, like mental illness, not to be spoken of or admitted to, and, tacitly, somehow the fault of the person who is ageing.
I refuse to deny that I am an old woman. Why should I?
Ageing & death are part of the cycle of life. If you expect to be doing all the same things at 80 as you did at 70, & in the same time frame, you will have been very fortunate. If you persist in acting "as young as you feel" you are likely to do yourself an injury!
Everything will grow old and die. If nothing died, there would be no room for new life, no materials from which new life can evolve.
I accept what is happening to me, and that as a consequence I am slow, clumsy & often irritable.
My life is changing irrevocably, and I need to talk, not just about my personal situation, but about our distressingly inadequate aged care systems.
If you listen carefully, you will realise that more often than not I am EXplaining, or thinking aloud, trying to find a way through, rather than complaining. I freely acknowledge there is little that can be done to improve the underlying situation. But a good grumble often results in a good laugh, and an uplifting sense of relief. A willing & sympathetic listener gives very real support.
My life is now filled to capacity with very ordinary things.
I still look after my person, dress neatly, prepare my meals, shop, walk a fair distance, do light gardening, keep up with the news & current affairs relevant to my interests, maintain my website, knit, crochet, do rough mending, occasionally clean the house, do my laundry, get around on public transport, & save something out of my pension. But I accomplish all this by doing what I can when I can, resting when I need to, & not trying to do things in a hurry.
I spend a great deal of time, including in the wee sma' hours, thinking about people, especially those with problems, who I have met or had contact with during the day. I am still deeply committed to living as sustainably as I can, and am painfully aware of the many compromises I've been obliged to make.
I am distressed by crowds & excessive noise, and nervous when crossing busy roads. I can no longer run for a bus or ride a bike, carry heavy weights, see to move about safely after dark, read or watch a screen for too long, get up & down easily, get through a really busy day without resting up the day after, or be sure of having the energy to do regular voluntary work. I miss all these things, but have learnt to accept them, and to be aware of, & grateful for, the things I can do. I couldn't manage without the gardener whom I pay to come each fortnight for a few hours, & who is happy to keep the gutters clear, & do the occasional odd job.
The most difficult thing of all, though, is the certainty that my situation will not improve, & will gradually, or maybe suddenly, deteriorate. I just hope that when I die, it is quick. What I, & most old people, fear is a long period of powerless incapacity, inescapable boredom, & the feeling of being a bloomin' nuisance.
The current crisis in Aged & Palliative Care has evolved because of our society's denial of old age and death.
Old people who need help face under-funded systems staffed by over-worked, under-paid, poorly trained, and often unsuitable, people. As a business model, aged care can only work if everyone involved is exploited in some way. The not-for-profit sector is struggling against almost insuperable odds. A waiting list of 10,000 for Home Care Packages clearly demonstrates the size of the problem. Hospital beds are used long after they are needed by people waiting for nursing home places.
And there are many more old people, like me, who, knowing that our health systems & aged care systems are broken, feel vulnerable, because although they are currently managing quite well, with little or no support, they are aware that this could suddenly change, & everything spiral out of control.
This is why we all need to talk about ageing & dying. Nothing will improve until & unless we do.
Adelaide March 2018