Saturday, 24 October 2009


The month of October, the “golden month”, the month when the last fruits ripen, is a tranquil month, suitable for autumnal contemplation and for taking a well-deserved rest from the labours of the outdoor year. In terms of the human lifespan, October falls into the fourth season, after childhood, youth, middle age; it is the month corresponding to the age of the senior, the older person. Lines and colours become sharper, the contours of a life lived, achievements and failures of a lifetime, become clearer, more defined. There’s nothing much we can do about anything now.

The age of the “senior”, the age of retirement, has not been with us for many years yet. In olden days, before the beginning of the 20th century, the aging man and woman worked until s/he could no longer do so, until s/he no longer had the physical or mental strength. The aging man would pass on his farm, his fields, his business, his trade, to his son and the farmer’s wife and housewife handed over keys and responsibility for the household to the daughter or daughter-in-law. The elders would, however, remain with and in the family, needed still for advice, help with children and lighter work, thereby remaining active and retaining a sense of self-worth, a confirmation of their relevance, terms nobody would have known or used a hundred years ago.

With the advent of retirement age, a retirement pension, therefore a fixed date for leaving our active working life – good as these achievements are – we also gradually invented a need for alternative employment and a filling of our leisure time, particularly, as we in the West all live so much longer than we used to do.

In the old days, particularly in rural environments, it was common for three generations to live together under one roof, or at least in the same village. Before machines took over much of our work, when we grew our own food, washed our own clothes and scrubbed our own doorsteps, there was always enough work for everybody within the family, house and garden, when the daily bread-winning job was done.

Of course, not everything in the garden was endlessly rosy, far from it. People living together in close proximity has always caused problems, for all parties.

Still, grandfather and grandmother were of great importance to the children of the family, taking care of them, entertaining them, teaching them, telling stories, comforting, consoling them, when the need arose; tasks which are too often left to TV, computers and noisy games today.

A hundred years ago the older person was, much more than we can even imagine today, part of the continuous chain of generations; hence their adherence to what they knew, had learned throughout their lives. When asked “why” or “since when” their answer was “that’s how it’s always been”. And they’d stick to that. “Age and wisdom” are not always synonymous but there is no doubt that experience had taught them well.

The term “leisure activities” too was unknown a hundred years ago. There were no organised entertainments or sports for the elderly rural population. They had time to be aware of and in tune with the changing seasons, for instance; to watch both crops and children grow. They knew of “all things between heaven and earth”. During long summer evenings there was time to sit on the doorstep and talk; the women knitting and the men maybe smoking a leisurely pipe.

And when they grew too old to be of use they were allowed to live out their remaining days in the bosom of their family, accepted as a part of the rhythm of life.


I have been prompted to these musings by the sad spectacle of an old lady of my acquaintance, a dear friend, being transported to a care home by her family.

I realise that her failing health is making this move necessary but I am still wondering if we are not too ready to put our old people away too readily.


  1. While elders were respected and cared for it was sometimes a matter of financial necessity and was resented. It's really too bad that we can't have the best of all worlds; independence for the elderly and respect for their wisdom followed by having them live with the family when they are no longer able to live alone.

    Young families are so busy trying to make a living these days it is sometimes impossible for them to be caregivers. Each situation is different.

  2. It's still a sad thing to see elders squeezed out of the family unit because there is 'no time' to look after them. So we look for the 'factory fix' and warehouse them. Little ones do not grow up with elders around, and so will likely do the same thing to their parents.
    Sometimes necessary. Sometimes obscene.

    A delicately written post Friko. Your respect for all parties shines through.

  3. A very thoughtful post. Do you know Simon Armitage's poem 'November'? Very much exploring the same issues.

  4. Hello Friko,

    A wonderful and very thoughful post,this is a subject that only recently I was discussing with my family.

    I see you have a love of Poetry Friko, me too, Simon Armitage the Poet I believe was originally in the running for choice of our new Poet Laureate.


  5. Friko, what a great post! My grandmother lived with us for many years and helped raise me, my sister and then my cousins and made the world of difference. She was everything grandmother should be and nurtured us in a way our busy parents couldn't... Now, all of our grandparents have passed away as well as both of Daniel's parents and my mother. My father turned 70 this year and is, thank god, in excellent health. This is such a delicate topic in so many families! Hugs, Silke

  6. Hi Friko! Very thoughtful post. In some ways, older people have more health, power, resources now. Others--as you point out--are losing their vitality and going into nursing homes. It's something to consider and work on before the cart comes for us! I've read that one of the best antidotes to early decrepitude is reducing stress and depression. And that means, as you say, to be involved with family and work... The photo is absolutely beautiful and does look like twilight time. LOVE xxox

  7. A very touching post. I saw a great friend of my mother's living in a home a couple of years ago. And although it was considered one of the best in the region I thought it terrible. And I made a promise to myself there and then I would never subject either of my parents or my in-laws to such a fate if I could possibly help it.

  8. Very lovely.

    My grandfather passed away a few years ago at the age of 96. My family took care of him until the day he died. I have forced my kids to sign a document (in purple crayon) that sates if I'm ever bedridden AND wearing a diaper they have permission to take me out back and shoot me.

    Gosh. I so don't want anyone changing my diaper.

  9. Oh it is a sad thing to have to think about. A very thoughtful and profound subject. My mom was gone, with alzheimer's 4 years before she actually died. I could not care for her. I had 6 children, we were still raising.

  10. A blog very close to my heart Friko. I looked after my Mum until her condition meant she needed care 24 hours a day to be kept safe and as a nurse it broke my heart to have to admit I could cope no longer. I had a young family of 3 and had to childmind to earn enough to pay the bills. Even I couldn't manage day and night shifts. A x

  11. My parents cared for my grandmother at home until she died at 93. My mother is very firm in her view that she does not want her children to care for her in the same way. Not sure what we will do if she needs it but at the moment she is happy and hearty and funny and only 76. such a very difficult subject and interesting to read other's thoughts on it.

  12. hello friko - it's interesting to me how often i think of my grandparents and especially what they would have made of my life were they still here. i also wish that i knew more about them and their lives. i think that grandparents are generally undervalued. a really excellent post friko. steven

  13. Lovely post and fantastic shot !! Thanks for sharing..Unseen Rajasthan

  14. My mom and dad both died in their Own home thanks to my sisters, an aunt, a step-daughter-in law. I was tied down to my family. I saw those 2 sisters squeezed into a nursing home but I think in my sisters case who had alzhiemers it was a necessity, but not my other sister. She could have been taken care of in her own home with live in help. I am so proud that we got my son out of the nursing home and back in his apartment and he died in his hospital bed in HIS apartment with all of us there. His dieing wish was get me out of this nursing home.

  15. Darlene - pity we can't live in the best possible world

    Bonnie - we 'warehouse' them, that's a new one on me but it hits the nail right on the head

    Fran Hill - I'm looking it up right now to refresh my memory

    Camilla - I was a bit dubious about Duffy but she's growing on me

    Silke - thank you, Silke, we need to be aware of the subject for ourselves eventually

    Margaret - In spite of healthy living a healthy old age can still be a bit of a lottery

    Tatty Weasle - I hope you may be able to carry out your intention but it certainly isn't easy to look after an old and infirm person

    amanda - most of us wold rather not, hope we're lucky. I'm going to be pushed down a hill in a wheelchair

    QMM - six children, you certainly had your hands full!

    Wipso - you seem to have been a hard worker all your life, you did what you could for your mum

    elizabethm - nobody knows the future; we'll all cope as best as we can

    steven - I also know very little of my grandparents; that's why I am writing memories into my blog, so my grandchildren will know their family history

    Unseen Rajasthan - thank you very much for your kind words

    Lucy - as I've said before, we all do what we can. sometimes it's enough, sometimes not, but we can do no more than is possible

  16. my first happy memories are of the time I spent with Grandad, we all lived together in the family home and so it continued until he died in his late 80s.. My son worked in a nursing home for a while and promised me that I will never have to go through that - he will put a pillow over my head first so he tells me. Have removed all pillows from house just in case he gets too eager too soon. :)

  17. My kids have their own lives to lead- I'd hate to be a burden to either of them. Put me out to grass, by all means!! If families are lucky enough to have huge houses that can accomodate more than one generation without limiting their lives, fine, otherwise overcrowding could only court disaster.

  18. SBS - if only we could know what to do for the best. it is a rotten situation to be in on all sides.

  19. All four of my grandparents died at a relatively young age - two of them were younger than I now am and two were only a few years older. It is interesting to me to see the interaction between my parents, both in their eighties, and their grandchildren and great grandchildren. Mum and Dad have always been interested and engaged and now that they are less robust it is coming back to them, from the children, who value their grandparents and seek them out. I know that a nursing home is a necessity for some, but I know that for my parents, when one is left alone, she/he will move close to one of we daughters - perhaps into a suite in one of our houses.

  20. Pondside - You are fortunate that you can do that.

  21. What if the elderly person is not the serene , well behaved old lady, who wants to be part of a functioning family, who always demands and never is satisfied?
    Cruel as it may sound but I would NEVER take my mum into my home, my husband would leave me and my children would stop visiting and I would probably go insane or kill myself.
    Ideal world? no not for me. I do wish I had a better relationship with her but sometimes things are just not as we would wish them to be. To be honest society demanding loving and caring children for all parents scare me so much that I had to seek therapeutic advice.

  22. Ivy - du stehst mit deiner Ansicht und deinen Problemen nicht alleine da.Ich bin SEHR froh, dass ich nie meine Mutter zu mir holen musste, sie ist vorher gestorben. Wir hatten ein sehr kompliziertes Verhaeltnis zueinander.


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