maandag 18 maart 2013

Why: Up there for thinking, down there for dancing.


I have always enjoyed spending time with old people.  As a child I would seek out and impose myself on the old men and women living in my neighbourhood, especially those living alone.  I loved hearing their stories.  I delighted in watching the old-fashioned approach to life (eg washing clothes in a steel tub with a two rollers to squeeze out the water).  I relished looking at photos from a time I would never know.  But best, that they seemed to enjoy the company of my 10 year old self, always warmly welcoming me and offering time enough to chat over a glass of cold cordial.

Therapists would try and explain my preference for these significantly older companions by pointing out that I rarely saw my grandparents as they lived in different cities and continents; or, that being the eldest of four children I was seeking out some undivided attention; or incorrectly, that I had difficulties relating to my own peers.  Whatever.  Some 35 years later, I recall the widower with his jar of butterscotch and his invented contraption to capture mangoes from the higher branches.   I think back to the canary yellow house and the lovely face of the 75 year old lady in stark white face foundation and ruby red lipstick. I remember fondly, the old couple offering their homemade rock-cakes  - and gems of wisdom like:  “Up there for thinking, down there for dancing”, while tapping a forehead with a pointer-finger.

Older people continued to be a major focus in my life when I graduated as a Social Worker.  For many years my clients have been older adults with dementia or mental health issues like depression, unresolved grief, late onset schizophrenia.  I have worked with these individuals in their homes, hospitals, community health clinics and aged care facilities.   Every person that I have met has come with a different story colored by many years (a minimum of 65 years) of experiences, adventures, difficulties, sadness, joy and challenges.  And every story has had a unique impact on their response to their illness.

This blog is about what I have learnt from these stories and how they have impacted on the process of getting older, especially when faced by the challenges of a dementia. 

                                                 “What is the past but what we choose to remember?” 
                                                                                  Amy Tan, The Bonesetter's Daughter

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