On Friday I attended the My Home Life conference at the RIBA in London. As expected, the programme was packed with many of the timely issues around care homes and our fast-ageing population.
I was particularly interested to hear what people had to say about how we might sensitively help older people who may be moving ever further from self-reliance and ever closer to dependence, needing help with dressing, eating and personal care. The point of interest for me was the reference to “self-reliance”. In the context I understand the meaning and application. Being able to do things for yourself, or at least have a say in your care, and make decisions for yourself is something to be promoted and championed without ceasing.
But if we take a step back, or perhaps simply see our own lives in a more unfamiliar and less culturally cast light, absolute self-reliance is an illusion. As sad as it is to regard care homes as “islands of the old”, I find self-reliance just as sad if it means creating “islands of the young”. No age group is exempt from needing help, love, compassion and care.
And if that all sounds a bit too much like motherhood and apple pie, I can give you an application. I visit my Gran as often as I can, and people often tell me she’s lucky to have me. Far less am I told that I’m lucky to have her, although it applies just as equally, and perhaps more so. I help Gran in small ways: sometimes I pick up a TV guide for her, peel her fruit at supper, help her brush her teeth, post the occasional letter. And what does she do for me sitting in the same chair, day in day out, eyesight failing? She gives me the benefit of her years. She helps me put my life in perspective. She teaches me humility.
Like so many of her generation, Gran doesn’t like to ask for help. Down the generations, I don’t much like asking for help either. Still, irrespective of inclination, personality or preference, people need people. The sooner we can realise we need help ourselves, the sooner we will be able to give practical help, compassion, and grace to others.
And now I’m going to see Gran: she’ll want to hear all about the conference.
(Image via Lined & Unlined).