There once was a beautiful home, a home one or two people worked very hard to achieve in the 40′s. A home that they decorated lovingly with the most beautiful of wallpapers, large floral and cream colours. A home that had a tiny Victorian fireplace in each room. This fireplace would be the only source of heat for the next sixty years, those fireplaces were relied on to heat the property morning, noon and night. The house has two very tiny downstairs parlours, one holding two framed photographs displayed proudly, taking centre stage. Walking further down the hall you see an ”outdoor kitchen” at the back of the property with a sink from the 1950′s, a cooker from the 60′s and no real floor. Upstairs you find a very basic bathroom and two bedrooms. Again retro wallpaper covers the rooms, furniture from the 50′s throughout, several large framed cross stitch of kittens hang on the walls. They were fine pieces of art.
Throughout the property are large cracks, some so large you can see outside peeking through. The house, though obviously worn with love, is cold, far too cold for someone to be in. The plants have died, the wind howls, the floor moves and the house rattles. When did a person last live here, asks I….the answer, only a few months ago, the same person who has lived there for over 60 years, the person was taken into hospital and never returned home…
And I am suddenly filled with questions. Who is selling the home? How did someone live like this and no one was aware? If people were aware, did they know that help is available or perhaps could they have done something? Who else is living like this? How many older people are in such dire situations across the UK and what is being done about it?
A few months ago when my mum was in hospital and I met Grace, an elderly widow, with no children the only family a niece and nephew who lived far away and rung only around the holidays, it evoked in me a deep sadness about how much older people suffer from things like loneliness, things that could be helped or prevented if people just showed concern. Showing concern for someone is so easy to do, telephone them, send them flowers, bring them some groceries, buy them a scarf, visit, write a card, tell them you love them, hold their hand, sing them a song, tell them a story, send them a CD. It is so so easy to show that you care, and yet each and every single day we let people we love, neighbours who have no one and colleagues who are lonely go without our compassion, love and friendship. If you are from a large family, surrounded by people, you are very very blessed indeed, but try to remember not everyone has that, either because they don’t have family or they have family who is not involved in their lives. We need to work extra hard to seek them out and try to be someone special to them. While I’m only in my 20′s, my small family has suffered tragedy, our family of 4 is only a family of 2. When my surviving parent passes, I will have no surviving siblings and no parents, if I haven’t married by then I won’t have any family and yet, I am blessed. I have a mother, I have the ability to communicate my needs, I have money in the bank.
However, from what I’ve seen it is not just those without family that are lonely. I have a good friend, who with her partner has an income of over £100k per year, they go away each month for a city break and enjoy three or four long haul holidays a year, yet his mum lives several hours away and can’t afford the flight to visit. They visit her once every two years or so, and I just ache for this woman. Why is it we are happy to lavish money on ourselves and our holidays and not help our parents? No matter what mistakes your parents made (within reason!) the reality is parents love us, they changed our nappies, they fed us, they rocked us to sleep when we were sick, they sacrificed by going without so that we could go on school trips or have ballet or swimming lessons. Our parents stood with pride when we finished major milestones, waved us good-bye when we embarked on new journeys and counted the days until we came home to visit. I think that most people know deep down if they are in need, their parents will move to the ends of the earth to help them. So just why is it that we don’t necessarily feel or act the same way towards them? Why is it we can lavish things on ourselves and yet balk at spending money on parents, even when they are in need? Why is it we are happy to give tax deductible donations to work charities and yet not happy to buy groceries for the elderly person who is shut in down the road? Why is it having Great Auntie Anne for Christmas, when she has no family of her own, is seen as an inconvenience instead of a blessing?
I think my generation and probably the one before mine is getting it wrong. While I know there are shining examples of people who get it right, I think we have been raised to focus on ourselves – accumulating wealth, saving for our retirement, rewarding ourselves with holidays. Us, us, us. But what about them?
While I’ve bought things for Grace and hopefully have helped her feel less lonely (the last time I saw her I held her hand and she started crying, she said no one touches you anymore and how much she’d missed human contact – needless to say I was in tears) there is so so much more I can do. This little house has told me such a story and I hope that it has an effect on my story each and every day I am alive on this earth.
Here’s a small list of things I put together to remind myself what we can all do to make our parents, aunts or uncles, neighbours or even strangers feel cared about:
Ask an older person to teach you a skill – it might just make them feel valued
Send an older person some flowers – it may just make them feel loved
Bring an older person some groceries – it may just be that week they don’t feel hungry
Take an older person out for dinner or to see a show – it may just make them have something to look forward to
Offer to go with an older person to an appointment – it may make them feel less scared
Provide an older person with financial support or support filling out benefit claims – it may just mean they aren’t cold
Be an advocate, support, carer and most of all a friend.