I seem to recall a horrid, skanky girl in high school, let’s call her “Debbie”, with bleached stripper hair and spider-clumped eye lashes, speaking about her parents, casually calling them the olds as she played with an unlit Alpine Menthol cigarette. “Yeah, the olds don’t know about me ‘n’ Darren aye”.
Think Kylie Mole but with less sophistication.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slut shaming here. I’m just bogan shaming. Anyway, I could not fathom calling my parents that. It seemed so disrespectful.
My parents are in their seventies now and I was dreading the inevitable day when matka and tata would struggle to look after themselves and eachother and their home. I was preparing myself to start to gently nudge them toward the idea of some sort of aged care.
Ideally, I would be doting on them myself, secure on my property in a well appointed little granny flat but I’m not in that position, I’m renting in the city.
So when house and garden upkeep became too much, both of them eagerly spoke about moving themselves into a old folks home with teared levels of care. It was a surprise and a huge relief.
There was no real input from myself at all, they researched everything and settled on a place that had a new section in construction at the time that they had their hearts set on.
It’s been a couple of years since they settled in to their brand new lodgings and it has proven to be a wise decision. My mother is thankful for the improvement in her social life after decades of limited interaction with her somewhat reclusive spouse. As the good wife she always felt if she went anywhere it must be on the arm of her husband and he wasn’t into going anywhere much at all, except fishing and hunting expeditions where the ladyfolk weren’t always welcome.
She is also grateful for her subsequent, almost miraculous improvements in energy, cognitive functioning and overall wellbeing. She has multiple myeloma but is in remission and doing well.
The centre is even trusting my mum with paperwork tasks now and then because she’s so thorough (she comes from a nursing background).
Boy! What a difference this place has made.
Meanwhile, the care of our seniors has come under fire in the suburbs of Melbourne with masses of young people and immigrants signing up to complete certificates in aged care only to be hurried through the system, passed, and sent out with little knowledge, and sometimes little English, to allow the next group of students to lay down their cash.
I hear anxious adult children speak about the stresses of finding suitable aged care for their parents, they worry, wringing their hands over finding a decent place, free of evidence or reports of poor care, poor food, or worse – elder abuse.
Some of the stories are the stuff of nightmares and they’re extremely upsetting to listen to.
In stark contrast, I have been heartened by the high level of care and the dedication of the staff and volunteers is wonderful.
When I phone my mum I can often hear sheep bleating in an adjacent paddock in the background. And now they have a few new residents – chickens! Mum is so excited about the chooks. There are Isa Browns and those cute fluffy ones called Silkies.
I wish we could keep chickens, they’re so calming to watch, scratching about and clucking to themselves. Instead we have neighbours who delight in broadcasting their own screeching chooks: Delta Goodrem and P!nk on their JB Hifi hifi and regularly start what sounds like an outboard motor because, you know, you have to make sure it still goes bro. For those fishing expeditions where the ladyfolk aren’t always welcome.
My mother has an innate ability to remember faces and names which was quickly rediscovered upon entering the home. She instantly committed to memory the monikers of all residents and staff, including little details about their lives and loved ones. I often see her chatting away to a new acquaintance and if she isn’t sure she’ll remember them next time, she will write down the name and details to squirrel away to remind herself. She even writes little poems for her friends. She genuinely cares about people. Provided they don’t challenge the main tenets of Christianity.
Woe to those heathen.
I envy her ability to have people instantly warm to her.
Then there’s my dad.
Easily the tallest resident, Brian is comfortable living here but is having frequent lapses of memory due to the onset of altzheimers. But people seem to be fond of him and he feels at home as long as he feels he’s being useful.
Along comes Wally, the friendly handyman, who had taken my dad under his wing. Not one for loud, happy clappy gatherings, dad prefers one on one interactions and found companionship and a sense of purpose helping Wally with whatever he can, going for trips to Bunnings, nurseries or even stopping by Wally’s home for a spot of tea.
Unfortunately, Wally’s wife fell ill and he didn’t turn up to the nursing home for a couple of days. My dad fretted about this sudden absence, so he rugged up, packed an apple and headed out into the chilly morning looking for him.
Several cars were sent out and staff members with their eyes peeled, plus some local constabulary were mobilised to find Brian, and thankfully they did after only an hour and a half of scouring a few streets and country lanes.
And just like that, not long after it began, dad’s game of Where’s Wally? was over.
Obviously, mum was beside herself but he couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, he was just looking for his mate.
I think they underestimated his gumption.
Being very much the solitary man, I was worried my father would feel strange being shuttled here and there for meals, entertainment and outings with the herd. But I’m surprised how easily he settled in. He must feel safe there, thank god. Actually, no – scrap that, not being affiliated with any religion or church, I thank the good people of this secular organisation.
I keep elbowing my mum, who adheres to her own self-styled version of Christian fundamentalism, saying “See? There’s people doing good in the world without having to appeased a vengeful god or perform works to gain brownie points.”
I also point out this is all made possible thanks to our socialised healthcare system (I just can’t help myself).
Before every visit I have to mentally prepare myself to step into her hyper judgemental, black and white world, where so many conversation topics are off limits. For example, if I linger too long on the subject of weather, she’ll shove the latest Andrew Bolt climate article under my nose. Mention children and she’ll start with the anti-vax rhetoric. So I just grit my heavily flourided teeth and endure the conspiracy theory de jour and debrief afterwards with an understanding friend or two for my own sanity.
Religion – pah!
Since his escape, Brian has been assigned two budgerigars, one of each sex, which he has named Bonnie and Clyde. It’s grounded him and he’s been giving them a lot of attention. There’s also a orphan lamb with a black face who is brought in daily to nibble pansies and prance in the garden. It’s stupidly cute.
Beware of the olds. They’re living longer and indulging in frequent SKI trips (Spending Kid’s Inheritance). Good on them I say. Dumping kids on the grandparents has become so commonplace that grandcare was among Macquarie Dictionary 2015 words of the year.
There is a wonderfully karmic aspect to ageism. It’s that, provided the perpetrator lives long enough, he may well get to experience ageist views and attitudes directed at himself one day. That doesn’t happen with many forms of discrimination.
A few years back I was stunned to see a recommended support group pop up in my social media feed. It was for mature aged graphic designers who console eachother after falling on the wrong side of 34. In this safe space they expressed frustration at suffering knockback after knockback of job applications. Apparently at the halfway point in your alloted three score and ten years you can forget about being hired. Holy shit.
So as my least favourite Beatle sang:
Send me a postcard, drop me a line stating point of view. Indicate precisely what you mean to say,