Had a shock recently when I visited a friend who used to be my boss many many years ago and now lives in a resthome. In those days I was well down the food chain and he was generally regarded as a substitute, if not replacement for, God; except that he had more power and authority. On the spur of the moment, my wife and I decided to go and see him. In the event he wasn’t there but, during the visit, we ended up in the resthome lounge (yes, that sort of lounge) with the inmates seated in comfy chairs around the room perimeter staring into space or sleeping. Reflecting on my ex boss’s changed situation set me thinking about the radical shifts each of these peoples’ lives had taken compared to their earlier years in which most would have likely exercised varying degrees of independence which was now considerably reduced.
Over the years, I have spent a fair bit of time visiting rest homes but, for some reason, this visit knocked me between the eyes. It was a classic place, very nice with staff who were both helpful and attentive, and the food was good. But, what I found scary was the realisation that, if I somehow found myself in such a place, it could be so easy to be drawn into their (the home’s) routines and needs and become one of the people sitting around staring into space. For my part, I was staring into a possible future and thinking ‘Hell, is this what it could hold’. The experience brought to the fore my principle of never placing responsibility for my well-being in the hands of others, no matter how well-meaning they are, unless I absolutely have to: resist to the last possible moment. It was a powerful experience.
When I got home I went for a long walk around the hills and next morning, hit the gym with a vengeance. I also hoped that I would be fortunate enough that, in great physical and mental shape, I would exit the planet by falling off a cliff (or the medical equivalent in terms of speed) thereby avoiding the rest-home scenario.
This may all sound a bit morbid but I do question how we treat the aged and, much earlier on in our lives, ourselves.
Someone once said ‘If you treat a person as an eagle they will probably behave like one’ and the reverse applies. Notwithstanding that life is capricious, if we accept being treated as becoming increasingly dependent on others while being nicely and benignly pressured into fitting the routines and needs of others, we set ourselves up for whatever comes next. Increased ‘comfort ‘ in a rest-home is not necessarily the answer because by then it is too late to fundamentally alter our quality of life. I suspect that most times, the damage is incremental, starts much earlier, and depends on how well we evolve our attitude towards maintaining our mental and physical health, our choice of role-models and how fiercely we protect and evolve our autonomy.
My experience also raised the matter of whether, as we age, we should just give in or strive for eternal youth. My view is that neither position is useful: striving for eternal youth is bound to end in tears and ‘giving in’, as with the resthome observations, limits our potential to fully enjoy what life has to offer. However, the majority of people (taking a chance here) do little to enhance their old age, particularly with regard to maintaining their health, and accept what they see as the inevitable.
For how many of the residents was their predicament inevitable?
Short story: do something and act now!