Where is the dignity in getting old?

I have just finished a novel about a woman who starts afresh, at age 60. Good for her. Maybe, I will write something about the book in another post this week. But the book sure has got me thinking about old age and how depressing it all is. In the book, this elderly relative to the woman, says that life really starts at 60. That not until then, are you allowed to think of yourself, if you are a woman. Then society no longer notices you. 60-year-old women are invisible. No longer pretty to look at, they are suddenly nobodies.

If life starts at 60, then my mum did not get a very long life. She did not retire at 60, like the book suggests that women in Britain do, but like everybody else does in Sweden, at age 65. She was reluctant to go. Refused as a matter of fact and volunteered to continue on. They had to tell her that under no conditions was she allowed to stay on. Very embarrassing to hear! If only she had known, that she only had ten more years with a lucid mind! Would she have done things differently? She thought she was invisible for other reasons than mentioned above. She had never been ill a day of her life and never thought she would be either. When the early signs of physical break down showed themselves, she refused to see how serious it could get. So she still did not alter her life accordingly.

Not until it was too late, did she discover how lonely she is, 380 kilometers away from family and friends. There was nothing I could do about it. Nor her friends. They tried, but her brain was not capable of finishing, what they helped her start.  So she now still lives in her house. No local friends, so no difference there either. But, she no longer can take care of herself the way one should. There are people who come in and make sure she takes her medicine. People come in with food for her, they clean for her, they help her with hygiene, they help her with shopping. An assistant helps her get out of the house. And yet, when she phones, she still is my mum. Alright, she repeats everything over and over and over again. But there still is some memory left.

Yesterday, she phoned me, being hysterical and asked me if I had taken her keys with me home. I could not understand what she meant but then it dawned on me, she seriously thought we had just been there to visit. Which we have not and I do not have her keys. But she had misplaced them and was frantic about it. I tried to calm her down and suggested places to look. Finally, I suggested looking in all pockets in case she had put them in a winter jacket and then shifted over to a lighter jacket, forgetting about the keys still being in the warmer one. She insisted she had already looked everywhere. In order to calm her down and making up a plan in my head, to call in help for her, I asked her if she had imagewatched the TV-program about Haga castle, broadcast Monday (two days ago). I haven’t got a clue if she watched it and then forgot she did get to see it. But when I myself sat and watched it, I was thinking about her the entire hour.

She has always loved the Royalty, probably because of four particular little princesses born about the same time as herself. They became style icons for everything back in the 1930s-1940s. Their faces covered the magazines. They were filmed and documented like no other royalties before them. People loved and adored the little Haga Princesses Margaretha, Birgitta, Desirée and Christina. With their lovely curly hair and imagepretty dresses, they truly looked like little dolls. My mum was probably not the only little girl sitting cutting out pictures of them, from magazines during the war years. And when I grew up, she showed that she even had puzzles with them. (I wonder what happened to those???) She truly was a fan and when I grew up, she talked of them with fondness and nostalgia. She had followed their lives throughout the years, collected the magazines of when they married, had their first children. And of course it stretched over to the other Royal houses as well, with Queen Elizabeth’s wedding and coronation, Princess Grace’s wedding and so on.

Had she watched the program Monday, it would have been a real nostalgia trip for her. They showed lots of little film pieces of the little girls and their late arriving little brother. Both our current Crown Princess with family and one of the Haga Princesses, helped guiding around at Haga castle, which once again is a Royal home. Princess Christina gave anecdotes and told us what it was likeimage to grow up at Haga, but also of the shock when her father died in the airplane crash 1947 and how their temporary move in to Stockholm in 1950, became a permanent one. Crown Princess Victoria walked around with tiny little Princess Estelle and her husband, showing the playhouse her aunts used to play in and how Estelle now plays in it. She said that when it was unlocked, it was like travelling back in time because nothing had been imagetouched and even the little tea cups and everything, was still in there. I don’t know why this program touched me so much. I think it was because the Haga Princesses phenomena is something we all know about. All publicity around them, kept people from thinking about the war, didn’t it, and the threat that always hung over Sweden, that it might be next on Hitler’s plans for total conquest of Europe.

My mum sounded genuinely sad for having missed the program. Just like I suspected, she would have loved watching it and reminisce. After all, that is all that she has now. The memories of her childhood, since more recent memories are gone. “Gubby” was running back and forth interrupting our phone call, since he was finding pieces of apple core in the apple pieces I had sliced up for him imagewith the apple divider. So I was running back and forth to the kitchen, cutting them off. It would have been better if he had brought back all the pieces to me at once, but he was sitting in HIS playhouse eating them, so he came with one piece at a time. She wondered who the little one in the background was and I told her, but honestly, I don’t think she made the connection. Last time she met him, he was 22 months old and her mind was already going at that time. It was then, when we really discovered something was wrong with her. That she was more than forgetful, aggressive and paranoid. This is supposed to be the best time of her life is it? Crown Princess Victoria bemoaned the fact that she has never got to meet Princess Sibylla of Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha nor Prince Gustaf Adolf, her grandparents (see picture above). Well, some of my children have had dealings with my mother, but she was never the loving, cinnamon roll baking grandmother we all dream of having. Just like with me, it was all conditional love and my children will remember her as the woman who came down here visiting us, turning our house upside down, throwing everything of theirs away, not wanting to spend time with them, unless they helped her clean. “Cookie” loved to help her and I guess that is where she learned how to clean, just stuff everything in a pile, behind a door or in a closet so it is out of sight. Who cares if noone can find their things again or if things get ruined. As long as all surfaces are clean, it doesn’t matter where the things went to. But some of my children do not even remember her, what she was like and she is certainly not herself anymore.

It really is terribly depressing. After I had told her to look through all pockets of all clothes, I realized that even though I asked her to ask the home service people, if they had noticed her keys somewhere on their visits, she would not remember to do so. So I wrote her trustee, if she could ask the home service people to help my mum look, on their next visit. But then I received a new phone call from my mum. At least she had that much memory left of her near memory. She remembered that she was supposed to phone me, if she found the keys again. And she had found them, inside her closet, in the pocket of her bath robe! So all’s well that ends well. Even though I am 380 kilometers away, I at least was able to calm her down with my chatter about Haga castle and then get it through to her, to go look in pockets. But, how much nicer it would have been if she had decided to move here, when her mind was still lucid, so we could have helped her when things like this happens! And the children could have joined her and me, watching the documentary. My mum would have been able to connect with the children, when telling them about growing up and always seeing these little Princesses in media. Telling them about her own life at that time. As things are now, she has denied herself that and her grandchildren.

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2 responses to “Where is the dignity in getting old?

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