The importance of hospice care

 

You work hard, carefully and totally out of the limelight. You produce a book that has some importance, as it is about the wonderful care that can be provided to people at the end of their lives. You think it will bring hope to ordinary people, worrying from time to time about how it will be for them or their family. Not to mention some support to those who do this work, as their labours and their difficulties are not often given much recognition.

The book gets the occasional review, but is not well marketed by the publishers, and falls into that vast collection of books that sell one or two copies a year. This is not good enough. So, you get the rights to the book back and re-launch it on Amazon. It begins to sell a lot more copies.

And then you get a review that understands what it is all about:

This is a gem of a book for anyone interested in palliative care and hospice work. There are many myths and preconceptions around what goes on inside the walls, many of them increase people’s anxiety and fear about contemplating death and dying.

Ann Richardson has taken a unique approach to this subject by sharing insights from a wide range of people who work in a palliative care setting. Their reflections are incredibly honest and insightful, as contributors share the joys and sorrows of their role. Anyone reading this collection of insights will gain a true picture of how those working in the setting bring a range of practical skills to the task in hand, but also bring themselves whole-heartedly, and often at personal cost.

There is a starkness in some of these reflections that represents the challenge of working with death every day, but if prospective patients were to read this, they would gain an assurance that those offering care are people of compassion and a deep sense of caring.

Hospices are unusual places in that they represent ‘thin places’ between life and death. People often have a view of what a building will be like that is at a great contrast from the reality. Ann’s presentation of such a variety of hospice life snap shots is a valuable resource for potential patients and their families, to give confidence in the support they will receive.

Staff and volunteers have reflected on their work with congruence and it is a tribute to Ann that they were prepared to speak about their emotions so freely. It is a unique collection of honest reflections and I commend Ann for bringing such a collection together to inform the public of the different roles with in the life of a hospice, but also to allow such a range of people a voice to share deeply held personal insights into these places which offer specialist palliative care.

Ann gives a picture of a hospice which could be representative of the many similar places that exist in this country, providing other hospices with a great resource to share with patients and staff alike.

by Karen Murphy, chaplain at Weston Hospicecare and President of Association of Hospice and Palliative Care Chaplains (AHPCC).Karen Murphy and Bob Whorton are the authors of Chaplaincy in Hospice and Palliative Care, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2017

Yes, hospice care is important – I hope many more people are able to get this message.

To buy Life in a Hospice, available in paperback or as an e-book, go to https://amzn.to/2FbSta9 or https://www.books2read.com/u/bpWk0z

The importance of neighbours

My very friendly next-door neighbours moved back to the US last month. In many ways, it was not a surprise, as they were always going to be visitors in London – here because of the husband’s job. Yet it came as both a shock and a loss.

Perhaps I am not alone in this position.

The Role of Neighbours

The role of neighbours in our lives is an interesting one. They may become good friends, of course, but often – however friendly you are with them – there is a certain amicable distance.

You meet on the doorstep when putting out the trash or even stop in the street for a chat when out shopping.

I have neighbours with whom I can have lengthy discussions about the schooling of our grandchildren or the state of the world. Such talks can be so engrossing that my husband begins to worry what happened to me when I had only popped out for some milk.

You also do all sorts of small things for one another, like taking in packages or offering the proverbial cup of sugar. Perhaps you occasionally water a garden or keep an eye on the cat.

The Importance of Neighbours

It might be said that neighbours now substitute for what the larger family traditionally did as a matter of course.

When extended families used to live near each other (or, indeed, with each other), it would often be the older generation who would come to the rescue when there was a problem.

As I have written in my book about grandmothers, this can still happen, but often people simply live too far away.

We, for instance, often step in for a 15-minute babysit when a neighbour with three kids has one child suddenly down with the flu and needs to get the others to school.

Although these little niceties are small, they make life so much richer. Not to mention easier. You may not see the neighbours all that much or you may see them often, but you feel more comfortable knowing they are around.

Getting to Know Your Neighbours

Big cities are famous for not being very friendly places, with people feeling lonely in the midst of a large population.

This may be true for many, but you may be surprised that a lot of people do get to know their neighbours. In some countries, this is easy, with very little required for people to break the ice.

In the UK, with its tradition of people keeping to themselves, it can be more difficult. Children are a great enabler of friendliness. I certainly met some of our neighbours through our children and, now, through our grandchildren. I believe dogs serve much the same purpose.

Some places seem to have a tradition of neighbourhood friendliness. I know of one family who, on the day of moving in to their new house, were greeted by a bottle of wine and a friendly note from those living nearby.

Unfriendly Neighbours

Not everyone has friendly neighbours, of course. This is often a nightmare scenario. You hear shouting, or worse, and don’t know what to do. They have loud parties or don’t clean up their rubbish and it all affects your quality of life.

Sometimes, they are doing nothing more than enjoying their garden, talking to friends well into the night or, as we used to experience, barbecuing fish. You can’t really complain, but you wish they wouldn’t do it.

Years ago, we had some very unfriendly neighbours who threw rubbish over our common fence and once threw a brick through our window. We called in the police, who claimed that there was little they could do. We moved soon after.

Moving Away

There are many things we may take for granted until they are gone. One of these, in my view, is friendly neighbours. If you have lived in the same place for a long time, you know them quite well. And you know you can ask them for help (and are happy to reciprocate).

If they move, you will miss them.

And if you want to move, it does make you stop and think. As we are at the age of down-sizing, we have begun to consider the road ahead. There are numerous pros and cons, and it is an easy decision to put off.

But I realised that I felt strongly that one of the ‘pulls’ to staying put was the existence of so many people in my road who would help us if we needed it. This can be hard to establish in a new place. It certainly gave us pause.

We Like to Know They Are There

Years ago, I was designing a questionnaire on levels of involvement among members of patient support groups. It was easy to specify committee membership or frequency of meeting attendance, but I felt there was something more passive but subtle.

I came up with “I don’t attend my local group often, but I like to know it is there.”

Bingo; that was ticked more than anything else.

Afterwards, I thought this is a category that comes up in life quite often – the things we don’t use actively, but we are very pleased to know that they are there.

Good neighbours come under this heading.

 

This was first posted on Sixtyandme.com (see http://sixtyandme.com/how-important-are-your-neighbours-as-you-reach-the-mark-of-60/)

Driving in old age – how do you cope with a parent’s reluctance to stop?

A certain royal person, in his late 90s, was in the news recently in the UK. He had had a car accident – the car he was driving had ended up on its side – and it was reported that he was a bit “shaken up.” As one would be, even if you were much younger.

It started some conversations about old people and driving.

Old People and Cars

This is a serious issue – and one which affects a lot of us these days.

In my case, it was my father. I lived an ocean away from my parents and kept in touch by telephone but went to visit a couple of times a year or more. My dad would always meet me at the airport – driving, of course.

At some point, when he was in his mid-80s and his eyesight was failing, I began to worry for his safety. And that of other people, including myself.

Not surprisingly, he loved the sense of freedom that owning and driving a car brought.

So, understandably, it was a hard subject to broach.

“Don’t bother to meet me at the airport,” I said breezily a few days before I was due to travel. But he wasn’t fooled.

“You’re worried about my driving,” he replied, “but really, I’m just fine.” I asked him to get his friend, who was a lot younger, to drive him to the airport. Which he did.

Later, I raised the subject again. I stressed that I was worried because of his eyes: there might be a small child in front of the car. Without missing a beat but with a slight smile, he answered that there probably won’t be.

He knew he was beaten and knew that he shouldn’t be driving. But he had loved his car for as long as I could remember – indeed, from before I was born. And now, in his old age, it gave him independence, and he liked the fact that it allowed him to be helpful to others.

My father did decide to stop. Perhaps he was relieved, but he never indicated any such emotion. And at dinner, a number of his friends, who had already been told of my audacity, thanked me. They had tried hints, they had tried reason, but he wouldn’t listen. But they were pleased he listened to me.

A Global Problem

Soon after this happened, I spoke to a friend in Germany who’d had the same problem with her father. Another friend in the UK had it with her mother.

I realised that this was a problem all over the world – how to tell an otherwise independent parent that they should stop driving. You are embarrassed, they are defensive – and it is altogether difficult for everyone.

I wonder how many people as they grow into their 60s and beyond face this issue – with their very elderly parents or with a spouse or, indeed, with themselves.

We love our cars, we love the freedom driving brings, and it can be a real question whether our minor frailties have grown too large for us to cope.

Flowers for Forgiveness

But let me tell you the end of my story. Immediately after that trip from the airport when my dad was not driving for the first time, I found a bowl of flowers on the table in my room.

This was not at all usual and I was taken aback. With them, he had left a note: “With love and forgiveness.” I asked him, of course, what he was forgiving me for. “For telling me not to drive,” he said.

We all do things in our own way. He was a constant surprise.

 

This was initially published with a different title by SixtyandMe (see http://sixtyandme.com/driving-a-right-or-a-privilege-in-old-age/)

How does it feel when your children become middle aged?

My daughter turned 50 this week. Yes, 50. How did that happen? I was 50 myself only a few months ago – or so it seems.

Children and Time

When it comes to our children, time seems to work at a different pace. We do what we do, go about our business and, in the background, we vaguely know we are growing older. We tend not to notice – or, in some cases, try our best not to notice – that we are ageing, too.

But how do our children age so fast? It was only a few years ago, surely, when we were chasing them around the park or helping them tiptoe through the minefield of adolescence.

And not that long ago at all that we were watching them seek to find themselves in their 20s and 30s. They tried out jobs, quit, and tried again. Often the same with boyfriends or girlfriends. And that was OK. We worried, of course, but it was what they were supposed to do at that age.

But you suddenly notice they are getting even older. Settling down, setting up house with a partner or even spouse ­­– and gosh, even having kids themselves. I have written a lot about grandmothers, including a book about how it feels to be a grandmother, so I know well about that.

But how in the world did that happen?

Feelings Towards Middle Aged Children

My father used to say that he didn’t mind getting old, but he couldn’t bear having middle aged children. I now know what he meant. In many ways, it is the biggest indicator of your own age. He always said I was 31.

And there is no terminology for it. The word ‘children’ implies people who are young, although your children remain your children whatever age they are. We can talk about our sons and daughters, but there is no ready collective term for these very adult adults.

Their Choices

But once you accept the fact, there is something pleasing about your children getting older. Especially if they have settled into a good life and have a strong sense of themselves.

There is a fair chance that they are not doing what you imagined when you were chasing them around the playground. But is it good for them? Are they happy in themselves?

And they probably didn’t marry exactly the person you imagined all those years ago. But are their marriages (or partnerships) strong? Are they successful as parents? These are the important issues – not the actual age that has suddenly come to your attention.

The Problem Crops Up at All Ages

Perhaps you are a bit younger than me. Your youngest son has just turned 25 or your daughter has turned 40. The numbers are different, but the feelings are the same. You still ask yourself, where has the time gone?

And it continues right on up. I have a friend in her mid-90s whose children are all retired or in the process of retiring. We certainly agreed that was strange. But it will happen more and more as we live longer and longer.

So, enjoy what you have, each and every day. Your children are, indeed, growing older. So are you. So, for that matter, are your grandchildren if you have them.

There are, undoubtedly, bumps along the way. I am told that there is a Chinese proverb to the effect that mothers are as happy as their least happy child. So true.

I hope that means you are happy enough.

 

To purchase my book on grandmothers, go to https://amzn.to/2OulTEI

This was originally published on Sixtyandme.com (http://sixtyandme.com/what-is-the-best-thing-about-seeing-your-adult-children-grow-older/)

Why do you look after your grandchildren – because you have to or because you want to?

How much time do you spend looking after your grandchildren? If you don’t live nearby, then it is probably decided each time you visit. But if you do live within easy distance, you may have a regular routine.

From my study of grandmothers, I found that many women do have such a routine worked out with their daughter or daughter-in-law. It makes it easier for everyone to plan.

The Traditional Role of Grandmothers

Traditionally, in centuries past, playing an active part in their grandchildren’s lives is what grandmothers did. Of course. It was not even questioned.

The mother had her baby and went back to work in the fields as soon as she was ready. Then her mother (or mother-in-law) took over and absorbed the new baby into her own day-to-day activities.

It might be the first child or the fifth. If the grandmother was fit and healthy – and perhaps even if she wasn’t – that was her role in life.

Modern Grandmothers

It is more complicated for most of us these days.

For a start, it is more often the office that the mother goes back to. And, depending on the country or her company, there may be some form of maternity leave – to give her a chance to catch her figurative breath.

But it is also different for grandmothers. Some have busy careers themselves and little time to absorb new babies into their lives. Or, with the increasing tendency for young people to delay births, grandmothers may be very old and not so able to take in a young child on a regular basis.

Yet somehow, there are a lot of grandmothers who have agreed to take on the day-to-day care of their grandchildren, at least until they start nursery school. And some continue right on up, as the chief taker to – and collector from – nursery and then school itself.

A few do this on a daily basis, but perhaps more often, they agree to take on the role for one or two days a week.

Is that you? Why did you agree to such an arrangement?

Why We Look After Grandchildren

Some of us will have felt that we had no choice. Our daughter (or daughter-in-law) was at a key stage of her career and could not afford to pay for child care. We needed to help her out, at least temporarily, whatever the crimp it put into our day-to-day plans.

Others will have been thrilled at the prospect. What a delight to have a young baby or child around the house again! How enriching it is to involve yourself so thoroughly in a young life. They jump at the chance.

The key issue is – have you taken on this work because you felt you had to or because you wanted to? The resulting child care may be the same, but a woman’s feelings on the matter do count. Especially if she is not feeling very well and needs to push herself out of bed to go do ‘her’ day.

My Own Experience

In fact, from my own experience, I think it is more complicated than that simple dichotomy.

When my first grandson was born, I made it clear to my daughter that I did not want to be burdened with babysitting. She lived an hour away, so the travel was a bit of an issue, especially at night. But I also didn’t want to feel that she had a licence to impose on my time. I had other things to do.

My daughter was lovely about this and, only occasionally asked, gently and nicely, if I might be willing to help out for an hour or two. Which I duly did. All sorted amicably.

But three years later, when my son’s baby son was born, and I had argued much the same case, a crisis arose. My daughter-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer when the baby was eight months old. She needed surgery, chemo, the lot. Suddenly, all help was needed, fast.

I didn’t take on full-time child care but put in my good share. We bought all the necessary baby items for our house – cot (crib), highchair, and so forth – so that he could stay with us at any time on short notice.

The other grandmother came to stay nearby for six months to help out, and we paid for someone else as well. Somehow, we managed to cobble together enough help to see my daughter-in-law through. And, for the record, nine years later, she is fine.

But something important happened to me as a result of this experience. I discovered, to my own surprise, that I loved the close involvement that I had with this grandson. I even regretted that I had not had it with the first one.

What had been ‘don’t want to’ had become ‘have to’, but ‘have to’ became ‘want to’.

Things change. Life is full of surprises.

This was originally published by Sixty and Me (http://sixtyandme.com/why-do-you-look-after-your-grandchildren-because-you-have-to-or-because-you-want-to/)

Charity Days – the case for World AIDS Day

It was World AIDS Day at the beginning of the month of December.  Indeed, I believe, it is AIDS Awareness Month for the whole of December.

Are you fed up with causes? Do you see the word ‘AIDS’ and think “Oh, no, not another blasted cause I am supposed to support.” You have enough things to do. You just don’t need anything more.

Well, stick around, it is more complicated than that.

World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day comes every year, even though AIDS is no longer a life-threatening disease if you have the medication. Of course, there are plenty of people in developing countries who can’t get the medication, so it remains a serious cause.

But don’t run away. Not just yet. This is not another plea for compassion.

Quite the reverse.

So Many Good Causes

Compassion fatigue is genuine and understandable. We all feel we are constantly being pressured to Do Something. There is so little we can do in any case – it just makes us feel guilty.

And perhaps you have your own favourite cause, be it helping needy children overseas or climate change or cancer. Perhaps you donate money on a regular basis, or volunteer, or both.

My Interest in AIDS

My own interest in AIDS stems from the fact that a good friend, then aged only 32, died from it a long time ago.

He was an AIDS activist and one of his last activities of note was to organise an international conference for people with AIDS and HIV. This was attended by some 500 men and women, all of whom were HIV positive.

Because of our friendship, he allowed me to interview some of the people attending the conference, and then put the results together into a book. I made him a co-author in honour of his contribution, although he died before the book was published.

The people interviewed were very young – mostly under 40. They were from all over the world – Mexico, Morocco, Uganda, Germany, Malaysia, to name a few as well as the US, Canada, and the UK. None were expected to live very long.

What they had to say was both honest and impressive. Nothing to do with being a ‘cause’ or feeling sorry for themselves. They saw themselves as ordinary people trying to work out what was the best way to live when you know you don’t have very long.

They told stories about their lives and relationships, both the very real challenges and, sometimes, joys. They expressed, on the whole, very positive attitudes and resilience. I felt I could learn a lot from them. Their stories are said by one reviewer after another to be ‘very powerful’.  One commented that it makes the problems in your own life feel small.

I called the book Wise Before Their Time for a reason.

Yet it was a horrific situation and, all those I was able to trace had died within a year or two of the conference.

Learning

By all means, volunteer for the cause of your choice or give money to it. But that is not what I am talking about here.

We should think about people with AIDS – or, indeed, people in many other difficult situations ­– not because they are a worthy cause but because there is something we might learn from them. It’s not about giving – it is about receiving.  They have much to say.

And I have learned a lot.

 

This was first published on Sixtyandme.com (see http://sixtyandme.com/world-aids-day-or-how-we-react-to-different-causes-in-our-60s/) but has been revised slightly here.

What is “success” for an author?

Why do you write?  What do you hope to achieve?  What, in short, is your definition of success as an author?

The last question confronted me recently when a fellow writer, who I met online and do not know at all, wrote that I had been “successful” with my books. I have no idea if she had read any of them, but it prompted me to consider what success would look like. It is not a straight-forward question.

I wrote back with my usual hesitation. “My books do not sell highly,” I replied, “but they are well reviewed—I don’t know whether I would call them a success.” And then I thought about it a bit more, and wrote again with a more reflective response. And she did, too. Let me hold the last correspondence for a moment.

High Sales?

From various writers’ groups, one gets the impression that selling loads of books is the principal goal of most authors. This is not unreasonable. We want people to read our books and we want some income from the process – and those twin aims work in tandem. More readers equal more income.

Some writers go further and write to the market, meaning that they work out what readers are looking for and write to meet their expectations. Some even choose a genre for this reason. Many write numerous books in a series, again to maximise readership. Pile them high, sell them cheap, loads of sales. Everyone is happy.

Well, yes and no. We non-fiction writers have a harder time. There will be some with diet books or self-help books of other kinds, who have a large market of waiting readers. Some even turn these into series of various kinds. But it is much harder and rarer.

Good Reviews?

But a completely different criterion for success is a lot of good reviews. This is also clearly a goal of most writers, if only because good reviews lead to more sales. We tend to spend considerable effort — and, in some cases hard cash (such as paying for reviews via NetGalley) — in order to achieve it.

One can, however, view good reviews as an indicator of success in its own right. Your book may not be highly popular, you may not be making serious money, but there is every reason to be pleased with a succes d’estime.

This is true in other art forms – how much money did many famous painters make? – and should be applied equally to writing. I am not talking here of the hasty five-star review written by a well-intentioned neighbour, but of the thoughtful, reflective review from a complete stranger which indicates that your book is very moving or thought-provoking or whatever.

Winning Awards?

Related to getting good reviews is winning writing awards. There are many of these, I have found. Some are based on an assessment of the book by a panel of serious judges. Others are based on readers’ votes, which sounds fine until you realise that they tend to be more an indicator of the number of friends and acquaintances a writer can muster (not all of whom will have even read the book) than a real ‘favourite’ book.

Alternative Definition of Success

But books can also be successful on other terms, such as the achievement of laudable aims. When I asked why my new e-mail friend viewed my books as successful, she wrote that they were “relevant and useful”. That is certainly one definition and one way in which many non-fiction books will thrive.

A book may be highly practical, for instance explaining how to play the guitar, or, indeed, how to market books on Facebook. If a book does so effectively, it can be deemed a success in its own terms, whatever the sales or reviews.

Alternatively, a book may offer a thoughtful account of the author’s experience of widowhood or dealing with a parent with Alzheimer’s disease. Such books can be moving in their own right as well as helpful to others.  This, too, can be a sign of success, whatever the sales.

My Own Definition of Success

Which brings me to my own position. The more I thought about this question, the more I realised that I would define success for myself as having written something I was proud of.  In my own case, it is writing well about a subject of real importance, with sensitivity and honesty.  It is what I have strived to do all my life.

I write what tends to be called ‘narrative’ or ‘creative’ non-fiction. The particular selling point of my three current books is that they use the actual words of people following a long interview, so that they are comparable to a TV documentary, but in words. Their focus, however, is all over the place, according to what happened to capture my interest. There is no series and certainly no writing to the market.

How do they fare by these criteria?

Sales

With respect to sales, I don’t know what reasonable expectations for non-fiction should be, but I have never considered mine to be notably high.

The first, initially published by HarperCollins in 1992, is about what it was like to be living with AIDS when it was a life-threatening disease with no known cure (Wise Before their Time). It sold many thousands when first published, as there was a lot of attention to the disease at that time. I decided to re-launch it in 2017 for its historical interest – and I will be lucky if I sell 150 copies in the next year.

Wise Before Their Time

My most recent book, published in 2014, is about what it is like to be a grandmother (Celebrating Grandmothers), showing the joys but also the challenges of the role. I thought it would sell well – among other things, it is a perfect present for older women who can be difficult to buy for. But it has sold fewer than 550 copies to date, which is nothing to be particularly thrilled about.

And in-between, there is my book about what it is like to work with the dying (Life in a Hospice). Initially published by a medical publisher in 2007, I had thought it would sell well because I found the subject so fascinating. Alas, I did not reckon with readers’ reluctance to read about death, and it sold only 600 copies in its first five or so years. Re-launched in 2017, it is doing better now, with about 300 sold last year and more this year, due to a BookBub promotion.

Life in a Hospice

Reviews

On the criterion of good reviews, however, my books have fared well. All three have received a large proportion of five star reviews, including many very thoughtful ones. My favourite, written by Sir Ian McKellen in his Foreword to my book on AIDS, says “these true stories are as powerful as any great classic of fiction”. And my book on hospice care was Highly Commended by the British Medical Association, a serious award in my view.

Pride

But most importantly, I feel that my books achieve my principal aim of an honest and moving communication about a subject of importance. In each case, I wanted to develop a real empathy among readers for the people in the book.  It is hard to know, of course, but both the formal reviews and informal comments from others suggest that I have performed this task.  It keeps me going.

Yes, I would like sales—the more, the better.  Yes, I want to get good reviews as they show that others have appreciated my efforts.  But most of all, I need to feel that I have created something I am proud of.

Note:  This was first published by Ingenium: https://ingeniumbooks.com/whats-your-definition-of-success-as-an-author/

“A book that will make the problems in your own life look small”.

This is the heading to my most recent review of Wise Before their Time, about people living with HIV and AIDS in the early 1990s.
I won’t quote the full review, as it is long, but the reviewer really understood what the book was trying to do. He starts by remembering what it was like at that time, with so many people dying of AIDS (and he was living in Africa) and then reiterates that things have changed in recent years.
“Many of the people who appear in her book were infected in the late ‘80’s when a positive diagnosis meant the sudden end of your life. The advice given to these young people had to do with how to cope until the end arrived. This often brought on depression, panic, suicidal thoughts, a denigration of self and a loss of purpose. They soon realized that in order to survive a positive diagnosis, a positive attitude had to be developed quickly.
“The amazing thing about the book is how each person went about this. In almost every case they had to reach down inside themselves in order to tap into their emotional and psychological reserves, something that took courage and persistence. This is the remarkable thing about the book, by using their own words taken from spoken and written interviews, an intimacy is created that is impossible to ignore. These people open up their hearts and souls and you can’t look away. What impressed myself and other readers is the fortitude shown.

“One of the common themes is that it is relationships with others which generally sustain people. Another is that people so affected become more aware of what’s happening around them, they begin to enjoy simple things in life like sitting in the middle of London watching the red buses go by, waking up and seeing the sunshine, looking at flowers, seasons changing. And as one person put it, “…thinking, God, I’ve made it –.”
Yes, it’s a tough book.  But you won’t forget it.
If you want to read more, go to https://amzn.to/2qXNK6u

 

Does your body ambush you?

When my son, now in his late 30s, was about five years old, he made a remark that has stayed with me ever since. He had gone through a stage, thankfully brief, when he would pee unexpectedly, leaving a small visible stain on his trousers.

I asked him, I suspect with some exasperation, couldn’t he tell when it was coming? “No, Mum,” he said, “it is kind of like an ambush.”

He hit the nail on the head. Our bodies do ambush us all the time – from childhood right on up. We don’t see it coming.

The Struggle with Our Bodies

It starts as early as any of us can remember – we ran too fast on a pavement, we climbed that tree and, all of a sudden, we found ourselves on the ground and in pain.

From small scrapes to broken limbs, we learned early on that our bodies could be a nuisance and did not behave as we had planned.

Not to mention the many childhood diseases. I got absolutely all of them – measles, German measles, even Scarlet Fever, which was very serious in those days. I have a number of chicken pox scars to remind me of that particular bout.

And, of course, numerous colds and flus that came and went, as I mixed with other children at school.

Our teens and beyond brought an even bigger ambush – the menstrual period. It arrived when we least wanted it and, for some of us, on no particular schedule. We waited for it to come and, at some point, worried when it did not. Or, we wanted children and worried when it did.

We have all spent some hours over the course of our lives thinking about what was or was not happening down there. With no control.

Older Bodies

Of course, as we grew older, we were subject to large numbers of potential illnesses. Many of us have been through one or another life-threatening disease and many of us have lost friends through this route.

I lost a good friend to one of the worse scourges of our time, HIV/AIDS and, with his help, wrote a book about people living with AIDS and HIV.

And things only get worse as we age. “Old age is not for sissies,” they say, and they are right. Our bodies ambush us in one way after another.

The older we become, the more prone we are to serious illnesses that stop us in our tracks. We cannot hear or see as well as we used to, we can no longer run as fast as we would like, if we can run at all. And even the problem my then five-year-old son experienced rears its annoying head.

Some of us, although presumably not those reading here, lose our minds, bit by bit, to one kind of dementia or another. This is an ambush like no other – not part of anyone’s life plan.

Attitudes

How do you feel about all these events taking place within your own body? Do you quietly accept that this is part of being human and we should struggle through with dignity? Do you feel it is part of God’s plan?

Or do you, like me, rail against them? I have been amazingly healthy all my adult life, as was my father. And, like him, I get enormously angry when my body lets me down. How dare it not do what I want it to? Who gave it permission to succumb to a cold or flu or worse?

Yes, I know this makes no sense. I should accept each challenge as it arises. It is part of life’s rich tapestry. You are doubtless made of stronger stuff.

My husband says I will be indignant on my death bed – and it may well be true. I will let you know.

 

This was first published with a different title by sixtyandme.com (http://sixtyandme.com/coping-with-our-60-plus-year-old-bodies-is-it-even-possible/)

Powerful stuff

Wise Before their Time had a lovely new review this week, entitled ‘Powerful stuff’.

The reviewer says:

An evocative tribute to the experiences of people with HIV and AIDS in the 1980s; to their suffering and to their strength of spirit. A collection of historical value and a reminder of the cruelty inherent to ill-informed, fear-driven prejudice that is just as relevant today.

Read this book. Listen to the stories of the people who contributed to it. Feel their experiences. Find the opportunity to learn from their wisdom in the way you live your life and the ways in which you relate to others.

I like this review because it says something I felt when I wrote this book.  Yes, one should read it to hear how difficult it was for people living with HIV/AIDS back in the day.  But, perhaps more importantly, we can learn from them to make our own lives better.

I say ‘amen’ to that.

 

Wise Before their Time is available as a paperback and e-book on Amazon and other platforms