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The Second Childhood

July 14, 2009

Amelia Gentleman’s article in The Guardian about a day in the life of an elderly care home is very hard to read, but very necessary, and compassionately written. The constant contrast between the residents’ past lives and their undignified present existence persistently reminds us that this could be our future too. She doesn’t criticise the quality of care that the patients receive, but just shows us what it feels like to grow so old that we become helpless again.

After the jump, a few examples of what I mean:

Life here is another era preserved. The names are from the 1920s (Ethel, Alfred, Dot, Winifred, Gladys), the accents are a thicker Suffolk than heard anywhere now, the residents are all white, and talk about jobs they had that no longer exist (seamstresses, drapers), using defunct exclamations (“Cor blimey”). No one here has a mobile, and the only electronic chirping is the alarm to say that someone needs to be taken out of the loo.

[…]

Someone has tried to sweeten her existence by putting a bird table outside the window, and inside there are other attempts to mitigate the misery of her life in this shoe-box shaped room – photos of relatives’ weddings, framed pictures of her long dead, bricklayer husband, looking handsome in a soldier’s uniform.

[…]

The process takes 45 minutes. When Diana no longer has the energy to whisper yes or no to offers of food, she raises a long and elegant manicured finger on the bed to indicate when she is ready for more. The bright carmine red nail polish is incongruous – it’s the fingernail of a 1940s femme fatale, not a dying woman in a flowered nightdress.

Diana just breaks my heart.

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