Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Anne's Story

I'm sorry, this isn't a happy story, but it needs to be told . . . may I share it with you?

It's the story of Anne. Anne is not her real name, but in her new world, which lacks
almost all privacy, it's the one form of privacy that I can give to her.

Once upon a time there was an intelligent young woman. Her name was Anne. She was happily married and lived in an affluent part of London. She and her husband had three children, to whom they were devoted.

The years passed. Anne's children grew up and married, her husband died. Anne became a grandmother and continued to live in the house that
had been her home throughout her married life. She loved her home. She loved the succession of dogs and cats who shared her home with her. Although now on her own, Anne played an active part in the community,
enjoyed the visits of her children and grandchildren, and felt that her life had purpose.

However, such were the rising property values in Anne's part of London that her home, which had been moderately-priced when originally purchased, was now worth a considerable sum. Anne's children looked on this pot of gold with frustration. As they saw it, were Anne to die whilst still living in the house a large proportion of their inheritance would go in death duties. Only if the house were to be sold well in advance of her death would they be able to claim what they felt was rightfully theirs.

It was not good, they said to each other, for one woman to live alone in a large house. Their mother was in her early eighties, she needed company, she also needed to be looked after.
True she was physically fit and active, true she had suffered no deterioration of her mental faculties, but a nursing-home, they argued, would provide all that she needed. To buy her a small house or flat would, they contended, be no more than a short-term solution. What was more, if the money from the sale of the house was made available to them now it could be used to pay for their children's schooling. Why wait until it was too late?

By dint of powerful persuasion, Anne, too, became convinced that she should sell her home and move. Sorrowfully, she parted with all but a few of the possessions that carried so many memories of her happy life. Sorrowfully, she accepted that she would no longer be able to have any pets. With resignation, she moved into a nursing-home.

Anne's room in the nursing-home was half the size of the smallest bedroom in her original home. A bed, one chair, a cramped cupboard, a small chest-of-drawers and a very small table occupied all the available space. The window faced north, which meant that the sun never shone in to lighten the shadows.

To be fair to the nursing-home, it was a perfectly worthy establishment. Dementia patients were housed on the second floor, the bedridden were on the first floor, whilst the ground floor provided rooms for those who were able to walk and possibly enjoy the garden. The nursing assistance was good, the rooms were kept scrupulously clean, as were the patients. But the patients were totally subservient to the daily routine of the home and had little or no individual say in their own lives.

Had Anne not been blessed with a lively intelligence and a keen sense of humour her life would have become intolerable. She maintained her spirits by successfully completing her daily crossword - 'Collins' Dictionary' and 'Roget's Thesaurus' having accompanied her to the home. She also took a keen interest in what was going on around her, and, to amuse herself, secretly gave nicknames to the nurses and residents - names carefully recorded in her note-book which was kept hidden out of sight! Her children paid occasional duty calls, but, as she remarked ruefully to a friend, they only came when they had something to be signed.

As for her grandchildren, no longer could they help their Grandmother bake biscuits in her kitchen, gather raspberries in her garden, or help her exercise the dog. Their visits to the cramped room were infrequent and stressful for all concerned.

But what Anne missed most of all was the ability to contribute to the world around her. Her life had been one of giving, of sharing and of service. A life where she was deprived of any ability to act for herself or work for others had shrunk to a meaningless, timeless non-event.

Why am I telling you this story? Because Anne is not the only person in this situation. Soaring house prices have encouraged many families to move elderly parents out of their homes. Elderly people who have contributed much to the communities in which they've lived have been stripped of their dignity and self-esteem and seen their lives shrink to little more than an enclosed, purposeless existence - further degraded by a daily scrub from a well-meaning stranger.

The Native American Indians and the Aboriginal people of Australia share a common wisdom - they hold the Earth sacred and believe that no-one should own land.
It is this competition for finite land that has forced up prices, caused us to grow greedy, and deprived the Annes of this world of their homes. Until we have the wisdom to recognise where we've gone wrong, what can we do?
I don't know. But if there are any Annes in your life, please visit them . . . help them to laugh . . . and, best of all, do your utmost to prevent them from being incarcerated in the first place.
Anne and her contemporaries provided generous support to the the society in which they lived long before The Big Society was thought of - we can't afford to ignore them and the legacy they gave to us.