Their attendance at the funeral was a gesture, undeniably effective but a gesture that only ‘gives meaning to us, the living. ‘[…] the dead have gone. They have often endured years of loneliness where everyone except professionals have ignored their feelings or memories. They have known, painfully, how indifferent the world can be. Care home managers who appeal for relatives often report that their residents were delightful but they had not had a single visitor for years.[…]
‘A good funeral cannot compensate for years of neglect. It simply makes the rest of us feel better about ourselves. I wish we could swing the focus to the living; that appeals for friends and relatives could happen when someone moves into a home, not after they die; that the appeal for volunteers is for visits to a care home, not graveyard salutes.’ Well said, Jenni Russell.
|The conference in Sunderland was in|
the Stadium of Light football ground,
built on the site of a former shipyard.
I wondered whether there was a more
enduring tradition of family support here?
We hear a lot about the increasing number of people who have no children and also family diaspora but the managers who felt saddened by this problem were not talking about families who do not visit because they're scattered to the four corners of the world; they were talking about daughters who live round the corner and don’t come in: sons who walk past the end of the road every day but never take the turning to the care home front entrance; friends who pop in once and never return. Until the funeral perhaps?
Support from a care staff member will do the same.
|My mother (left) died with dementia. |
So did Granny (centre right)
The odds are high that this will happen
to me as well (centre left)
Let us who are old enough never forget that we have made progress. When I was writing Beloved Old Age (my take on Margery Allingham’s The Relay, written sixty years ago) I read Sans Everything by Barbara Robb (1967) and The Last Refuge by Peter Townsend (1962) – and I remembered the horror of my visits as a child to my Granny in her geriatric ward in a building that had been the Union Infirmary (workhouse).
As of now,
|1960s care home campaigner|
I'd like to think that in 2019 we may be reconsidering our attitudes. So many care homes are trying hard to feel like actual homes. I don't think they can ever succeed -- the scale of their undertaking and the demands of best practice and accountability will always stop them feeling authentically domestic -- but we can help as outsiders, as regular visitors who break down that invisible institutional wall every time we come sidling though with our dogs and our emotions. And if, as a society, we can achieve thoughtful, non-judgemental, discussion of the particular problems and pleasures of visiting our friends and relatives when they live in institutions we may move on to develop more a positive culture.
|C21st care home visiting|
And we didn't have to call in any extra mourners for the funeral.