Sunday, 12 June 2011
10 June 2011
Three years ago, my dad passed away following a long illness. He died in the house he built, overlooking the trees he planted, cared for by the doctor he mentored and the family he raised. Collectively we did well in honouring him in the final stage of life. Family, friends, and carers - each contributing to the best of their ability. Peace in the house.
Last weekend, the author Diane Athill described her care home: "This place is a dream. I'd been here for about a week and I thought: 'What is it about this place that's so marvellous?' And I realised, it is goodness - an extraordinary feeling of goodness. None of these people are anything but genuinely kind. That's the secret of a decent place."
There's been little peace recently as far as the topic of caring for the elderly is concerned. A report earlier this year on healthcare revealed an attitude - both personal and institutional - which fails to recognise the humanity and individuality of the elderly and to respond to them with sensitivity, compassion and professionalism. A survey of residential care homes and providers of outreach services found that older people face isolation, a lack of community and funding. The drastic public sector cuts and disastrous manoeuvres in privatisationcontribute to an increased sense of vulnerability in the already vulnerable.
In his final book The Radical Disciple, John Stott reflects on the final part of life: "We come into this world totally dependent on the love, care and protection of others. We go through a phase of life when other people depend on us. And most of us will go out of this world totally dependent on the love and care of others… It is part of the design, part of the physical nature which God has given us."
We all have a lot to gain in the season of parent-care, as Dr Emily Ackerman explores in A Time to Care. The transformative element does not merely concern our heart and home. It is wider than that. In ancient Greece, the oikos referred to the house and everything included, such as extended family, slaves and farmland. Nomos means act, law, or principle. The Ancient Greeks first combined these two roots to form oikonomia. Eventually, the word 'economy' was born, which literally means "the principles to maintain our house". Whether that "house" is government or family is relative.
There is a Christian imperative to develop good practice and challenge political and entrepreneurial malpractice. For poor care for the elderly is not only a tragedy, but also a scandal. Bishops have rightly called for rightdecisions and a new framework of trust. We need a vision and ardent advocacy concerning our collective 'house-keeping'. And in view of the ageing society, we need a long-term commitment. Demographic projections indicate there will be more than 11 million people over the age of 65 within 10 years.
God's word gives us a glimpse of shalom in the community: "Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there." The imagery is one of communal wellbeing, shalom. Collectively - government, service providers, families and community - we need to do well.
And, as far as the household of faith is concerned, caring for, and advocating on behalf of the elderly is an intrinsic part of radical discipleship.
Marijke Hoek, coordinator Forum for Change