THE NEAR AND THE DEAR ONES

And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones, the old and the young
Lyrics by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

I walk along the long and winding corridors of a residential care home for the elderly, brightly decorated for this Christmas season. A nurse greets me with a broad smile as I make my way to the room of a near and a dear one. He is struggling to come to terms with the stark reality that he will never be able to return to his own home, where he lived happily for most of his life.

Moving into a care home and making a fresh start at 80 years of age is a daunting prospect indeed. It is probably a case of Hobson’s choice because it is no longer safe for you to live alone at home. Not only is your entire world suddenly confined to one room – which you may even have to share with a total stranger, and sometimes without private facilities. At your dining table, you are surrounded with even more strangers, with whom you are expected to make conversation. You have renounced your privacy, and it may take a while before you settle down and feel comfortable in your new surroundings.

On the other hand, it may turn out to be one of the wisest decisions that you have ever made for yourself, even though it is a big change of circumstances. Rather than shifting the burden of responsibility for your safety and care on your family, you have chosen to join a community of senior citizens just like yourself and live the rest of your life with constant care and adequate support from medically qualified carers. Not to mention the organised social and recreational activities for all the residents of the care home.

The downside is that, notwithstanding you have settled down in a care home, you may have less mobility as you get older, which means that you must be more resourceful to maintain your independence. If you are physically disabled and dependent on others, it may take lots of courage and energy for you to be able to rise above it all and still be able to live a meaningful life without feeling that you have been stripped of your dignity.

Then again, you may be one of the residents left languishing in a nursing home, abandoned by family and friends, both the old and the young. You are heartbroken because you have received no visits for days on end, and you sit there with no expression at all, your blank face and empty eyes still hoping that someone will turn up. And if we are honest with ourselves, we would feel the same if our situations had been reversed. The day that we lose our capacity to feel compassion for our fellow human beings will be a sad day indeed.

And so this is Christmas, but there isn’t much to be merry about, let alone hope to have fun, when your health and your loved ones abandon you, especially in your sunset years. For beyond the glitter of the tinsel decorations and twinkling fairy lights, lies the dull and lonely life of ageing individuals trapped inside an ailing body, apprehensive about the very near future and desperately clinging to memories of better times for fear that they will fade into oblivion.