by Doug Jacquier
Read his story Signing Off here.
My parents lived to the ages of 95 and 99, and it was only in their very final years that they began to deteriorate mentally. Others around me have not been as fortunate, including a friend who died from early onset dementia in her 50’s and a neighbour whose behaviour oscillated almost daily between witty, intelligent repartee and paranoid incompetence before she entered care.
There are many challenges in writing about ageing with care and insight, including:
- Watching those who cared for you as a child becoming as dependent as you were then and trying to respect their choices, while understanding that they are still capable of deception and manipulation as they try to retain their dignity.
- Dealing with the growing realisation of your own mortality.
- Knowing that the quality of aged care facilities varies considerably. For the poor, ‘care’ is often provided at the cheapest possible cost and abuse is common. For the more well-heeled it is usually more comfortable but elder abuse remains common.
- Know that when the times comes for a parent to enter aged care, the impact of the choices involved can have a profound impact on both you and them. Be prepared to deal with your guilt. And be prepared for them to deteriorate rapidly away from their home environment. And that includes the possibility of becoming verbally and physically aggressive.
Some issues to bear in mind when writing on this topic include:
- Physical deterioration is slow initially and then gathers pace. Recognise that mental deterioration often follows the same pattern but is less visible.
- Even if you think you know the person you are writing about, such as a parent, they had, and have, a secret life that will always be unknowable to you. Don’t make assumptions. Recognise that there is no such thing as ‘the truth’ about any human being including you, so be humble.
- Writing about ageing is riddled with cliches and tropes. Avoid them when possible and write about what you see and experience, not about cut-out characters from a cheap movie.
- Allow yourself to get angry and resentful about your own situation, while adding your voice to debates about aged care options.
Doug Jacquier has lived in many places across Australia, including regional and remote communities, and has traveled extensively overseas. His poems and stories have been published in Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and India. He blogs at Six Crooked Highways,