Seniors Rights10

Seniors Rights and Elder Abuse

Seniors Rights10Elder abuse generally occurs within a relationship of trust, with the highest proportion caused by sons and daughters.

Financial abuse most common

Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) manager Jenny Blakey said that financial abuse was the most common form of abuse reported through the SRV helpline. In acknowledgement of that fact, this year’s annual SRV WEEAD forum, Human Rights are Ageless, will focus on how assets and funds are transferred through generations.

Men and women can be affected

Another free forum, Legal Matters for Older Fellas, will provide an opportunity for older men to discuss issues of concern with lawyers and other professionals.

“Only one third of our callers are men,” Ms Blakey said. “There is a strong stereotype about men being in control, so it can be harder for them to talk about being abused within the family.”

It helps to build confidence

Ms Blakey said a lot of victims of elder abuse, regardless of gender, are initially reluctant to make changes that could benefit them.

“Some people have been so abused within their situation that they lack a lot of confidence to make those changes,” she said. “If the abuse is coming from a son or daughter, they also want to maintain that relationship.” SRV offers free confidential advice through their helpline, as well as ongoing assistance from lawyers, social workers and other advocates, if needed.

“We want to help older people have the confidence to assert, manage and preserve their rights.”

The whole community needs to be involved

SRV also runs training in the workplace, particularly with home and community care organisations, to help staff identify and report elder abuse.

“Carers often worry that they are going to offend the victim if they raise the issue.

“We suspect that a lot of elder abuse goes unreported, because of course we only hear from those who speak up about it.”

Ms Blakey said WEEAD is an important date for the whole community, not just older people. Photography students of Bendigo Senior Secondary College have shown their support through a collection of images representing older people active in sport, dance and other age-defying activities. Ms Blakey said the exhibition, entitled The Best Is Yet To Be, highlights the positive contribution seniors make to community life, which often goes unnoticed.

We need to respect older people

“We live in a culture that values youth,” Ms Blakey said. “Older people are not accorded the same respect as younger people,” she said. “It’s really important that we have an integrated and respectful society because our lifespan is longer than ever before.”

69 love sex senior

69 Love Sex Senior

69 love sex seniorNone of us wants to think about our grandparents “doing it”. We pretend to ourselves that at a certain age, people lose interest in sex. We keep it in the realm of the young – those with firm bodies, unbridled passions and, well… flexibility.

In 69 Love Sex Senior, filmmaker Menna Laura Meijer not only challenges our denial of older people as sexual beings but also explores their broad variety of sexual and romantic experiences. She shows that sex and love continue into older years in just as many different forms as we see amongst the young. Together with her wonderfully warm and entertaining selection of older people she explores a broad spectrum of experiences and expectations.

During the course of the film, we meet Atie and Kees, inseparable, in love and still excited by each other after 60 years together. Hans, a bi-sexual man who after a lifetime of promiscuity discovers the joy of love with 50 year old Xander, proclaiming that it has him “blowing trumpets”. Wietske describes the intensity of the love between her and her now senile husband, as she seeks comfort from her boyfriend, a recent widower trying to fill the void left by his wife.  Gerard and Addy, in their early 70’s, reconnect to enjoy the passion they’d momentarily tasted during an experimental partner swap in 1968.

Every story has its own insights, its own warmth. Although confronting at times (there are sex scenes included), Meijer’s slow, quiet approach to story-telling allows time to breathe in the various snippets of her subjects very personal lives, to absorb them and be warmed by them. It is a slow-paced film but it feels right – it feels like it moves at the pace of those telling their stories.

For anyone who has ever thought that love was for the young, this is a heartwarming film that will convince you there is plenty of reason to hope for a passionate third age.

69 Love Sex Senior is showing as part of the Human Rights Film Festival.


Australian Premiere

When: Tuesday 20 May, 8:45pm

Where: Australian Centre for the Moving Image

Price: Full $18 | Conc $16 | Group (6+) $14 (group booking via phone only)

celebrate living history project 2

Celebrate living history

The smile from a senior sharing a story with a university student is what makes me happy.  

celebrate living history project 2Sometimes we forget to look beyond age and realise there is a person underneath who has a rich history to share.

I remember doing an interview with a former teacher and she said “Bev, when you get old, you too will become invisible.”

Maybe because the blinkers have been taken off my eyes I asked “But how I can see you?”

She told me sometimes she could be physically there, but ignored, people don’t think she is special just a little old lady.

Through establishing not-for-profit Celebrate Living History, I aim to make seniors feel important and most of all visible. 

I believe no one should feel invisible and have created an internship program, which connects tertiary students with seniors.

What I love about the two different generations is it does not matter how old you are, there is a friendship to be shared. I want to break down barriers and make seniors feel valued.

I have been working on Celebrate Living History for the past three years and I have learnt so much. One of the seniors that I had grown close to asked, “What have you learnt in three years?

If I were to look back, I learnt that it does not matter what status, job or life experience you have it is about the person inside. I have just graduated from a Certificate III in Aged Care and my placement at a nursing home made me see life on the other side.

At first I felt sorry for the residents, but then I got to know them. Some of the residents despite their position kept a bright outlook on life; it is the small things that count, like being able to stroke your cat everyday to that cheeky extra slice of pizza. It is about being in the moment and appreciating what you have.

Additionally I have learnt, how important it is for a senior to socialise, as it improves their quality of life so much. Just taking time out to hang with a senior means so much to them, everyone should feel important.

celebrate living history project 3This is just the start of the knowledge I have gained. I want students to follow in my footsteps to learn and make valuable life-long friendships with the older generation.  

My focus this year will be on Celebrate Living History reaching more tertiary institutes so that further students can learn, document and cherish a senior’s story, just like I have.


Written by

Bev Wilkinson

Founder of Celebrate Living History


HOME: An unusual arts project about ageing

My name is Brienna Macnish and I’m twenty-five. For the past twelve months I have been interviewing older people about their experiences of ageing as part of an arts project called HOME. I’ve heard lots of different stories, some uplifting, some deeply sad and have been struck time and time again by the generosity with which people have shared their stories with me.

HOME is the result of my interviewing. It is an audio work, experienced by one person at a time inside the home of a stranger.  Individually, audience members walk through a home, exploring and listening to a very personal and moving account of one woman’s experience of the years passing.

What makes this work special is that the woman, Marian, whom the work is about, is not exceptional or extraordinary. Her story is recognisable and the story of many Australians. What is extraordinary is her willingness to share her very personal experiences with me, and through the recordings I made, with you.

MY hope is that the HOME will encourage older and younger people alike to think about what ageing means both to themselves and to the Australian community more broadly.

HOME is ran as part of the prestigious Next Wave Festival 2014. For more information visit

On old age…

I quote:

‘As we age we move from the participator to the observer. Where we were once the busy decision makers who made things happen we become the onlooker who is invited to join occasions that we used to initiate, my Dad used to say to people who didn’t know him and would patronise him: I am old I am not stupid.’

I don’t like any kind of labelling where individuals are concerned. It riles me. People do not become identical, (clones of each other) simply because they share commonality. Yet too often a human being is caught—as if framed in the narrow light attributed to a group — “Jews, foreigners, Muslim, labour supporters, disabled, the young generation…” the list is endless. Any individual can become the subject of generalisation. Those who concern me at present have been given the tag of elderly citizen or old people.

Sharing religious beliefs, cultural and philosophical outlook, identical physical or mental disabilities, belonging to similar social strata may evoke empathy towards one another in any designated group. It equates to walking in someone else’s shoes and is easier if the shoes are of the same brand, size and comfort. But it remains a complex feeling and will vary with one’s capacity for tolerance and willingness to understand the other’s plight. The quote shows that people tend to a lack towards old people and give advice or brazenly take over. It is also doubtful that all elderlies are able to show kind feelings towards their fellow’s sufferers.

A considerable number of people (more so in our western world) are frightened of death and old age evokes the inevitable end of life. It is scary for many of us to watch old people slow or painful walk and contemplate how every year is likely to equate to a further loss of mobility, decrease in cognitive function and memory. It forces us to acknowledge that life is finite. Intellectually we know this as a fact, but it is very different from being confronted by its reality.

There is an age, bless the little children, when one is eager to get old! Aged three a birthday equates celebration and they count on their fingers the number of ‘sleeps’ before the big day arrives.

From memory some of my clients dreaded reaching the thirty marks when the first wrinkle or blemishes on their skin was perceived as a disaster. For the fellows their concern were more in line with professional or material achievement, the car they could afford or the important matter of getting married which to them equated settling down and the loss of freedom. However far from I to generalise, some did and some didn’t.

The criterion of who is old is variable anyhow. I remember that if in my youth I looked upon forty years old as well past their prime. As I aged and time went by, sixty then seventy earned the label. Now that I have reached the mature age of ninety one I don’t know any more, although to be seventy is definitely young in my book and I still remember how alive I felt in my eighties. Similarly the status of those who were let say in their forties when I was fifty has shrank and now that they nudge eighty I look upon them as my peers.

The definition of ‘old’ has varied in recent years. The law used to decree that sixty for females and sixty five for males was the retiring age and in most cases these citizen were obliged to quit their occupation. Quite irrational in a way when even then the statistics showed that women lived longer than men.

If need be the retirees were entitled to a government pension. As the government’s budget tightens the age of the recipient of pension’s entitlement changes and will continue to alter each year. Not only aren’t people obliged to forego their occupation but they are encouraged and in some cases granted financial benefits if they continue to work. This may be fair enough if they are capable physically and mentally to hold their position

However while this is the position of the government of the day the prejudicial outlook is very much alive in the business world and anyone approaching sixty and seeking a job may be passed over for a younger candidate.

I wrote a paper on old age in 1977 and was angry with the elderly themselves whom I considered equally to blame for generalisation (it is long ago) I believe then that they used ageism as an excuse to limit their own life’s experiences. It could be that all they wished for was a well-deserved quiet life but it felt to me as if they hid behind a label and literally shrank their lives. This was the period when people were deemed ‘too old’ for work. I remember vividly one University lecturer forced to retire and whose answer was ‘But the job is what I love.’ when friends said ‘now you can do what you want.’

Times have changed and will continue to do so as long as our planet remains viable. What infuriated me in 1977 was that when eighty years old achieved notoriety they weren’t considered ‘old’. They were described as interesting, capable, innovative, and their country was proud of them. In that line of thoughts let us reflect and bring to mind the name of so many extraordinary elderly individuals whose life’s achievements, unfailing curiosity make us proud to belong to the human race and brings us hope.

Yet now in our twenty first century the outlook for a number of old people remains very restricted, either because of their own specific image of ageism, their culture or poverty. When people now speak of the old people it is often with mixed feelings. There is the government on one hand and the ordinary population on the other. From a government view point an ageing population equates to problems, foreboding balancing the numbers of elderlies versus the younger ones whose tax will subside government‘s costs as money is needed for pensions and health care.

I don’t think that ageing bothered me. Up until now! When I enquire as how my friends’ old mother and father are, it cheers me up to learn that they continue to live independently.

I am interested in the opinion of individuals. What are they thinking when they reach a mature age of let say fifty plus. The chorus of clamouring voices is loud; a large group of people add their voices notwithstanding the elderlies themselves. The concept of old is well anchored in people’s mind and the image reflected by the label is not only of dark colours but unappealing.

My mother eighty three at the time didn’t want to mix with ‘these old people’ when we suggested that she joined a group of senior citizen and we all laughed recently when one eighty-two year old friend said seriously, ‘The old people are set in their way.’

She, herself is lively, attends a number of U3A classes, enjoys singing and reads widely. She uses a mobile phone and a computer. She believes her good health is due to her diet. Since divorcing some twenty years ago, not only has she become vegetarian but she never cooks and eats vegetables in their raw stage. Yet she comfortably generalised about a generation to which she belongs.

Set in your way brings to mind reducing one’s path to the well-trodden ones, lack of enthusiasm, narrow mindedness, and limited focus, reluctance to embrace new ways (let it be technology or social mores).

Loneliness may be the curse of getting very old as one faces the hurdles of going places in order to meet other folks. In suburbs where everyone is busy and comes home late, some elderlies have died and their absence from their own street’s landscape passed unnoticed.

Is it more difficult to age gracefully and honourably for those who had chosen not to have children? It will vary with circumstances and being reasonably affluent does help. Family ties, care and affection don’t necessarily go hand in hand particularly in our part of the Western world where( as a generalisation) individualism is prized and materialism reigns.

Illness physical or mental is a fact of life but not specific to seniority although it is likely that every year of usage will wear one’s joints, diminish one’s muscular strength, reduces one’s lungs or heart capacity and generally aggravates earlier symptoms of ill health and often but not always one may tire easily and more often. The longer one lives the more chances of disability albeit medical research and new surgical techniques available in the western world. I watched a documentary on the population of a Japanese island where eighty and ninety years old still toiled the soil, fished and worked at different tasks. They ate a diet based on sweet potatoes. Yesterday elderly Chinese men and women were moving graciously on the television screen in a kind of a dance which they enjoy thoroughly. They spoke about their zest for life.

Zest is the most important ingredient that one must look for when attempting to paint the portrait of those of us who have one foot in the grave. Without zest life becomes bland and the onlooker needs but one colour on its palette: that of grey.

Zest for life varies greatly from one individual to another. To put it simply it means enjoyment, the capacity to find pleasure in being alive. The opportunities are limitless and range from the banal to the sublime. It is given to everyone even to those whose mind has stopped ticking along the beat of a well-greased clock. The media bombards us in loud warnings, the dreaded Alzheimer disease or senile dementia is waiting to trap us at any time and in the future the number of sufferers will increase dramatically. Any loss of memory be it temporary brings waves of fear in those from sixty onwards; it signals danger, the loss of identity as well as shame for— what will others people say.

It is far from my intention to minimise the impact of the disease, but I believe that it may be more tragic, more painful, and more difficult for the carer and the onlooker. They see the sufferers as diminished; they grieve the loss of a loved one’s identity and they have to cope with the duality of a sick mind in a healthy body.

Once more let us be fair. Some whose memory has become a blank slate may have been conscious earlier on of their own progressive degeneration and experienced the deepest of grief. Is their degree of sadness different from someone younger diagnosed with a fatal disease? They too will mourn the loss of identity and know the anguish of dying.

I have gone far away from the pleasure that living still offers although one is old, decrepit and limited in experiences. Sitting in the sun sipping a cup of tea or coffee may well be satisfying to some and give enough meaning to their existence for them to wish to be kept alive. It all depends on one’s personality and habits. It wouldn’t be enough for me but I am not the other.

All this meandering brought me to reflect on the why and how physical appearance is so important to a number of middle aged and much older women , although it seems that the syndrome is ‘catchy’ and that more men than ever dye their hair and use Botox.

I refused to die my hair in my sixties although Jo, my hairdresser, cajoled me saying that I would look better with evenly dark hair. At the time I believed that appearances were not the ‘me’ I knew. I also stuck to the idea that to smooth the wrinkles of one’s skin, to tint one’s hair equated to being ashamed of the natural process of life and that it had to do with honesty and dignity. To disguise one’s age equated to falsehood.

I ask for forgiveness and this example shows that wisdom doesn’t come with ageing for it is only recently that I’ve wondered if what people were attempting to achieve was to reach equilibrium between their two selves, the outer and the inner. The inner may feel that it hasn’t change that much while the outer image clamours that it has. I know that I am still young in spirit and not that different the individual I was in my fifties. In fact I may be younger in spirit, more liberated; less concerned about what others think of the way I behave or dress.

To be continued….as time goes by!

Written by Dalia

Old age

I can’t die now: I have enough coat hangers for the first time in my life.

This seems a powerful reason for ploughing on further into my 70s. You are sensing that deep down I am a frivolous woman. It is a reaction to all the people taking up laptops and telling people how to be old. I just can’t take it. When I started this column in 2008 no one had a word to say for the old. Now the air is thick with pontifications and I really hate it. My only mantra is: don’t be told how to be old.

Listen up. I am the first to say that old people should have jobs if they want them (as I did in my last column). I am the last to say it should be compulsory.

The wind is harsh down here in the west, close to the sea. I am so irritated that I walk down the hall as noisily as I can in slappy slippers so that I can hear I am alive above the wind’s howling. I am cross that I can’t stand on the lavatory to hang a picture of a bougainvillea-covered dunny I painted years ago. I stood there for a while thinking I might risk it, then thoughts of a nursing home kicked in and I gave up. Someone will come and put it up for me one day, but that is not the point, darling. My cat is sleeping so peacefully in her basket that I think I should give her a shake so she can wake up and be my friend. I am putting off ringing a human friend because I am afraid of his news.

The washing machine tries to walk out the door every time it is on fast spin and the cotton quilt inside is too heavy for me to do anything about it.

Old age is a bugger.

But most of all I am livid that the author of a new book (Patricia Edgar, In Praise of Ageing, Text Publishing) is advocating that the pension age be lifted to 70 and other nasty things “to promote a culture in which working to 70 and beyond is seen as normal”.

Aaargh. You see what I mean about everyone having too much to say about old age?

If you love old age you want people to share that feeling. Telling them they can’t have the pension until 70 is not the way to go. This rich country can afford to give old people who need it a bit of comfort for their final stretch. And comfort for many people means doing nothing very much: after a lifetime of being at everyone’s beck and call. The people who want the OAP to be raised to 70 are the ones who have a nice little nest egg (of course they worked for it) and are travelling the world. They feel full of life and verve. But a lot of people had jobs that were anything but challenging and enjoyable. They need to get the hell out of there before they die prematurely.

Some of my friends didn’t make it to 70. Well, that saved the nation something, didn’t it?

Edgar’s book is about more than the OAP. I think she would be a great person to have on board if you were trying to make a nursing home accommodate the needs of an old person. She’s a bossyboots and it is plain that she can be very effective. For her, being asked, at 76, if she uses the internet is ageism. And there are stories about some interesting Australian lives, told (rather stodgily) in her book. Hugh Mackay’s back jacket comment “if Edgar’s rational arguments don’t convince you, (he means that ageing is not bad news) her human stories will” is fair enough.

So what did I do to overcome my irritation with bossyboots and the weather? A picture came into my mind of an old girl up the street on her rusty old “girl’s” bicycle, like the one I had when I was 13. She tells me off for gardening in my good clothes. She talks and laughs a lot. She’s a real Westie, and still has me on probation I think, as I only moved here four years ago. She is wonderful, even if you don’t know her story.

Old age is wonderful. Join me in a glass of wine. Don’t be stupid. Of course you can drink on your own.

Author details:

Written by Shirley Stott Despoja. Reproduced with Shirley’s permission. The column was first published  in the Adelaide Review.

Shirley’s Third Age columns appear in  The Adelaide Review and The Melbourne Review each month.


Ageing is not a linear process

Ageing is a process – not always kind, but utterly inevitable. It starts before we are even born and continues until death: some say for a short period longer in fact. We are born, we age, many of us suffer some of the maladies associated with ageing, but unlike taxes, we don’t quite go on forever. The process is inexorably linear and the only way any of us (and then only parts of us) can get any younger is by accepting an organ transplant: not an objective many of us are happy to pursue.

The impacts of ageing, on the other hand, are not necessarily as inevitable. Most of us get a few twinges, our hair changes colour, some even falls out, we tend to put on weight and a few creases might appear on our faces – but these are merely physical evidences of the maturity of our bodies. For some of us, maturity is anathema – indeed, some revel in the ‘privilege’ of acting immaturely, taking advantage of advancing years to indulge in some of the secret aspirations their position in the workplace or society more generally prevented them from exploring. More strength to them!

But more importantly, the adverse changes arising from ageing are not linear. We may find ourselves incapable of particular activities at certain times, yet find them quite routine at other times for any number of reasons. For example, building our careers may be so time-consuming that we do not exercise as we should and this may prevent us from participating in tennis or bowls when we retire. But after a bit of bike-riding, some walking, perhaps an improved diet, we may find ourselves more than capable of taking off the President’s Cup. Similarly, a heart condition may inhibit many activities quite dramatically, but following suitable medication or surgery, we may again find that we are bouncing with energy and ready to compete with people a generation or two younger than our physical age. We may elect not to participate in some activities because of age-related depression or because we fear our age, skill-level or fitness will prevent us from enjoying them or excelling as we might wish, but if we join a Life Activities Club or enrol in a class or two, most of us become surrounded by caring friends in the same situation as ourselves and we comfortably embrace activities we imagined were closed to us. Some of us may even use our age as the excuse for particular behaviours (or lack of them), but lifestyle and wellbeing are demonstrably not as dependent on youth as many of us might think.

Similarly, age of itself does not (and should never) necessarily impact our independence, particularly our cognitive independence.

When we are children and adolescents, we know what is best for us – as well as what is best for the rest of the world. When we are building our careers or raising our families, we are often required to make monumental economic and social judgements – and most of us take them in our stride. We readily make all sorts of major decisions for our children that will impact them throughout the rest of their lives, but we don’t flinch from that. We easily commit ourselves to radical career choices, 40-year mortgages, cars that cost 2 years’ salary, health and lifestyle choices that will influence our day-to-day lives until the day we die. Not all of these decisions produce the outcomes we hope for, but we survive, make the most of them and move on. All of this indicates our willingness and ability to make sound judgements about all sorts of really major issues so this raises a serious question in my mind.

If we are able to make our own decisions, do what is right for us and those around us, control all aspects of our lives for 60 years or so, including at least 15-20 years when we are at least strongly influencing the life choices of our children, why should we suddenly accept that our children know better than we do what is best for us just because they have had less birthdays than we have? Regrettable though it is, statistically, Elder Abuse and particularly Elder Financial Abuse originates within the family at a time when most of us are still more than capable of independent living and making all our own decisions – at least on non-family-related issues.

It is hard to justify derogation of responsibility for the rest of our lives to people with 20-25 years less experience than us, who have not survived, even thrived on, the same challenges we have, who have perspectives entirely different from ours – and who, as often as not, have spent a large part of their lives criticising us for the decisions we make. Surely, if we have listened for so many years to being told that we make bad decisions (at least those seen as unbeneficial to our offspring), serious alarms should start klaxoning when these critics start encouraging us to relinquish important decision-making power to them. Yet, often as not, this is the root of Elder Abuse.

The lesson in this sounds rather simple, but maybe I am naïve. Given that we have flourished quite independently for 60 or 70 years, the incentive to surrender our independence to people we know to have less experience, probably less knowledge and certainly, divergent aspirations and perspectives, should be questioned – no matter how appealing the colourful wrapping and sugar frosting might appear. If it looks too good to be true, remove the wrapping and examine it the same way all the other decisions in your life were analysed.

Written by Lindsay Doig

President, Life Activities Club Victoria

You can find out more about  Life Activities Clubs here.

Walking the walk

She mulls and wonders, ‘how will I continue walk this foreign, uneven path, alone’.

Let’s us call her Ursula Berg, it is her nom de plume. She can hide behind it and rave and cry, lie on the floor like a two year old calling for attention with a temper tantrum. Will she shout while thrashing legs and arms and weep, ‘Nobody understands?’

Let me reassure all of you—there isn’t any need for you to come forward and whisper ‘Shush’, for she will neither scream nor kick her heels on the ground.

On reflection she doesn’t have the stamina of a two year old. She has lived in her body for close to ninety years, a long, long time and she is tired.

Ursula Berg possesses a reasonably clear mind. Her life experience is rich and varied; she has brought up three kids who in fact rarely suffered from temper tantrums. Her grandchildren say in unison that ‘She is cool’. Others in the past and present have called her strong. Could these adjectives serve her as walking sticks? Her inner self doubts it. And now even her reasonably clear mind is giving up the ghost, at least on the major quest of keeping cool and strong.

Why not?

She sees you, who stand on the footpath and graciously make room for her to pass, or those of you who sit under the leafy limbs of a shady tree and call out.

‘Come and rest here’. She wonders if you understand why it is difficult to remain ‘cool’ or ‘strong’ while she attempts to walk the walk in such worn old shoes.

She expected brilliant answers from her inner self, especially from an objective mind and the brain of an ex Director of nursing who knew how to nurse patients suffering from senile dementia.

These sick people had different personalities. They were a bit like a bag of mixed lollies, the liquorice all sorts that her husband recalls eating long ago. Obviously those invalids were not of the lolly kind but some of them were sweet. They went along accepting whatever was demanded of them. There was little that was required in fact. More in the style of:

‘Eat your dinner dear.’

‘Come, we’ll have a nice shower.’

‘You have a visitor, isn’t it good?’

In between these “major” events, there was the regular, ‘I’ll take you to the toilet.’ Otherwise these gentle people wandered slowly along the corridor or sat idly watching the images on the TV’s screen. There was also what was called (grandly) occupational therapy. Singing together old familiar tunes, catching a ball or matching up pairs of disparate socks….

Yes, they were all kind of patients, not all of them went along without a whimper or a growl. Different personalities, different ways — one old man thrashed his meal tray on the floor when he didn’t get what he wanted. A sad elderly woman used her handbag as a weapon when she first came into the Nursing home, she was angry to find herself in what she thought of as a prison. Others had to be watched at meal time for they would steal someone else’s dessert.

Ursula remembers well the old fellow who told everyone how, ‘I put that French hussy in her place, I fought during the war, you know. ’ He’d tried, to no avail, to ward off his insulin injection and threw insults as he would have loved to have thrown punches.

The important issue for Ursula is that these people were patients in a Nursing home and not a partner sharing her house. She was also much younger and not the only one in attendance. Often at morning tea or lunch, the nurses had a good laugh together. They cared for their patients, (they were kind and respectful) but sharing incidents and talking to each other gave them the needed break from endless hours of mindless tasks.

These patients didn’t help with the washing up and ‘hide’ her cooking implements and not one of them ever came to her study or her bedroom to ask her at short interval, “Do you want a cup of tea” or “Is it Monday to-day” or “Do we need anything at the shop” or “Do you want a cup of tea” or “what is the time?” or “Do we need anything at the shop”.

They didn’t come in as she lies down with her eyes shut and tries to relax, or sits down at her keyboard to write as another way to keep her sanity. They had been her patients not her family. She hadn’t met them when they were well and there had never been between them the gestures, the sinuous silences, the words forming a long ribbon over the last thirty five years.

The point that Ursula attempts to make (more so to herself than to anyone else’s) is that caring for those who are not your kin is very different. Now she is the only one responsible for the welfare of someone dear to her and she is aware that she is doomed to thread an uneven path, (as she’s said already) in the wrong kind of shoes. She too is starting to repeat herself.

She believes that while the road is a bit rough now, it will become more so later on and that while she is likely to twist her ankle in a pot hole (metaphorically speaking) she fears that twisting an ankle will be a minor worry. Worse is to come.

Now she sits at her key board (an excellent idea) and writes on the blank page words that equal shouts. She prefers to use multiple exclamations marks. Oh yes, she knows that too many of these are not only unnecessary but in fact wrong grammatically. She is stubborn though and will not heed counsel, she clicks the! Once, twice!! In fact she would like to click the key for a long time. Fill long lines of blanks with repetitive exclamation marks. See, like this!!! And this!!!!!

The icon in the computer says: nine hundred and ninety six words and Ursula decides that she can keep on her rambling.

To-day she did what the kind therapist on the Alzheimer help line had suggested.

She lay on the bed as if ready for relaxation and asked herself the question:

“How do I feel?”

The counsellor had said that is wasn’t enough to breathe slowly and regularly and follow the steps that relaxed the body. According to her wisdom and experience it was important to focus on one’s emotional state.

Ursula said ‘Okay’. She guessed that the helper believed that a good cry may do the trick, at least temporarily. And privately she does understand that it would help.

Ursula had never been given to cry—even when the occasion warranted sobs. She used to let tears flow when watching a film that touched a chord but if her husband noticed he would say, ‘It’s only a film’.

When she tunes in onto SBS to watch the news, she sees the distraught men and women who shout in united uproar and tell the whole world of their anguish. Sometimes she wishes to be part of a culture where it is the norm to hug each other or to hold on tightly to the dead body of one’s child and be pulled away gently and embraced by warm arms.

Australians look upon ‘stiff upper lip’ as a mode of behaviour to be proud of. When in the past, she counselled ‘clients’ they’d often told her (in confidence) ‘I don’t want to burden my friends with my grief or worries.’

The sense of communal bereavement happened in Australian villages or towns, when either fire or flood overwhelmed even the toughest amongst the people and, they did hug each other and they cried for all to see but they never shouted and in their sorrow they managed to appear so ‘dignified’!

In any case she agrees, (like her patients immersed in therapy) that everyone is busy and enclose in their own personal struggle. There is no magic wand to be had and to grin and bear is the only way.

She is lucky indeed to have mastered the key board, at least in a fashion, and writing does help even if the stuff is a bore to read. What the hell!—-!!!

Years ago she studied in detail the eight major affects (the basis of complex emotional states) thus she tried at lunch time to ask herself, ‘how do I feel?’ Ursula remembered that these affects are experienced by any healthy human being and can be read on the faces of people all over the world. No spoken language is necessary. Animals feel similar affects to a smaller or greater degree.

There had been a list to go through and she’d reminded herself, ‘Easy does it’. The positives were only two: enjoyment- joy and interest-excitement. One neutral affect equated to surprise-startle. The list of negative affects was longer, six in fact including fear-terror, distress-anguish, anger-rage, shame–humiliation, disgust and the last one( not in the dictionary) was dismell characterised by the upper lip raised and the head pulled back.

It didn’t work for her. She tested herself, but drew a blank. Not a tear to be had, or even a sigh. She’ll try again. She may not have been in the ‘right’ frame of mind. But one of her fear (affect: fear) is that the right frame of mind eludes her.

One thing she knows is that she hasn’t experienced joy as a pleasant homeostatic feeling of wellbeing for quite a while. Even interest and excitement are but a fading memory.

As to surprise? No nothing had brought surprise recently ,even when the young garden shrubs, doing their best, showed fresh green leaves after a bit of rain. As to worldly affairs, the idiocy of politicians, the cruelty of war, the conniving of large corporations offering cheap goods by squeezing the growers. No surprise and certainly nothing to get excited about.

In his book “Knowing feelings” Donald Nathanson doesn’t quote envy or jealousy as affects, these are more complex emotions.

She is not jealous but fleetingly envious of him, the poor darling.

What she envies is ‘his’ surprise (excitement may be superlative), she bears witness to his momentary responses when he discovers anew ancient truths or events. She envies his capacity to behold unruffled the hurdles in their lives. She envies him his calm smile, his certainty that the worse will not happen in his life time, most of all she envies his ‘very well thank you’ to ‘how are you to-day?’

There is little memory of the time he travels through. Every day is an anonymous day (it has neither name nor date). Every book read is a new book and films seen many times have left little trace.

It is as if he encounters life with the eyes and ears of a very young child who discovers the world one step at a time. There is a difference though, for the step he takes doesn’t leave a mark and the best aboriginal tracker will not find an imprint.

Of the negative affects Ursula knows a kind of rage. A helpless rage. It is a fact that anger and rage equate to helplessness: temper tantrums, screaming, breaking crockery, slapping someone; this kind of behaviour signal feeling defeated.

So far, all she has done with her rage is to type multiple!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and write one thousand nine hundred and ninety five words including her signature. These marks —! Aren’t hurting anyone, unless they grate awfully on the nervous system of someone who respects the sanctity of the English grammar and he or she may be driven to break crockery.

As a psychotherapist Ursula suggests that tearing newspaper in small pieces has been known to be soothing. It composts well, is not costly to replace, nor will it require the effort of sweeping up shards of porcelain.

Written by Dalia