I was feeling a bit miserable when I woke up this morning. Today I have been missing one very important thing about my former work life; that wonderful feeling of being involved in the transformation of lives. I felt proud of each student as they left around this time of year. They were all, without exception, very different from when they started their courses three years previously. I was a part of their transformative learning for thirteen years, and it is a hard thing to let go of.
I became curious about why I didn’t feel like this last year. Well, last year retirement was still new and I was still finding out what it meant, I guess. We had not long got back from our ‘big trip’, and I was delighting in having time to pursue all kinds of hobbies, including creative writing; I was just finishing off a completely free futurelearn course this time last year (If anyone fancies following that one up you can find it here: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/start-writing-fiction). I was all fired up, after that.
So, I had a buffer last year. This year, I miss my students. Funnily enough, I am meeting one of them later this week, which is nice, but I miss that sense of purpose I had – a reason to get up and get dressed each day.
Of course, another reason I might be feeling a bit low is that it has also been a pretty hard time recently for those of us who live in Manchester. On May 22nd a suicide bomber killed 22 people at Manchester Arena, at an Ariana Grande concert. Some of them were parents collecting their kids, and the youngest victim was eight years old. Manchester folk won’t be defeated, and there have been many wonderful examples of random acts of kindness following this awful event. The worker bee (above), the symbol of Manchester for many years, has become a symbol of hope after hate. But the atrocity has shaken many of us.
Well, I never promised you that every post would be positive, did I? I don’t think I am depressed, but I know I have to get a grip so that I don’t become it!
Anyway, I decided today to get on my bike. I haven’t ridden it for about a year, since my diagnosis of osteoarthritis in my right hip. I had read or heard that cycling was not a good idea, but recently I have seen a physio for my left shoulder impingement, and I asked him for advice about my hip. He kindly gave me several booklets from arthritis research (http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/shop/products/publications.aspx). In them, I learned that cycling is actually encouraged, which perked me up no end.
I thought I had better take it easy, so I pushed it up the hill from our house, before getting on and peddling. I had forgotten how to use the gears, added to which the chain was rusty (note to self: keep oiling!), so it took a bit of getting used to (I pulled on the break instead of changing gear at one point – luckily did not go over the handlebars!).
I went past an old lady, who was sitting on a bench. She had a dog, who was sniffing and wagging nearby, as they do. I said a cheery hello as I cycled past, and then I decided to turn round and have a chat.
I found out her name is Selina, and she is 89. I asked her if she knew what the internet is. She said yes, though she hasn’t used it. I explained the concept of blogging, and she gave me permission to use her picture and tell her story. Selina is a twin. Her sister’s name is Florence, and they live together, not far from me (their mother was called Selina Florence). About ten years ago, she fell and broke her hip, and was in hospital for about ten weeks. Her daughter, who is in her fifties right now, took the dog in, and when her mother came out of hospital she suggested they share the care of the dog. The daughter used to be a dresser at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but moved to be near her mother and auntie so that she could care for them. She had hoped for a job in a Manchester theatre, but it never worked out.
Selina’s daughter is typical of so many women in the prime of their lives, and often much older, caring for even older relatives. A recent newspaper article (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2818298/Burden-caring-family-takes-toll-women-50s-Health-suffers-juggle-responsibilities.html) reports research by the University of London which suggests that there is a significant negative effect on women’s health when they care for others in this way. Some women in that age-group find themselves sandwiched between caring for their parents and caring for their grandchildren, as people live longer and child care costs become a strain on young families.
Selina is lucky, not only in that she has a daughter to care for her. I don’t want to suggest that all caring is negative; I am sure Selina’s daughter is happy to do care for her mum. Selina also lives with her sister, which further protects her against the loneliness that comes often with old age. Loneliness in oder age is, according to one study, twice as likely to kill you as obestity (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/feb/16/loneliness-twice-as-unhealthy-as-obesity-older-people). But then, poverty is an even bigger killer …
So, to end this cheery blog post: women like Selina are role models in more than one way. She sits on her bench and waves a cheery hello to anyone and everyone. She keeps as active as she can, despite having broken her hip some years ago. She sees her daughter regularly, and feels cared for. And she lives with her sister – a very precious gift. Incidentally, her sister smokes and drinks, which Selina does not. Both are still alive at 89. Which kind of underlines the importance of positive human contact in older age. I just wish that the improvement in Selina’s chances of living healthily into older age could be mirrored in her daughter’s. That daughter, whatever she gains from her role as carer, has given up a lot, including the job she obviously loved. I do hope she also feels cared for, by someone.