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Useful And Fantastic: The Value Of The Elderly

Val Yule thinks a proper assessment should be made of the value of the elderly to society.

Has anyone made an assessment of the value of the elderly in our communiity, compared with the value of other age groups? Take two groups of the elderly to consider, the 65-79 year olds, and the 80 plus, which includes me.

Compare those “not in the community” – in gated communities and nursing homes – with those “not in the community” in other age groups, which include the prison population. the completely non-earning, and the sick for any reason. There might seem to be a greater waste of the aging population in this comparison – but we just don’t know.

Now for the rest – what do the rest of the elderly do? We need some sort of count made by the number crunchers. How many are still working, for pay or not for pay? Who are carrying the burden of much of our farming, for example? Who are looking after the youngest generation and freeing another generation for working? Who are in effect caring for their adult children through their financial troubles? Who are bearing the biggest burden in some vital voluntary sectors? Who are most numerous in almost every activism maintaining the rights of the public or of its minority groups in the community? I would like to see the result of such an audit. There are not many old people in the community I know who do not give as much as they take.

There are some ways in which these in nursing homes can still benefit the community by voluntary work within their capacity. Some of the old folk could be child-minding if they retained the skills and childcare centres and old people’s homes were in close contiguity.

The gated communities are a cop-out, it seems to me. The times for retirement were set when people tended to have five years of decrepitude following increasing slowness in working – but nowadays this is rarely the case. People of 80 are like the people of 70 of even 50 years ago.

How can these extra years not be wasted, by the elderly themselves and by society? Some time for recreation is surely beneficial, and some time for maintaining mental health by more than puzzles and physical health by more than golf or gyms.

And when I go, how can I go least wastefully?

Surely I should have the right to decide when I am no longer worth living either to myself or to others – no medical feats should prolong me beyond where I want to be. What a waste – of myself, of the drugs that keep me alive, the people who have the job of keeping this body alive when I don’t want it any more.

And after I am dead – body parts given to be donated, the whole lot to the university anatomical department for dissection or whatever, the remains – what to do about them?The worst seems to be waste of beautiful woods and silver handles and satin whathaveyous and the time and ingredients spent in embalming. The worst also seems to be modern cremation methods – high temperature, high gas emissions. Pyres in other societies and other times have also wasted. Land burial – how permanently I take up a plot of earth, and how I may contaminate or enrich the earth. A plain cardboard box or simple shroud may be all I need. Some religions give their dead to the birds to eat – it sounds horrible, but it has good sense to it.

The medieval morality tale of Everyman finds what we can take (only our good deeds) and what we can leave behind. I was horrified when a colleague died, and immediately his room was emptied of all his records, which were burnt. About Papua New Guinea, and his pioneering work there.The poor old lady in the next street went off to the old folk’s home, and everything in the house went into a skip. Yet people somewhere would have been glad to have had the furniture and bits and pieces. A garage sale and an op shop . . .

Please, everybody, take and use what the dead leave behind them. There is no better memorial. The next generation builds on the shoulders of those who have gone before, or they learn nothing to avoid, nothing to save them trouble and time.


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