The latest report into N.H.S. care of the elderly is pretty damning, but before we all raise our hands in horror/point the finger or whatever other cliché is appropriate to manifest disgust, we should ask how we treat the elderly ourselves.
It is possible to romanticise care of the elderly. The white-haired grandma or grandpa, sitting quietly in a rocking chair and dispensing wisdom and kindness to everyone, is, more often than not, a fiction. We don’t associate such figures with the frailty, querulousness, and smelliness of old age which is the reality. Anyone who has cared for a very old person over a long stretch of time will know the tiredness and guilt that such care often imposes on the carer. It is complicated further when the care must be given in cramped conditions, with lack of understanding or downright hostility to contend with from other members of the family. If we don’t do all that brilliantly at home, should we expect any better in hospital, which is not, after all, meant for long-term care but for getting people better as quickly as possible?
Perhaps the real problem is not so much the failures that have been highlighted in N.H.S. hospitals as the attitudes of society in general to the elderly. Respect nowadays has to be earned. In Benedict’s day, it was accorded automatically. Unless we genuinely respect others and see in them the person God has created and redeemed, I think we all run the danger of seeing the elderly as a nuisance, a drag, not worth bothering about. That is a chilling thought.
If nothing else, I’m not sure I would want to stand before God on Judgement Day and say I found any of his children ‘not worth bothering about’, would you?