Sunday, 5 July 2015

Elderly and dependent ~ a sense of ceremony ~ and the small things that matter

In the rush of our busy lives it is easy to overlook the importance of taking time to pay attention to small things and with proper ceremony.  As we age and become frail small things and little details may become much more significant and time can take on new dimensions, so doing things quietly and with a sense of ceremony can make all the difference: getting out favourite china, arranging the tea things nicely on a pretty tray, placing a vase of fresh flowers just where it is pleasing, taking the time to listen properly... these things, perhaps small in themselves, can be the source of great pleasure.  

In the passage below this point is made beautifully: in it Mabel Dodge Luhan describes how D H Lawrence made a ceremony of the giving of silverware to her son, John, and his fiance.  The excerpt is from her book "Lorenzo in Taos", on page 84:
He and Alice were engaged then to be married soon, and Alice was staying there with us for a few days along with her mother, Alice Corbin.  I had some silver things to give them, and one night when we were all together, I got them out, and my jewel-box, too, and uncermoniously began, saying:
     "Well, here they are: spoons, knives, forks.  And --"
     "But wait--wait!" Lawrence hastened over to where John and Alice and I sat together on the couch.  "Let us count them!  Lovely silver spoons!  Twelve of them--" and he piled them all together.  "And then the forks."
      He was making a party out of it.  I never had the patience to make a nice thing like that myself, but when he played a game, I liked to play it with him.
     "Beautiful, heavy silver knives!  Twelve of them."
     The children were handling the odds and ends in the Chinese box.  I gave Alice a few things and then I was through with the game.  John was handling the silver things, contemplatively.
     "Well, take them away," I began.
     "Wait!  Let him have his moment," Lawrence said, gently, in a low voice.  "This is his moment."  How kind he was!  How entirely understanding!  He made me feel unfeeling and unresponsive, as indeed I was! [...]
(One of the things I like so well about Mabel's writing is her directness and candour!)  
I gained an understanding of such things early in life when I was a young girl and had to spend a number of weeks in hospital.  I was confined to bed unable even to turn over and had to cope with a great deal of pain and the invasiveness of considerable unwanted noise.  It felt like a form of torture.  Time stetched to breaking point.  There was little I could do to amuse myself and the view consisted only of what lay immediately within my line of sight: walls, windows which looked out onto other walls...  Even now, decades later I can easily recall in detail the position of the bed, windows and doors, the sun glaring in my eyes, the bedcovers and bedside cabinet, my nighties...  My parents visited me often and what lifelines they were, of companionship, kindliness and familiarity in my world which had gone so badly wrong!  I do not forget.

So when I see elderly people, often confined to their chairs, to small rooms or dull hallways, and moving only with difficulty I want to help them, to make some of the small things memorable in a good way, and to introduce variety and pleasure in comforting amounts.  I feel for anyone reduced to such circumstances.  Once one understands this it cannot be forgotten or set aside.  I cannot help them all, but I can help my mother, and I do.  

To find my other articles in this series click on the link below:

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