I had the pleasure of watching June Brown (AKA Dot Cotton from Eastenders) on BBC1 recently in her documentary entitled ‘Respect your elders’. First of all what a marvelous example of a forthright lady that emanates the traditional values of yesteryear, all of which seem long forgotten amongst some of our current generation.
Every now and again her mantle would slip and you’d catch a glimpse of her chain smoking on screen alter ego and expected her to make reference to ‘her Nick’ at any time.
One day everyone will be old
The documentary explored the perception of elderly people in modern day society and examined the life they lead and the struggles many other them have maintaining dignity and respect during this degenerative period of their life. In places June was faced with the thought of addressing these forthcoming issues in her own life, however very quickly she dismissed those and moved on to another subject completely. She seemed at times frightened by the prospect of getting older even though she realized that sooner or later she would be presented with just such a scenario.
I was touched by the dignity and humor shown by John Bardon who played June’s on screen husband (Jim Branning) in Eastenders who is now confined to bed after a stroke in 2007. Even though the quality of his life now seem pithy compared the former man who was not only an accomplished actor but was also a very talented artist, given the choice he indicated that he was still happy to be on this earth. His limited ability to interact with his grandson, his wife and June showed great humility and a respect for what his current life had to offer him. It was clear his memories of acting alongside June filled him with joy when looking at photographs from the set of Eastenders, even to the point where he mumbled an expletive to get his point across.
June also explored the lives of other elderly people, looking at time spent in care homes and witnessing in home care provided by domiciliary carers. It was saddening to see rushed ½ hour appointments allotted to service users which were indicated as being ‘their allowance’. The carer admitted she would love to spend more time with her clients getting to know them better and offering them the companionship they so deserved. However every service user interviewed truly valued the friendship and service provided by their carers.
The program touched on the struggles many elderly people have in obtaining the correct level of state funding they need to pay for their care needs. One lady had spent her entire career as a nurse caring for other people, yet in her twilight years she had struggled for 2 years to receive enough funding to now pay for her palliative care. It seems unjust that in this modern age people who have worked and paid taxes for their entire life now have to struggle just to maintain a level of care that should be mandatory. The government is currently faced with reforming the way state funded care is managed; this needs to happen quickly as the problem is just getting worse.
I was encouraged to see certain initiatives being developed such as Aggies Grannies: http://aggiesgrannies.co.uk which seemed to address directly to the issue of the isolation of the elderly within society. Moreover it seemed to address another side of this issue in how children particularly interact with the elderly. Due to a break down in many modern families young children seem to interact far less these days with their grandparents or even great grandparents as families have become disjointed. Aggies Grannies has been specifically set up to take nursery children into nursing homes providing mutual benefits to both age groups. It was a pleasure to see very young children interacting with the elderly in a wide range of activities such as painting, playing, cooking and outside activities.
The program also touched on a different ethnic group and how they approached dealing with an aging relative in the household. It was immediately obvious that in this particular Asian household the grandmother was the most respected member of the family. She was revered for he wisdom and charm and was first in line for everything. At the dinner table she would be served first, if there was a problem in the family her opinion was sought and acted upon. Every member of the family was aware that a hierarchy existed. It was also comforting to see that the 2nd generation children were also planning how they in turn would look after their parents in the future, almost as if it was their destiny to do so.
The program was most enjoyable to watch albeit at times was tackling some very tender issues. I was humbled by June’s calm and empathetic approach to some rather personal situations faced by elderly people and their families. The program can be viewed on BBC iPlayer, please click here to watch again.
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