Being Old

‘I am old and I feel and look old’ is how Jane Miller begins her recently published book, ‘Crazy Age : Thoughts on Being Old’ It has been reviewed enthusiastically in The Observer by the veteran journalist, Katharine Whitehorn. ‘If anyone doubts that old age can actually be interesting, this is the book for them’, she says. And the writer, Melissa Benn enthusiastically endorses the opinion in an article in The Guardian.

Written by a woman and especially for women, the book connects with my own recent experience. In the course of a temporary job now concluded I have been meeting several remarkable women, two of them being looked after in Care Homes, two alone in homes where they have lived much of their life. L.D. is one of them. She is 96. Her husband died when they had been married for only four years. She then moved to live with her married sister (their parents had ten children – ‘only one died in infancy’), as time went on she had to face their deaths, and now lives alone.

During the 39-46 war she looked after two children evacuated from London. ‘Not having children, they were like my own’. She is still in touch with them and their children and has been abroad to visit the one who married an American.

Now she is crippled with rheumatoid arthritis; can’t face much TV but watches the 6 clock news in the hope that there might be some good news and then checks the state of the world again at 10.00 in case things have improved. Meals are brought to her door, and once a week she is collected for a local community lunch, where she meets friends of many years. She deeply regrets her inability to do the knitting she has always enjoyed. But ‘I am contented’ she says.

Jane Miller’s life experience has been very different, with a strong literary background, a married life of more than 50 years, three children and six grandchildren whom she adores, but is sometimes anxious for.

She too is realistic about the limitations of being old, and yet positive about its advantages.

The book faces the truth about old age – its hardness and disappointment but with many other accounts of people facing old age with considerable zest, as I have found in these past few weeks. For me and my wife this has been a summer when we have had some wonderful times with our three children and five grandchildren. That sometimes exhausting, riotous but often idyllic experience has been balanced for me by these amazing older women who in their way are having good times too.