Thursday, 12 December 2013

Bah humbug (part two)

I'm not cashing in on the quite astonishing popularity of my previous post (nearly 1000 hits so far, and growing) but   I do have something to add; a more serious example of seasonal bonhomie gone wrong.

My disabled sister lives in sheltered accommodation. She is intelligent and has her wits about her, but she's in a wheelchair. Okay so far. But - every Christmas, the mayor comes round to distribute little bags of goodies to the residents: sweets, chocolate, perhaps tea bags or biscuits. That kind of thing. And she dreads it. Why? Because it feels patronising and belittling, that's why. Because the powers that be haven't tried to imagine what it's like to be physically challenged, and therefore treated like a child. She is wondering whether to escape this year, or sit it out. She is too kind to tell the mayor that she doesn't want his sweets, and that she is capable of buying her own tea bags.

Ten years ago, I too was on the receiving end of something like this. Flat on my back in hsopital, with a spinal injury, I was (astonishingly) probably the youngest patient on theward. Christmas came, and with it, the well-meaning women from an age-related charity, with bags of sweets. They were probably older than I was. Worse was to come. A couple of days later, along came Father Christmas, complete with elf (yes, really), and more sweets. I hid under the covers, but the nurses gave me away.

What I want to  know is, why? Especially the Father christmas bit? Do people think that if you are old, you forget there's no such person as Father Christmas (and that it's really Mummy and Daddy who deliver the goods.  Never mind that Mumy and Daddy, in this case,  are inevitably long dead)?

No doubt the mayor (and Father Christmas) feel warm and fuzzy after doing this, but I do wish they woudldconsider the recipients of their good works, and think again before they do this kind of thing.

My poor sister is expecting the mayoral visitiation this afternoon. Please spare her a thought.

27 comments:

  1. I think the main problem is the assumption that everyone is the same because they are old. There are probably people who enjoy the visits and don't feel patronised by them - and also others who feel like you. My sister sings in retirement homes and there are people who laugh and clap and join in and look forward to her visits and those who ask when the horrible noise is going to stop. My sister has asked whether the ones who don't like it would be better off not coming but apparently they all have to attend. That's the problem, I feel.

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    1. I think you're probably right, Bernadette.

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  2. Hey - what about the children who don't want to talk to a fat man with a white beard. At least they don't have to sit on his knee and be cuddled by him these days. That's more traumatic than being the recipient of sweets.

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  3. I can understand how your sister feels. It's the assumption that everyone must join in with the jollifications. Perhaps something more adult would be more appropriate, like a reading of a short story (sure you must have some lying about Frances), or a poetry reading - something light hearted. A choir would be good, but not necessarily carols. Gareth Malone would be very welcome.

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    1. I think part of it is the being lumped all together just because of circumstances. People are just as individual in old age as they are when they're young?

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  4. Then Santa goes home feeling as if he's oh so saintly. Maybe he is, but he's often seen as a devil too.

    I suggest a really good magician!

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  5. If the Mayor, and other Santa wannabees, truly cannot imaging anything worse than not seeing Santa and receiving a gift on Christmas, then their hearts are reaching out to fill a (possibly imaginary) void. It's to be taken in the spirit it is offered.
    If it's a photo-op for the press release, not so much.
    In either case, an ugly Christmas sweater and antlers sound appropriate:)

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    1. I think a problem is how,to get out of it without seeming rude.

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  6. Like Bernadette says in her comment, I imagine there are people who enjoy such visits (I think I would - especially if they'd give me choccies!). I wonder if they would not feel like they've been forgotten if nobody turned up for Christmas. But it should of course be optional to attend, not forced upon those who don't want them.
    As a teenager, I sang in a church choir, and we went to old people's homes and the hospital to sing a few times before Christmas. From how I remember these occasions, the people at the home sat there, smiling, some of them singing along. Maybe they were all drugged into submission?
    At the hospital, we never went into any of the rooms (too large a group for that), but stood in some of the wards, and the nurses opened the doors to those rooms where people wanted to hear us. Those who were able to walk, came out to listen. I did like those visits, but they certainly did not make me holy.

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    1. Your approach sounds more sensitive, Meike.

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  7. I was never a fan of 'Father Christmas' (in Swedish 'tomten') as a child myself - I'd rather have had the presents and the sweets without his involvement :) At least back in my childhood he always wore a rather hideous mask, and always asked children if they had been "good" - implying that if we hadn't, there would be no presents... I know as a teenager I used to say I'd never play that charade (pretending there was a Father Christmas) for my own children. As it turned out I never had children, though. So I can't really say if I would have kept my resolution or not. Traditions are not always easy to break with, as soon as they involve more than one person!

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    1. Father Christmas was my favourite part of Christmas, as a child and a parent. But not in...er...later life!

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  8. Eeeks, it's all that kissing of Santa that's sick. You just never know where he's been or what you're going to get for Christmas. They should really bar Santa from adult wards. The elderly should definitely not be treated like children.

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  9. My parents were in different wings of a care facility, because my father had dementia. Neither of them were forced to attend anything, but when he was in a wheelchair, of course he was wheeled in. But your sister should be able to say "thank you but I prefer to stay in my own room today" as my mother did.
    I think it would be dreadful to be somewhat-younger-than-elderly (as I am) but treated as if I didn't have a mind of my own. I can certainly understand how your sister must feel.
    Meanwhile, I'm delighted that your previous post (which I certainly enjoyed) has received so much attention! Congratulations!
    K

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  10. If a choir goes and sings that is entertainment. It is thoughtful and is not patronising. Some people won't like singing but we can't all like everything.

    If Father Christmas visits old people or disabled people then I would be very offended indeed if I were one of those he came to visit. It would be a gross insult to my intelligence.

    As for mayoral duties believe me the mayor almost certainly dreads the visit as much as many of the residents dread it (believe me, I worked with politicians all through my career). It is a throwback from the days of the poor laws and the workhouse where the mayor distributed gifts to those who really were poor and needy. He may have dreaded it even then but it was a duty and, however, demeaning the gifts were usually needed. They are not needed today in hospitals or residential homes.

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    1. Hold on, GB - I never mentioned singing!

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    2. No you didn't Frances but Meike did.

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  11. Think the problem lies in assuming everyone has the same reaction to such visits. Personally, I would put up with it in the spirit in which it was meant and gratefully accept any chocolate (but not sweets). I hope your sister engages the Mayor in intelligent conversation - that should get through to him more than anything!

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  12. I agree about the sweets, Rosemary. Definitely not for adults.

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  13. Your sister could do or say something outrageous to the Mayor to challenge these Twee Time Treats?

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    1. Not a bad idea, Clare. Ad she does a great line in outrageous.

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  14. I'm sure it's well meant, but I can see it might seem patronising to some. If the alternative is some people getting no visitors then it's probably a good thing to at least try to offer a little festive cheer, but people should be allowed to opt out.

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    1. Patsy, the trouble with opting out is it is seen by some as ungracious. You can't win. I've worked in a day hospital for the eldelry, where the pastimes were things like basket weaving and bingo (prizes = tins of beans etc). This isn't everyone's idea of a good time, either! Nothing more stimulating (bridge, chess, Scrabble etc) on offer. My sister did in fact op out last week, but she still got her gift of shower gel. She doesn't use or need shower gel. Wouldn't the mayor do better to visit the food bank and donate some tins there, where the food really is needed?

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