The 93-year old woman down the hall had all her mental faculties, but her health was frail. She was not “battling” anything, she was moving from one stage of life to another. The “other” was death. Which is not a battle or a struggle, but an event that will happen for all of us. Last week, she died.
Her children, in a generous move, discovered I was a writer and asked if I’d like to look through her extensive bookcases and choose any books I’d like. One of the daughters said that any book that would be treasured would make her mom happy. I was happy to step into the world of books.
What shocked me about this woman’s house, tidy and well-kept, were the items that the elderly need to do what the rest of us see as routine. It’s not the number of devices, but the design. I take my toilet for granted, but if you are not flexible and need a higher seat, they do exist. But they are ugly.
In fact, most medical devices for the elderly are ugly. They don’t have to be. But they are. Casts for children (and adults) now come in colors and with glitter. Vitamins for kids come in the shape of cartoon characters, as gummy bears and in flavors. Equipment for the elderly are utilitarian and gray, maybe white. Maybe an ugly shade of medium blue that doesn’t blend in with anything else. But that’s it.
I looked at the grab bars in the bath, the raised toilet seat, the step into the tub. All utilitarian, all ugly. The walker, the bed table, the magnifier for reading. Of course they need easy-grip handles. But that’s not the only consideration. All of us like to have beauty around us. Good design is both beautiful and useful.
It’s somehow cruel to think that at the end of life, when your body is not cooperating, we have to choose between beauty and utilitarian. It must make the elderly feel they are not worth creating beauty for. That beauty is a luxury and the elderly don’t get it. That any group of any ability has to be satisfied with white, gray or glaring blue.
Yes, I’m sure that if you look hard enough you can find elder-care products that are nicely designed. Please don’t post links. I believe you. The point is, it’s not the norm, or easy, and it should be. End of life is not a trash can, it’s a passage. And as with all rites of passage–weddings, bar mitzvahs, quinceanearss, they deserve to be accompanied by pretty, useful clothes and equipment.
—Quinn McDonald misses a neighbor she knew for just a short period of time.