Updated: Apr 16, 2020
by Anne Mayer (our regular columnist)
Older people have been made to feel, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, that they are the excess cargo which needs to be dumped into the sea before the ship goes down. And as a higher percentage of people over 75 are women, I am speaking mainly to them. After lifetimes of caring for their husbands and children and grandchildren, often as they have run successful careers alongside, they are being told that if they get the virus they may not be treated.
There is also news trickling out that older people may face longer periods of isolation after others begin to return to normal life because they are so vulnerable and a vaccine has not yet been perfected. Some of my peer group actually agree with the idea of culling these oldsters, who clutter up the NHS when it is needed for much more urgent and important work. When I go for my daily walk, I feel invisible, which may explain why so few others, mainly millennials, seem unable to get out of my way and it is almost always I who am walking into the road to avoid them on the pavement.
Given this prevailing attitude, how interesting that when the Queen took to the TV screens last week she was universally hailed for giving hope and succour to a nation badly needing that kind of support. For when all is said and done, Her Majesty is a 93 year old woman, a working wife, mother and grandmother, just like so many others of us. Just as she has put up with a difficult husband and sometimes troublesome children with consummate dignity, she has also never washed a dish, made a bed, worried about money or wondered how she will manage the supermarket under lockdown. Her Majesty would also receive treatment instantly should the virus strike.
In rather stark contrast, I contacted my friend Blanche a couple of days ago to see how things went. Blanche is nearly 96 and still working. She lives very frugally in a tiny attic flat up five flights of stairs. Widowed early, she brought up a profoundly deaf son and a daughter. Blanche was recently awarded an MBE for her services to theatre; she is both a critic and the creator of the Peter Brook Award, which recognises achievement in smaller theatres across the land. In fact, she put The Fringe on the map and kept it there for 30 years. She has just closed down the award after all those years. Blanche’s reply to my query was that she was recovering slowly and when I asked from what, she said she had come down with the virus about three days into lockdown and knowing, at her age, she was unlikely to be treated, just took some paracetamol and went to bed.
Some days later, when she realised she was going to survive, and with an entirely empty fridge and larder, she contacted her daughter, now a famous film producer in Hollywood, and got her to try to arrange a food delivery including the five flights of stairs! The daughter is obviously used to getting things done as the delivery duly arrived, Blanche did not die of starvation and the daughter, from California, is now “keeping an eye on her.” Blanche told me this calmly, and is enjoying the time and peace to “catch up on things.” She does not see herself as a role model or heroine but those who see women of a certain age as “not wanted on the voyage” should note that it is not only Queen Elizabeth who gives one hope. There are many, many other women in their late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, who are proving to be exemplary in the situation and we should not marginalise them or cast them overboard too hastily.
Photo: by Carole Railton (copyright) "The Queen".