Doctors notebook - Mementoes that tell story of our lives

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Pure joy would be the words I would use to describe my feelings as I watched the children at Hawthorn Primary School dance around the Maypole.

The children were clearly enjoying themselves, as were the parents and teachers, in a very crowded school hall where the rain had driven the celebrations. It seemed to me to be education at its best, children who had learned new skills with complicated dance movements and steps, working together and enjoying it too.

I went from the school to one of our local nursing homes. It is a very good one but, even so, my joy turned to sadness. Let me try and explain.

Watching the children I saw their lives beginning, opening up, full of opportunities, gifts that would grow and develop, relationships to make and to fail sometimes too. Full steam ahead.

In the nursing home it was the opposite, lives coming to an end, closing up, fewer opportunities, gifts lost and relationships coming to an end because of illness, geography and death. Yes, many memories but they were being lost too. A home that often had many rooms reduced to a single room. I am not saying that life in a nursing or residential home is not fulfilling, it can be and often is. But what I am saying is, as we grow old our world contracts and becomes a smaller one. It was the contrast between the children in the school and the residents in the home that made me feel sad.

As we grow older we readjust our hopes and aspirations. We begin to wonder just how life has gone; did we do all that we aspired to, did our dreams remain dreams? How have our relationships worked out, were they all that we hoped for? Some of us spend our lives pursuing happiness, instead of seizing it and enjoying it when it comes along.

We begin to think about these things before we grow very old, that we tell the story of our life to ourselves and to others. We carry our memories with us and sometimes they need organizing. Our homes are full of memories too. And just in case one day we need to move our home to a nursing home we need to let our friends and families know what is important to us so we can take it to our new home. All too often I see very elderly people in rooms that carry none of their personalities – very few photos and no mementos. Now that is sad. When we leave this world we take nothing with us, but to end our days with virtually nothing that tells of the life we have lived is very sad indeed.