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On relationships in later life

07 March 2014

Both reassurance and challenge here, Anne Spalding finds

Still Caring: Christian meditations and prayers
Dorothy M. Stewart
SPCK £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 (Use code CT158 )

Rich in Years: Finding peace and purpose in a long life
Johann Christoph Arnold
Plough £8

BOTH these books were written from lived experience, and it shows. Dorothy M. Stewart's Still Caring is for carers who are about to move, or have just moved, the person they care for into a residential home. Each chapter consists of a quotation from the Bible, Stewart's own reflections (about a page long), a short prayer, and a "self-care suggestion". Crucially for a carer, Still Caring can be read one chapter at a time, each chapter a quick and easy read.

Having recently been through exactly the process that Stewart is addressing, I found most of the chapters very apt, and reading them was astonishingly reassuring. Also, friends have been inclined to emphasise (correctly) how much more time I have for other things now; so Still Caring was a helpful balance: it reminded me that one does not stop caring although the practicalities have changed. I valued the self-care suggestions in particular, mostly for the reminder that self-care is still needed.

Addressing the experience of ageing more generally, Johann Arnold's Rich in Years encourages readers to approach older age purposefully and with faith. Indeed,the book explicitly challengessocial pressures to idolise youth, vigour, and bodily health, and the pressure to increase length of lifeat all costs.

Arnold's approach here is to inspire rather than provide a step-by-step "how to". He draws on his own experience and experiences of people he knows to explore aspects of getting older such as "Accepting Changes", "Combating Loneliness", "Finding Purpose", "Living with Dementia", and so on. In each chapter, he gives some thoughts of his own and from scripture, but almost always a central place is given to the stories of individuals, showing how they tackled the particular feature of ageing and how it worked out for them.

A number of times, I thought that a particular experience would not transpose to another location, but I still found the stories encouraging. Here were people who had faced the reality of illness and pain (say), and had found an honest way of keeping faith in the midst of it. So maybe the rest of us can find a way forourselves.

I also found Rich in Years something of a challenge. Arnold'sstories evidence a strong sense of community, so that people are able to face ageing from the basis of a range of good relationships. I noticed that these relationships included people of different ages and stages of life. In the stories given, these existing relationships provide solid ground for some honest talking and for taking practical steps in finding peace and purpose.

If we want older people around us to be rich in years in this way,the challenge, I feel, is to build and sustain real relationships in community - for their sake and ours. Arnold emphasises the import-ance in this of two-parent familiesthat endure. I welcome the encouragement given in the foreword to "make friends of various generations - ten years younger, 20, 30, 40. Make friends; be a friend."

Dr Spalding is Spirituality Adviser in the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, and a member of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis.

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