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Book Review

Michael Hare Duke
One Foot in Heaven

Growing Older and Living to the Full
ISBN 0-281-05399-5
Triangle SPCK, London, 2001, £7.99

(price at publication of review)

Reviewed January 2003; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2002

Having joined the ranks of older people myself (I am sixty-eight) I was looking forwards to an interesting read and certainly was not disappointed! Although a small book, it's scope and range is impressive; the author draws on many personal experiences, being seventy-seven, and well qualified to talks about such a complex and anxiety provoking subject. Hare Duke, TSSF, a retired Bishop in the Scottish Episcopal Church, was Chairman of Age Concern, Scotland for six years. He cites many eminent thinkers, philosophers, poets and the Bible, includes relevant demographic statistics, and brings important insights from the field of psychotherapy.

Initially, Hare Duke draws a picture of contemporary perceptions of old age and highlights how society generally dismisses the old, preferring youth, beauty and glamour. We are reminded of the current shift in the relative ages of the population, with the elderly being far more numerous than the young. This presents a challenge to find new, positive images of age with which to encourage the majority. He compares old age, which for many begins after retirement, with the grieving process, drawing attention to four specific tasks that need to be completed before we can begin to understand that the Third and Fourth Age can bring fulfilment and new possibilities for developing our potential. These tasks are: to accept the reality of the loss: To work through to the pain of grief: To adjust to an environment in which the deceased (our career or occupation before retirement) is missing: To relocate the deceased (that which had to be given up) emotionally and move on with life.

So we shall have more time to reflect on our lives. The elderly may not look much on the outside, but there can be quality inside; through this reflection process we are given the chance to change internally. He says that older people need to avoid colluding with the low esteem that society accords them. Ageism, he says is akin to racism; both have a corrosive influence on society.

I very much like the chapter on the usefulness of play and how we might strive to master our anxieties, giving expression to distressing feelings through creative activities when we used to act out our forbidden fantasies, e.g. our teddy could be angry on our behalf.  he describes and interesting workshop in which the old  are encouraged to 'revitalise their positivity and creativity around the future'. Lifelong learning should follow; he points to new opportunities through studying with the Open University and other agencies. Older people, he says, have much to offer the community b way of life experience, e.g. opportunities to listen to others. The author argues that 'precisely because we are living longer and healthier lives there is, as never before, a pool of vitality and expertise out there in the community...Society should not waste it and the elderly should not allow their expertise to be squandered'. On the other hand, he recommends that older people be offered counselling to help with emotional adjustment to a different life phase.

Hare Duke addresses the issues of frailty, faith or lack of it, death and how to prepare for it. He looks at the effect of emptying neighbourhoods and lifelong friends dying, and proclaims that society should allow everyone the opportunity to explore these issues openly and honestly. 'Let's celebrate the Old! ... Delight in their company, hear their stories, .... and be grateful for what they have to give'. Finally, he advises planning the funeral, suggesting that the person about to die should write to or talk with loved ones before rather than after death; memories and anecdotes could be shared and old hurts forgiven.

This book is aimed at a Christian readership - it abounds with quotations from the psalms and other religious texts - which to me is imitation, because suitably modified it could have a much wider appeal and benefit those with only a nominal faith or none.

Maria Fox TSSF

 

 

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