Many years ago I read a book called This Bed My Centre, by Melbourne born Ellen Newton (1896 -1972) In the 1960s Ellen ended up in a series of Sydney nursing homes due to chronic angina. There she remained for six unhappy years, longing to be in her own home. Although the institutions were private and expensive, that did not guarantee good care, or even proper nourishment. Worse still, during many periods her roommates were dementia patients, and she was unable communicate with them. She felt she was losing her identity. Here is a quote from her book;
Ellen was the daughter of a well known criminal lawyer. She was university educated, mentally sharp, and articulate. However, once she was in the ‘system’ it was very hard for her to escape. She kept a secret diary throughout her years in residential care. Finally, she took the big step of discharging herself, and with the support of family she moved to a small flat in the suburb of Gordon. Here, she edited those secret diaries, which became This Bed My Centre. Ellen died in 1972, in her own bed.
It probably sounds a bit morbid, but I thought about Ellen when my partner Rob and I were designing our new home. The master bedroom is upstairs, but we also have what we call The Garden Bedroom on the ground floor. The decor is deliberately restful; all white, with a sage green carpet, I imagine myself in this room in old age (well, older age, as I’m already over 70)😎) I am an extremely cheerful, optimistic soul, but also pragmatic.
The room has sliding doors to a large deck, so nature would still be part of my life. We live in the Blue Mountains, where there is a lot of ‘weather’. Things can become a bit dramatic in a hailstorm. The first snowfall will be magic. As I write it’s late summer. Autumn will be lovely too, as the view from my bed takes in a number of Japanese maples.
BIRDWATCHING FROM MY BED
There is a passing parade of birds, including the sweet, native Wongas….definitely one of our favourites.
Directly below the deck is a garden with fragrant plants such as daphne, star jasmine, lavender and roses. The bird baths are visited by Blue Wrens, Eastern Spinebills, Thornbills, Robins, and a variety of parrots.
The bedcover reflects another of my loves; Australian native flora.
Yes, there is a TV in the room. It’s mainly used to receive decent radio reception.
The top drawer of my bedside table is full of reading matter, and writing notebooks.
To be honest, a contracting world will be easier for me than for some of my more outgoing friends. The following cartoon sums me up.
It’s many years since I read This Bed My Centre (long since out of print). I can’t remember what access Miss Newton had to books, or what solace she found in reading.
Mind you, even an introvert like me likes to be connected to the world. The era of the internet and smart phones has been invaluable in alleviating the crushing loneliness and lack of stimulation that Ellen Newton endured.
My lower, felt-lined drawer is reserved for jewellery. I’ll still be trying to look OK, even if I can’t get out of bed. 😍 Oh vanity, thy name is Pauline.
The print on the left of the bed is of a native Waratah bloom. There is a large Waratah tree growing outside.
The other prints in the room are of Blue Mountains birds
I’m assuming my associate, Editor Des, will still be with us.
The ensuite has heated towel racks and underfloor heating. This is not really a luxury as it can get very cold in the upper Blue Mountains.
The tree outside the ensuite window is an unusual, fragrant rhododendron.
So there we have it. If my bed does end up as my centre I think I’ll be quite content. Mind you, I will have to add a bookcase, and couple of display shelves for my most treasured little objects.
So much has been written about residential care and its failings. For Baby Boomers like myself and my partner Rob the issue is something we really do have to think about. Undoubtably things have improved since Ellen Newton’s time, but nevertheless we all have a strong desire to retain our independence and to remain in our homes, hopefully until the end.
Here is confession. We are occupying the garden room right now, while the upstairs floor is being furnished. It would be easy to simply remain here, despite the extra facilities of the master bedroom and adjoining study. However, I do know the importance of exercise. I’ll keep climbing those stairs for as long as possible.
A couple of points in conclusion. Firstly, I realise how lucky we are to have the garden room. However, we did live in an adjacent studio for years, while Rob was doing much of the building work himself.
Secondly, you cannot future-proof yourself from the horrors of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Wise words from the inimitable Dorothy Parker;
UPDATE….MAY 24. We have moved upstairs for winter. ☃💧🌩
For more on ‘Aging In Place’, CLICK HERE.