In his monthly column, Dr Joe Sawyer, an Academic Clinical Fellow in Palliative Care, provides an update on Compassionate Communities and the importance of different generations, in our local communities, uniting to support one another.
Human life might be seen as a sequence of successive stages. Birth, youth, middle age, old age and death. Each of the phases have a distinct biological and social significance.
They also do not exist in isolation, as if our old selves are somehow separate from our younger selves. Instead, they exist in connection, as a continuum of experience.
Considering this idea of the human life course, what strikes me is that for a significant portion of it, we are dependent on others. As small babies and children we rely on the care and attention of others, whilst in youth and adulthood we learn from the experience of others.
From the other side, there is much to be valued in recognising the needs and dependencies of others and adopting a caring and supportive role.
The skills and experience of parenthood, or other caregiving and supportive relationships, can impart are important factors in our own personal development as well as the development of wider society. At the same time, to mentor, support, care and be friendly with others gives us a sense of purpose and value.
These concepts are relatable because they are often visible in our day to day lives. Take a walk in the park and see a young family, visit a pub, coffee shop or café and you will find friends sharing conversation and offering support.
What, however, of old age, dependency, and death? The idea that old age and dependency is a burden for others and that death should therefore come quickly and without fuss can conceal this important phase of life from public view.
Old age, dependency and death are distinct parts of the life course, just like birth, youth and adulthood. These phases of life are connected in an inseparable way. Yet for such connections to be valued and learned from they must be visible.
Our communities are a space to make hidden relationships visible. Bringing generations together so that the young may learn from the old and vice versa is vital to understanding that by nature we are dependent creatures and there is no shame in this but perhaps great value.
To learn more about Compassionate Communities in your area visit www.stelizabethhospice.org.uk/compassion/.