FondsGoetheanum: Altern und Sterben

Rüttihubelbad was a stroke of luck

14 years ago Margret Ingold decided to move into the Rüttihubelbad home for the elderly.

This was no spur of the moment decision. She had first to ask what would be important for her in her remaining years. Then she took courses at Rüttihubelbad, at the same time trying out what the home could offer: artistic activities, concerts and courses, social interaction, organic food. She has not for a moment regretted her decision to enter the home early.
Running one’s own household makes great demands on one. Moving into a home early gives free space and time for continued personal development, for art and for social life. Mrs Ingold emphasises that she took the step after careful planning and consideration of her life situation. Along with the other residents, she is clear about the importance for one’s inner contentment and thus one’s health of consciously shaping one’s life, one’s everyday, while at the same time taking part in social life.




Research into the quality of care

Several international research projects are currently running. Themes include exploration of the anthroposophical approach, the history of curative education, the meaning of child study, and the accompaniment of elderly people with special needs.
One such Swiss research project takes the form of a dissertation at Siegen University, Germany.* The study focuses on ‘Ways to Quality’, a response to the authorities’ need for quality development procedures that was developed together with anthroposophical institutions. In the curative education world there are many reservations about quality procedures. People are afraid that they do not ‘capture’ the specific nature of their work.
By widely questioning co-workers in 26 institutions, through interviews with many people with special needs, through the involvement of relatives and auditors this project shows that ‘Ways to Quality’ is a process that fruitfully takes people with special needs into account. The process supports the practical work in many ways, so that not only are meaningful guidelines developed, but through them the question of the care and companionship of people with special needs becomes increasingly effective and sustainable.

Mathias Spalinger, leader professional and coordination place of the VAHS.

As is life; so is death

To grow old and die in dignity. This is one of the greatest challenges of our time. It is rewarding to maintain an interest in the world and in other people. Staying involved keeps one young and active. Life makes sense. But dying too has a meaning.

I am standing before a strong, knarled old nut tree. Its trunk is deeply furrowed. Its bark has become hard. Years of wind and weather have left their mark. In awe I stand in its shade. Next to it a young tree is growing. Its trunk is scarcely the thickness of my arm. Its bark has a soft and glassy sheen. I see the typical form that gives the trunk its characteristic furrows later on. As with human beings, so with nature herself, the ripening process passes from seedling through many stages to grand old age – all impressive to behold and ponder. Looking again at the old tree I experience the maturity of life, living quietly in itself.

Life’s journey to maturity

Life proceeds towards old age through many stages. Just as with the rings of a tree, a person’s biography bears the traces of his journey. Growing old reminds one of the finiteness of earthly existence. Loss and parting belong to this. If we look clearly we find that the thresholds and partings associated with loss already begin in childhood: the change of teeth, school readiness, puberty and adolescence are all well-known steps. In the middle of life many people experience a ‘midlife crisis’. But what an opportunity this can be! Instead of dry dull routine, new possibilities enter one’s life, or new impulses stir within. Life-partnerships find new energy, or wither and come to an end. A change in profession is indicated, a new training. The middle of life can be a well-spring of the future.

Letting go in the third phase of life

This part of life brings us new challenges. The needs and rhythms of professional life that have shaped us for so long now fall away. After retirement we are what life has made of us. We have time to reflect on our life to date. Perhaps looking at our biography can help us to understand better our earlier life and so make the most of our time remaining. If we are awake to it, we can experience which tasks await us, where our support lies, be it financial, knowledge or human, and whether in the family, among friends or in society generally.
Space opens for one’s own choices, for wholly new experiences and tasks. New tasks, other ways of behaving, or changes in social connections come about. As fresh as youth, they bring new development perspectives.
The typical family oriented roles are fading away today. And yet they are replaced by others. Instead, of relying on a parental annex or staying linked to the family, passing things on from one generation to the next, one finds tasks in the wider neighbourhood instead. How valuable are mixed age residential quarters. Most old people treasure children’s voices. When children meet old people the eyes of both light up. Children often find themselves drawn to old people because they want to share in the richness of a mature life.
With their quiet presence, in many places pensioners have shown themselves to be valuable assistants of primary school teachers. Switzerland is hardly a flagship country when it comes to supporting young families in the workplace. The traditional maternal role is changing, so grandparents are very treasured because of the support they can give to young families where both parents have to work.

Staying active and keeping young

One feels old when one is no longer needed. Life then loses its meaning. There is the threat of being alone. Inner emptiness can arise. This can already begin in mid-life, when the first signs of growing old become noticeable. In its outer vitality life shows a clear up-building curve followed by a decline. However, one’s development as a person need not follow suit. On the contrary, if one is so minded the second half of life can become filled with the ripeness that only old age can bring. Birth, the entry onto life’s stage, is a great gift. Once born, one’s talents can come to expression, providing indispensable influences on one’s life to come. Just so, can inner activity give birth to new skills, the hallmarks of a dignified old age. But it can also be necessary, through artistic means, to stimulate the appearance of such youthfulness. Though the body gets old and becomes a nuisance, interest in one’s own development, as in that of other people and in society generally, can keep one young in spirit. Then one not only takes part in life, but co-creates it.

The last lap

The third phase of life is marked by the most confidence and openness, but this becomes less obvious in the last phase. One loses the mastery of one’s body – loss of vitality, deterioration of hearing and sight. Short-term memory wanes. Many very elderly people dwell on their life gone by. Frequent and surprisingly clear memories of their childhood and youth arise. Some however suffer difficult sorrowful illnesses.
This period in life is also very demanding. Perhaps one has spent one’s whole life serving and helping others, but now becomes dependent on the good will of others. That is not easy to learn. On the other hand, as one loosens one’s link to the earth, new important skills can be learned. They may not be spectacular, but they are no less important. At this time of life understanding and concerned relatives and carers can also awaken fresh forces. Participation in life, albeit modest, interest in nature and in one’s fellow human beings, the smallest tasks, such things can become as valuable as gold. The quality of nutrition can become important, along with a rhythmically-led life and the stimulation of an active thought life. All these things serve to counterbalance waning independence in the outer world. In the most difficult life situations they can also provide meaning and purpose in life.
In the past ten years, we have begun to value old age afresh. Through palliative care, where one’s situation is met by understanding and an accompanying attitude, the supposed meaninglessness and hopelessness of life can become dispelled by a sense of dignity. With its ‘National Palliative Care Strategy 2010-12’ the Swiss government has sent out an important signal. Through research, training and financing it encourages the treatment of the very elderly with true dignity until they pass over into another life. Indeed, in its own way the prospect of a ripe and fruitful old age right up until death brings benefits that should not be underestimated.

Franz Ackermann