92 (going on 52)

by Hattie Lambrou

This is Jack, thirty-five years ago, doing one of the things he loved most; cooking.

He produced this photo for me after the first time we met, and I'd told him about the community cooking project I was starting up. Perhaps he wanted me (and Ania, his neighbour and occasional cook) to know that before age-related health problems came along, he was passionate about food too. Or maybe the image in the photograph is the man he felt he still was, deep down. Either way, it was lovely to see what he used to look like. 

Sadly, Jack died last month, aged 92.  As an old man his hair was wispy white, his skin pale and translucent and he had a stoop not dissimilar to the one in this photo.  But despite appearances, the 92 year-old Jack was, by all accounts, almost as switched-on mentally and as determined as he was in his fifties.  Right up until the end, he continued to love life. He shared his stories, good humour and love of food with anyone lucky enough to know him.

But I’ve also been meeting elderly people who've virtually given up trying to enjoy life, because they think so many of the things they used to do aren’t possible anymore. They can't read because their eyesight is so bad, they can't go out for a walk on their own because they're too frail, they can't garden anymore because they can't get down to the ground. Food is surely something everybody enjoys; but when you're too frail to stand in the kitchen for long or can't get to the shops to buy fresh ingredients, it can mean the choice between a ready meal from the freezer or tin of soup - night after night.

We can help older people enjoy some of life’s little pleasures, or even rediscover old passions.

Ania helped Jack to enjoy food again. Although as she said herself, it wasn’t so much the dishes she took over to him that were important, but the time they spent together and the brilliant conversations they had. I know she got an enormous amount from her brief friendship with him.

Incidentally, Ania didn’t need me to introduce her to Jack. I might have encouraged her a bit, but in the end she did it the old-fashioned way of simply knocking on his door, Tupperware in hand.