Last week I was invited by my friend to see a play that had been written about her parents and the experiences of the family during the last years of their lives. It had not been a good experience for any of them and the play was written to show those with care for the elderly during the end of their lives what can go wrong and what would have helped to make things better.
The play, ‘Fighting for Life’ about Jim and Joan Findlay was based upon ‘The Findlay Report’ and was presented in a radio broadcast format with five performers, two playing the parts of different health care professional involved with the case and others different members of the family. The cast was led by the author of the play, Brian Daniels as ‘Jim.’ The play portrayed the elderly couple as Joan’s dementia worsened and Jim cared for her until he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and his health rapidly declined. From then on things went from bad to worse as the doctors, social workers and other professionals failed to keep up with the rapid advance in Jim’s condition and the knock-on consequences for Joan’s care. Flash backs to Jim and Joan’s earlier lives made the story all the more human and set the context for the distress of these last years.
The play portrayed the devotion of this couple to each other after more than 60 years of marriage and the stress that being separated caused to them. It also showed the love and determination of their children (one daughter in the play but a composite of four siblings in reality) as they tried to get the help that their parents needed.
The point was made during discussion that this had all taken place between 2005 and 2007 and that things had moved on since then with respect to end of life care but it was also acknowledged that there was still a long way to go particularly in terms of understanding the needs of couples who ought to be able to stay together while still receiving care or nursing.
For me as a non-health care professional and someone closer to the end of my life than the beginning it was encouraging to see that the needs of our aging population at this critical time in their lives is being taken seriously. This play is an excellent, thought-provoking way to introduce a difficult but vital subject.