Columns

April 6, 2024

Concern for the aged, by Muyiwa Adetiba

Concern for the aged, by Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

My eyes welled up in tears when I last saw veteran actor Olu Jacobs on TV. The once vibrant, once articulate actor had become a shadow of himself.This vacant look, these trembling hands, thisslow shuffle, culminating in a lack of awareness of where he was, had now replaced what was once a commanding personality and an effervescent character. Our paths first crossed well over forty years ago in far-away Paris at the International Premiere of one of producer Ola Balogun’spioneering films.

Two days later, as it turned out, we were on the same flight to London. There were just a handful of blacks among predominantly white passengers on the shuttle flight, so we quickly noticed each other. We struck up a conversation before and after immigration reliving our Paris experience on our way to the baggage section. My impression of him then as a warm, decent guy was reinforced over the years albeit largely from a distance.

The mantle of being a role model to young actors learning their trade in a then fledgling film industry somehow fell on him when he came back home. It was a duty he discharged creditably.The odious smell of amorous and amoral relationships around Nollywood at the time never clung to him. I should know. I was Publisher of Prime People, probably Nigeria’s pioneer entertainment magazine at the time and we knew a lot about the goings-on in the entertainment industry.

But the tears I had seeing him on TV were not all for him. Some were for me and for all those like me, who are lucky enough to have climbedto the seventh floor of life.Memory loss, joint pains, back pains, dimming vision, hearing loss, failing heart, uncoordinated gait, the story of Mr Olu Jacob, is the story, in varying degrees, of old age. Rare is anybody above 70 years who does not have an underlying ailment. And because of this, the reliance on others increases as we age.

It is therefore, a wonderful sight to behold couples who grow old together and help each other to navigate the uncertain path of old age. I have seen a few – like Olu Jacobs and Joke Sylva – and it is heartwarming. Unfortunately, it is more of an exception than the rule. Death of a partner would have taken its toll; divorce would have taken its toll; the new ‘Japa’ syndrome would have taken its toll; years of bitterness and acrimony would have taken their toll. The result is that many in their seventies and eighties are all alone at a time they need empathy, support and the warmth of companionship most. The house, irrespective of its size, will always become too big and too silent at this stage with eerie echoes telling their uncomfortable stories within the walls sometimes.

This column is titled ‘Concern for the Aged’. It is not unique to this article. It is the name given to an initiative by a Catholic Priest some fifteen years ago. The aim was – and continues to be – to show love and concern for some of the aged in our midst. This includes arranging for medicals – consultation and drugs;arranging for financial support for those who are still active enough to do things for themselves; making it possible for them to meet and interact from time to time and remembering them on special occasions. The Priest has since left the country and my wife has been driving this initiative for the better part of ten years. I have been on the passenger seat all the while observing twists and turns as she tries to bring some succor to the aged. Although whatever is given in time and gifts is hardly enough,nothing can replace the gratification and fulfillment that come from the joy and appreciation of grateful recipients.

Old age comes with many challenges but it is still a privilege denied many. There is the challenge of health and the challenge of finance. But the greatest challenges for me are the challenges of family, loneliness and a listless, purposeless existence – like just waiting for death. We can see that the three are somewhat connected. Many people are reluctant to spend time with the aged because they tend to be clumsy and to ramble. After all, the joints and fingers are weak and possibly trembling leading to clumsiness. After all, what they have now is time and distant memories for those who are still lucky to have some – leading to the tendency to ramble.Because we all pray to grow old in good health, love and affection, let us all resolve this year to show more concern for the aged among us in whatever way we can. Let us visit them more or make more calls to them. Let us together strive to make old age the privilege that it is supposed to be.

I have given myself an onerous task this year. It is to join willing souls in setting up an affordable home for the aged. I am dreaming of an idyllic place on the outskirts of Lagos with trees and flora that will be safe and suitable for walks. I am dreaming of a place that will have facilities like board games, gyms and medical facilities. I am dreaming of a place where peers can share time and meals together.

I am dreaming of a place where twilight years can be beautiful, eventful and above all, meaningful. Anyone who reads this piece can help in making these dreams a reality by contributing in any way they can. It is still a blank canvas so ideas, manpower, funds and even energy can be shared with me through [email protected] or the Saturday Editor of Vanguard. Your enthusiastic response will help to fuel my energy and show that there are many like me who believe old age should be a blessing and not a curse.

Let’s start something beautiful and enduring together this year. Who knows, a close relative or even some of us, might become beneficiaries in the near future.