The majority of residents in nursing homes today are Irish and have lived all their lives in this country. This will not always be the case as non-nationals, who have made their homes here, become old and in need of care. The older Irish people lived under the oppressive rule of the Catholic Church which controlled health, education and the intimate lives of the family. The Government worked hand-in-glove with the Church in the nineteen twenties and thirties and only really began to break away after the Second Vatican Council in the sixties. What did this mean? It meant that the people didn’t think for themselves, the clergy had the answer for everything and the people went to them for advice. Every aspect of the lives of the people was controlled by the clergy.
Women suffered the most, there was no contraception, no divorce. Woman’s place was in the home cooking, cleaning and producing children. If a woman was working in the State or semi-State sector she had to resign her position on marriage, if she wanted to buy property a man had to sign the documents. There were no refuges and no understanding for women victims of domestic violence. Male victims of domestic violence were too ashamed to tell their story and there was no help for them if they did speak out. For so many people it was a very cruel society.
You are aware of the horrors of the abuse of children in industrial schools, mother and baby homes where babies were forcibly taken from their mothers and sold to Americans and British families. Women working in slave like conditions in Magdalene Laundries for thirty and forty years. The last of the Magdalene Laundries had girls as young as 15 years still working there in 1993. Young girls were deported to populate Australia and all of this in collusion between Church and State.
As people become older they tend to dwell on memories, and these painful memories bubble up to the surface. They may have suppressed difficult memories for years but now they need to express them and try and make some sense of them. Whatever way they managed their lives it is important to listen to them and not to judge.
In nursing homes particularly. Activities may be set up such as craft sessions where the residents can participate in the activity or simply be present, joining in the conversation. The focus is on the activity, but the conversation is stimulated and guided by the facilitator who encourages the residents to reminisce. It is good to share happy memories and compare stories of childhood and young adulthood. This may lead the residents to share more difficult memories on a one-to-one basis at another time, as they build up trust.