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The Sanctity of Home

The house is cold. I stoke a fire, mainly for the dogs as they love to lie as close as possible to the re. I quickly run outside to pick up lemons that were blown off the trees last night in the roaring thunderstorm. I fell asleep with the rain pelting down on the tin roof, bringing memories of Ouplaas in Knysna where I spent my childhood holidays with my grandparents. I remember sitting next to the wood-burning stove watching my grandmother go about her cooking, baking and creating the most wonderful family meals. The smells, the sounds, and the tastes come back to me as the fondest memories of childhood.

Outside it is still raining, I put a pot on the stove for pasta, make a cup of tea, put on classical music and join the dogs at the replace. The house is glowing in the light of the re, soft, warm hues reflecting on the paintings. I can smell the St. Joseph’s lilies that Katherine brought when she came over for our usual Friday evening get-together, a celebration of friendship over a pot of hearty pea soup with smoked paprika.

At bedtime, I warm up my happy hugger and crawl into bed with the two Dachshunds and Jojo in tow. Now the fire is forgotten to them. We snuggle up, listening to the rain on the roof…

This is home. In an essay written by Petra du Preez-Spaun on “the concept of the contemporary home as sacred space” I again become acutely aware of exactly how sacred this space is. Jung held that a home is an expression or manifestation of the Soul. It is the way we nest, it is our temple, it is how and where we ‘worship’ – whatever form that might take. It is where we house our families, where we surround ourselves with the objects that carry our stories.

Every item in our house has a story to tell. From the first painting I bought with twelve cheques to the ceramics I created, the stone I picked up on the beach in Scotland. The two little Scottish Terrier money boxes that stood on my grandmothers’ dressing table and the blanket my mother knitted before arthritis took its toll. The carpet we bought in Turkey whilst on holiday with friends, the red wine stain from a party, the dog hair on the sofa after giving up on not allowing them on the furniture. Petra holds that our dwellings are indeed “symbolic of the self”.

I cannot help to think of what it means to the Self to come to a point where one feels that you have to give up your home. For us, not having children (and even if you do have, most millennial-children of friends hold little regard for their parent’s ‘stuff’) who will be interested in taking or inheriting our stuff, these things will be meaningless, sold as a job lot at an auction. Lots 3748.

Moving into a Care Home, one room, shared bathroom, tiled floor, no wall space for paintings or shelves for objects to rest your eyes on. How do people actually do that? Does it mean that suddenly those objects lose their meaning? I have heard so many people say that you do not need all that stuff…. I disagree. Our homes as sacred spaces represent us, who we are, and how we choose to be in the world. It contributes to making our lives meaningful, it is our sacred cosmos according to Petra. “The house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind” (Bachelard, G., 1964, The poetics of space, Boston: Beacon press).

I find it so dif cult to imagine how a soul can flourish when being displaced, in whatever form, albeit as a refugee, asylum seeker, a shack blown down by the storms in Imizamo Yethu or having to move to a Care Home. And of course, all the more so when living with memory loss. Our home is not only an expression of Self, it carries our memories, it reminds us, soothes us, it nurtures our Being. It narrates our story when we can no longer speak. It fills the gaps in our history, physically mending our broken history. To discard our things is to discard our story. And I see the impact, I see how people withdraw inwards, fall silent, walk slower, eat less, and laugh less. Not because they are old or have been diagnosed with dementia, but because their world has been taken from them. No amount of compensation will ll the void where our story once stood.

We have to reconsider these phenomena of moving people, displacing them. Yes, I know ALL the arguments about safety and being taken care of etc etc etc. I want to make a stronger case for ageing-in-place, for civil society, and community. Getting your medication on time does not sustain your Soul. Getting up and making your own cup of tea, the way YOU like it, in your favourite cup, THAT sustains your Soul. We can do all the culture change interventions on earth, I will maintain that an “old age home” is not a human habitat that will ever create a life worth living.

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