Binge Drinking? It’s a Middle-Aged Problem.

by Kerry Cue


The article quoted (above) in The Telegraph, UK, has fascinating information about the drinking habits of the 55 – 64 year old demographic. This age group is not generally associated with reckless behaviour, but statistics prove otherwise. According to Dr Tony Rao, a consultant psychiatrist and a leading expert in substance abuse among the older population, “The baby boomers have very liberal attitudes towards alcohol.”

Research by the UK lottery-funded, Drink Wise, Age Well program found:

’17 per cent of over 50s class themselves as “increasing risk drinkers”. Among the older adults surveyed who said they were now drinking more than they previously did, 40 per cent blamed it on retirement, 26 per cent on bereavement and 20 per cent on a loss of sense of purpose.’


If you earn more, you drink more and in retirement such bad habits can grow as you have more time. Retirement did not pan out well for ex-rock star Phil Collins, 65. In his recent memoir, Not Yet Dead, he described the problems he faced retiring to the edge of Lake Geneva, Switzerland. It sounds idyllic. But firstly, his 3rd marraige fell apart. And then, the afternoon glass of wine turned into a couple of bottles. He had too much time on his hands. According to The Telegraph article:

‘Before long he was downing vodka straight from the bottle for breakfast.  Eventually he ended up in a Swiss intensive care with acute pancreatitis.’

He is now back touring and on the wagon.

You will find more information at the Drink Wise, Age Well website.

If you learn how to die, you’ll learn how to live

Sibylesque Being Mortal quote

BEING MORTAL: Medicine and What Matters in the End

By Atul Gawande 

Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company, 2014.

Review by Kerry Cue

Atul Gawande

Atul Gawande

The reason this book is so meaningful, so compelling and why it ranks as a rare must-read is because, in telling the story of how to die a good death, it slowly addresses an equally important question namely ‘how  are we to live a good and meaningful life?’

Sibylesque The three fates

Atul Gawande, surgeon and writer for The New Yorker, dreams of new ways of caring for the frail and old. He questions the bureaucratic nature of aged care institutions where the elderly are kept ‘safe’, but hardly ‘alive’. And he rails against the invasive, painful and ultimately futile medical procedures inflicted on the dying. Yet this book is no dry academic tome. Gawande tells the storxy of dying and death of his father, also a surgeon, from first discovering the tumor in the spinal column, through the family’s struggling with medical options – operate? His father might become a quadriplegic. Don’t operate, he may become a quadriplegic! – to his father’s final days.

There is one strong and clear message from this thoughtful exploration of the end stage. Patients could have good days even when dying. But to achieve this goal they must be asked, or think about, at least, ‘what are your greatest fears?’ and ‘what are your current goals?’ Simple questions but from the answers patients discover how they are to live in their final days and, eventually, die.

Gawande has managed to take the fear away from our modern, Western view of dying, which, in many aspects involves, an impersonal, sterile, ICU bed intubated with a tube down the throat and a total loss of control. Dying need not be like this. Gawande shows how the human spirit can flourish and life can be fully lived to the very end.


Photo source: Unsourced book review blog, Tapestry held in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


Why We Cannot Imagine Ourselves in Old Age

by Kerry Cue

Jenni Diski quote

One thing that Diski (Restricted link: The Screaming Gynaecologist, London Review of Books, 4 Dec 2014) had not anticipated was sudden death. As we age we fear debilitation. We also fear having to – even if willingly – look after a severely debilitated partner. Diski is in her late sixties and has a tumour in her lung. After bouts of chemo the results are uncertain. The tumour was no bigger … nor had it shrunk in size. She had to adjust to living with not only a tumour, but uncertainty. Death hovered a little over 12 months away. Maybe extra time was bought with chemo.

Nothing is written in stone sibylesque

Suddenly, she was confronted with juggling fact and speculation, certainty and uncertainty. How does anyone do this? Diski offers no solution. But her situation is extreme. Her certainty is clear. She has a terminal cancer. Her uncertainty is extreme for she found herself tumbling back to the lacerating uncertainties of her youth. At 12 she’d been placed in one foster home after another following her mother’s catatonic breakdown. She never knew the rules of each new household. Is it OK, for instance, to go to the toilet during the night? She learned to make herself ‘invisible and inaudible’. When Diski was 15 years of age author Doris Lessing became her guardian. This brought it’s own complications.

We can all learn from Diski’s thoughtful piece. We cannot anticipate the troubles of old age. In Diski’s own words:

‘I will continue to live with uncertainty and my inability to do anything about it, the condition I’ve been trying to wriggle away from all my life.’

And so say all of us.

Photo: unsourced


Dealing with a Sudden Death in the age of Digital Data

 by Elizabeth Darling

Sibylesque bureaucracy quote

When my partner died unexpectedly my generous local bookseller gave me a book on grief counselling titled “I wasn’t ready to say goodbye”. There are many helpful books on coming to terms with grief and loss. Funeral directors, banks, solicitors; all have handy lists of things to do and organisations to contact. The lists are useful, but if we had prepared ourselves for the possibility of a death and its consequences, I would have had the space and time for grief. I do not write of philosophical or spiritual preparation, I write of ordinary practical arrangements, which need to be made and reviewed during a partnership. I’d like here to share some advice, which will help others find time to grieve, rather than waste emotional effort in railing against petty officialdom.

We had sensibly made wills and written agreements about the form of funeral service and the disposal of ashes. These agreements saw me through the first stages, past the unamused funeral director who could not provide an IKEA style coffin, the disapproving relatives who expected a religious funeral service, and gave me the strength to demand the ashes from the crematorium without purchasing a tasteful urn and plaque for placement in their memorial gardens.

Sibylesque E Darling 4

The next 9 months were filled with time spent, not grieving, but becoming increasingly frustrated and desperate, on the end of a phone, listening to strangers in call centres who were “so sorry for my loss” but who were unable to help me because I didn’t have the required papers, code words or numbers, and who frequently demanded to speak to the person whom I had told them was dead. Although they never used that word, it was always ‘Deceased’. Filling in forms occupied a great deal of time, many required supplementary documentation. Some forms needed to be submitted a number of times.

Here is a list of actions which you should take while your partnership is active to avoid this mind numbing experience:

Store in one place relevant documents and update regularly. There are a number of essential documents; passports, birth, marriage and divorce and death certificates, investment and superannuation papers, tax returns, and whatever will be needed for next year’s tax returns, mortgage and insurance papers, property titles, car registrations, bank records, the Christmas card list; those papers you would save if a bushfire was threatening.

Make sure that there is a secure, accessible, accurate list of all codes for any transactions on the internet, or records kept on the computer system. This must be on paper, not hidden in the thickets of computer files.

Internet banking and direct debit arrangements to pay regular bills for utilities or other service providers create real difficulties. It is a mistake to drift into the habit of allowing one member of a family to manage the finances, especially when the records are held in computer files. I never learned how to operate the details of the accounts package and slowly the household bills had drifted into his name, and were paid from one of his accounts. This made it difficult to prove that I had any involvement, or rights (more on this under superannuation entitlements).

On the death of an account holder, the banks freeze accounts, and direct debits are then not processed. Our bank could not tell me what direct debits had been regularly paid from my husband’s accounts, and we could not access his files (being clever, he had cryptic clues for his codes kept beside his computer but these were incomprehensible to me). I am now unsure whether it is of benefit to be so reliant on the internet as a vehicle for paying bills, although more and more companies are penalising individuals who want to operate on the paper bill system.

Like most, I have an email address. I use my iPad and my iPhone for communication. I can search for information and use the word processor, but like many of my generation I am unable to operate complex computer systems, having left him to write his own research papers and to edit, spellcheck, rationalise, record, and print out mine. If I’d been asked to explain, I’d have said that he couldn’t paint and I can, we didn’t need to double up on skills. Only he knew how to copy, download, make complex documents, take photographs, and add my illustrations to the text; why should I bother to learn all that when he could do it so easily? I had not considered how I would manage on my own. I certainly did not know how to do an etax form!

Sibylesque E Darling 2

Although we were able to access his emails, we had no way of cancelling or changing any of the arrangements he had made. Pushing the unsubscribe button without the specific identity code is useless. Where a transaction is electronic it is not easy to validate if there is a computer failure. Paper bills addressed to the house (which once could be paid by anyone with a cheque book regardless of the name on the account) are no longer posted. Telephone conversations are of little use, Call Centres rely on callers being computer literate and are unable to help if you cannot download forms or fill in forms on the internet or send a fax or pay electronically. Of course we had bought services and items on the internet, but my role had been to decide what: I did not know how. Being required to take a photograph with your iPhone of the screen of your computer, which showed that you have paid the rates and then to take the phone into the rates office to prove that you have paid the rates because their computer does not, seems too ludicrous to be credible. At least chequebook butts and paper receipts are still seen as legal proof.

Keeping records such as tax returns or medical records in the computer, either on the hard drive or on discs in files or in separate memory sticks presents the same problem, if the information cannot be retrieved. Records on parchment in Mediaeval Latin can with diligence and effort be translated – his files defied accomplished hackers.

We should have asked whether it was better to have services or items in both names or one. I had to pay to have my car’s registration and insurance changed into my name, because although I had bought it, it was registered in his name.

Ask your bank what their policy is on joint accounts. Do they freeze the account if one of the partnership dies? Have you arranged your income so either one could remain solvent until probate has been declared? In some cases this can take a long time. The solicitor was prepared to lend me money in the expectation that probate would ultimately be declared, but no one likes to be a supplicant.

Sibylesque E Darling 1Are all the service manuals for appliances kept in one place? They will be necessary if, as in many households, one person only has worked the appliance. I had not learned how to operate the central heating, the 5 remotes for the T.V. and sound systems, the clothes washing machine. He had always stacked the dishwasher. (Well, he never cooked.) I did not know how to start his car or drive the lawn mower. I could not reach the switch for the hot water system. I might never want to mow the lawn, but I should have learned how to change channels on the T.V. and a number of other routine domestic tasks, which had become his province alone.

Is there a list of the tradesmen usually asked to attend to the blown light bulbs, the blocked drains and other routine maintenance? It’s no use knowing vaguely that when the cistern fails it can be fixed by a neat tap with a hammer, somewhere. What you need to know is how all the idiosyncrasies of the house are controlled. Which brick is placed where to hold open the garage door? How is the heating system turned on and off? If the house alarm goes off unexpectedly how is it cancelled?

Whenever you hire a rental property for a self-catering holiday there is a folder of instructions for all appliances, and peculiarities of the house (do not turn on both the heater and the kettle at one time, the fuses blow!). Every household should have one, a current one. Instructions for a beta dvd recorder are of little practical use, but notes on how to play back or change messages on the telephone are essential. A number of callers were so distressed to hear his voice still on the answering machine that they hung up without leaving a message. Some were angry with me. I should have known that they would find it distressing.

Make a priority list: some things can wait, some can’t. The funeral director, your solicitor, or the bank will give you a list of organisations, which need to be informed. It is not their role to tell you how long each task will take, or how difficult dealing with each organisation will be. Grief and shock would seem to affect the memory and organisational ability. In a bound book, (scraps of paper lose themselves), make notes of the questions you need answering. Record all conversations. Cross off what has been achieved, on despairing days it is sustaining to see that you have made some progress.

Sibylesque E Darling 3

Decide who can be reliably asked to help and prepare to be vague with others – not everyone who offers to help, can, and you need a bland response, which will acknowledge their offer but not commit you. You have to protect yourself!

Before you make a phone call to an institution (Origin Energy perhaps) or visit one (Vic Roads, for example) check that you have all the documents you will need, and time.

When ringing Call Centres have a novel at hand: I read 2 chapters while on hold to a line to a call centre in W.A. trying to change the name on an account.

Listen carefully to the instructions as to which button to press. I have spent an hour in a queue only to find I was talking to the wrong department.

Remember the individual on shift on the line’s end or at the counter in an institution may know that it is necessary to offer condolences (the manual tells them so) but it is not necessary to deviate one bit from the job description. Be prepared to demand to speak to the supervisor.

It is better to hang up or walk away than to lose your temper or self-control – the only person who suffers is you! As soon as the shift is finished, the operator is done with your problem. You still have to resolve it. (I lost my temper in the Roads Board Offices, with a subsequent migraine headache although I was right, and she was wrong, I had to go back the next day and start again, she simply moved onto another customer)

A Certified copy of Death Certificate is necessary, and of the Will, before any organisation will change anything. Find an amenable JP and get him to certify at least twenty copies.

In general, do not assume that any organisation will be swift to respond. Ask how long it might be before a reply can be anticipated, and follow up if the reply is not timely. It was 10 weeks before we received a death certificate and then only because we persisted. The clerk had been unable to read the doctor’s handwriting so had done nothing to process the form. This is a useful reminder to ensure legibility…

If Superannuation and insurance policies were set up by a partnership with the expectation of supporting the survivor, it is important to know beforehand what the support will be and how it can be accessed. The old Commonwealth Superfund, for example, not only requires a copy of Death Certificate and Will, but also of joint household bills, and other proofs of identity and cohabitation This, they cheerily informed me, was to prevent identity fraud, Who would want to be.

Erithrean Sibyl crop .

Elizabeth Darling is a dynamic thinker, meticulous writer and recent widow, who lives in rural Victoria.