Friday was patio lunch in my neighbourhood. Homemade pizza, caesar salad, and ice cream in sugar cones. Even though the weather was too cold and windy to have it on the patio, the eight residents who joined me in the lounge for lunch had a great time. So did I. These lunches are labour intensive, but every moment is worth it when the group chats and giggles and enjoys each other's company.
This Friday, though, I made history along with the pizza. A 97-year-old man took a few bites and turned to me. "Do you know, I have never in my life had pizza before."
How is this possible?
He proceeded to pronounce it "very good" and eat the whole thing, plus the salad, an ice cream cone and drink two cups of coffee.
I was a part of the domain of growth in that man that day. A new experience. Learning something.
The domain of growth has been the hardest one for me to wrap my understanding around. Our society associates many things with elder hood--frailty, inability to do the things they used to do, illness, dementia, pain, depression. "Just keep her comfortable--that's the best we can hope for." These words weren't spoken about someone in the last few days of life, but a lady with dementia who is stable and responsive.
Growth? How is that possible?
Perhaps we should start with the Eden Alternative definition of an elder. “An Elder is someone who, by virtue of life experience, is here to teach us how to live." 1
North American society has lost the concept that age brings wisdom, and wisdom is a gift dispensed by the aged. We turn to technology, but it can only give us information. Only those who have lived through wars, had families, made mistakes and learned from them can take the knowledge and add their wisdom and experience to it.
How do frail elderly people grow?
They move to new living situations and adapt to them.
They sing in the choir and learn new music.
They try new recipes.
They suggest how an afghan should be put together and try different combinations of squares.
They make new friends and find ways to maintain contact and relationship with long-time friends.
They tell their stories.
What about those with dementia?
May of the above scenarios are true of them, too, but even those in the later stages of the disease can grow and share. One lady with profound dementia leans forward and listens with every part of her being when "Anne of Green Gables" is read. Another sings or hums with pleasure as she listens to her favourite music on an iPod. For another lady, it's having scriptures read to her. She often recites along with the reader.
"The opposite of growth is death--physical and spiritual. Individuals living with frailty continue to grow and teach us how to be human beings in a caring community. Everyone has the potential to be a "growth partner" to someone else." 2
My challenge each day is to look for these opportunities for each person in my neighbourhood, and to take the time to gather the many nuggets of wisdom that are available to me. It's there, but not always where I am expecting it.
Sometimes it's in the pizza!