Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Care Partner Wednesday--Don't Let our Elders Disappear

I snuggled in my spot on the couch watching Midsomer Murders on Netflix. This episode involved a suspicious death at a retirement home. The main character's daughter came to visit an elderly aunt, but yielded to the charm of another resident--a gentleman who might have presented as quite the rapscallion in his youth. As she leaves, they chat, and he becomes pensive. "You know the worst part of ageing?" he says to her.

He stares into the distance as he answers his own question. "You disappear."

I turned off the program, as my interest in the murder vanished. This man's profound words touched a nerve, and I needed to think about it.


Having worked for so many years in an environment where seniors are valued, the comment jarred me. Yet it contained truth.

What does the world value? The easiest way to answer is to look at advertisements. What is sold and what do we buy?  Looks, position, power. Smart people at the cutting edge of whatever new development happens. Strength, fitness, fame. We value people at the top of their game.

Does that describe many elderly people you know?

The people I work with have wrinkles, sagging skin and marks on their faces which can't be erased by any cream bought at the drug store. They retired, and although many of them still live vital and interesting lives, society no longer values their contribution. For the most part, they wield little power in the traditional sense of the word. They don't live at the cutting edge or the top of anything. Most are frail, and fitness is measured in how much mobility they can maintain. Many of them made huge contributions to art, literature or business. They changed their world. Our world doesn't feel all that interested.

If we let them, they too will disappear, fading into the pages of history.


In my job, I discover these amazing, interesting people. Which passion did they pursue that became a career? Did they do research in children's diseases, or did they raise incredible children? Did they write books, or travel and see awesome sights? Did they fight in wars, or live through indescribable horrors? Did they teach in a one-room schoolhouse or learn in one? My opportunity lies in asking these questions and uncovering the people inside--not just what they did, but who those experiences turned them into. My privilege and responsibility.

Yours, too.

In our elderly, we have depths of wisdom which we need. We need to know what they learned from living through a war, a depression, in a difficult and frightening world. What did they learn, and what can they teach me? Or you? They experienced all kinds of relationships. They made mistakes and learned from them. They don't hold perfection, but they hold wisdom--a commodity we can't let slip away.

What would happen if we did? Imagine if we lived our lives in the moment, chasing after the things that seem important--the fame, the money, the good looks etc.which I've already mentioned. Or maybe we possess more depth, but we make our way forward with our own lives, and never ask the questions that matter to our elderly. We look after them and we love them, but we let them slip away without ever getting to know them. We don't value what is valuable until it is gone.

What would happen?

We would lose the opportunity to be enriched. The depth of experiences, the funny stories, the lives well lived, would slip away. Instead of the cream, only the skim milk of our lives would remain.

We would fade, wash out, disappear.


Care Partner Wednesday--Don't Let Our Elders Disappear

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