The Gift of the Elderly

This post has been writing itself on the inside of my forehead like a flashing billboard every night when I close my eyes for about a week now, and I think I’m finally ready to write it.

Have you ever walked through the forest, looked at the towering, mature trees around you and wondered what they have lived through, what they have seen?  Have you wished you could ask the trees, the nature around you to fill you in on what’s happened in their lifetimes, what generations before them had passed on to them? I think of this often, almost every time I go through the woods.  Imagine the level of communication between nature and the Native Americans when things were still unsettled, when nature was shelter, entertainment, livelihood.  Was this tree a favorite of a young boy seventy-five years ago? It looks like it could be about that old…

You could call it an obsession; I tend to think it’s more of an inquisitive desire to connect to what was before me.  But it is always on my mind.

Our elderly population is just the same as the forest that shelters us when we go for a hike in the woods.   They have lived before us and seen things we may not have seen.  They have built a wisdom set that is different than ours because, in many cases, it had to be.  They have survived, raised families, and flourished due to the advice of generations before them that we will never get the chance to know.  They paint the picture of where we have all come from, and they are standing right in front of us.

Yet, despite all of these amazing resources that can be found in the elderly, I constantly see them going unnoticed or viewed as a burden.  Most of us just don’t have the time to appreciate them.  The old lady in the supermarket is walking too slow for the hurried, late-twenties businesswoman who is on her lunch break.  She has to craftily find a way to sneak by the old woman to keep on moving and not get held up.  Sometimes I’ll see an elderly person about to enter the crosswalk and the driver of the approaching car speeds up so they don’t have to wait an extra 30 seconds to get through the parking lot.

I know it’s a hurried world for us, but maybe not so much for them.  Every part of life is a stage.  We are/were all children, preteens, teens, young adults, and so on.  Some stages are busier than others.  After you have raised your family, sent them from the nest, and gone back to your new, different stage of life, you have a little more time on your hands.  Wouldn’t it be nice if others wanted to open up and share it w/ you?

I may not be old (I feel it sometimes, w/ this recycled soul of mine!), but I’m speaking from experience.  I’ve been quite privileged to realize from a young age the value in the elderly.  It goes way beyond addressing them as yes, sir, and yes, ma’am.  I have been blessed to experience less than a handful of very powerful, beautiful friendships w/ people who were/are 50 years my senior.

Several years ago, before I had my kids, I experienced a fantastic connection w/ my 85-year-old neighbor.  I had quit working due to late-stage pregnancy, and she was retired and lonely, still living in the house where she had raised her family. Prior to my leaving my job, we had exchanged phone numbers and she would call from time to time.  We were friendly neighbors, I would say.  Then one day I caught her spying on me from her kitchen window and decided that the next time I saw her outside, I’d go talk to her.  I did just that.

That simple move resulted in me going to her house every Wednesday night to watch The Lawrence Welk Show w/ her.  It was her favorite and something I never would have watched if she hadn’t introduced it to me.  But it wasn’t the show itself that kept me going back over every Wednesday night; it was the way she felt about me watching the show w/ her.  She would laugh and smile, and so would I.

For two months we grew closer and closer.  We would talk about my new baby coming, how she raised her kids, etc.  And as I got closer and closer to my due date, she got more and more frail.  The yard between our houses was less traversed by her as she would say it was just too taxing to come over.

And then I went into labor w/ my first baby.  I didn’t call her or tell her, but I knew she spied on us in her window when we left for the hospital.  I was gone for 24 hours to make sure baby and I were okay, and then I came home.  We were home for maybe ten minutes before I got a phone call from my friend.  She said in her gruff little determined voice that she was coming over.   And, I kid you not, she was at my back door in less than five minutes.  She was the first person to meet my little girl in my house besides my husband and I.  I took her picture w/ our family and we laughed and talked and talked.  She was so happy that day, and so was I.

That was the last time she was able to walk over, so we had to go back to watching Lawrence Welk at her place.  For a year, I went as often as I could, bringing my baby to her house, to watch her favorite show.  My daughter cooed there, crawled there, and finally learned to walk during those visits.

It’s been almost three years since she passed, and I still think of her at least once a week.  I actually have some tears from writing about her here right now.  She was just such a great human experience of a living, breathing forest-member from yesteryear and I am so glad I made the time to know her and love her.

My other two relationships w/ older people that I am most gracious for were/are my paternal grandparents.  My grandmother passed a year and a half or so ago.  I was w/ her as much as possible for her last year, which was pretty tough on her health-wise.  I was so happy to have gone into labor w/ my second child while I was at her apartment as she so desperately wanted to find out if i was having a boy or girl.  (She had expressed to me on many occasions that she was holding on for that very reason. ) On the many nights that my new baby wouldn’t sleep, I would drive to her apartment at 3:00 in the morning and put him in her lap and sit next to her.  We would sit like this for hours, just talking and laughing and carrying on.  (My son was so calmed by her pacemaker!)  It was the closest bonding that I had ever experienced w/ her personally, and it was really something!

Now, I have only one existing really close, really personal relationship of this type left.  It’s my grandfather.  I talk to him every single day.  I take my kids to him whenever I can.  He gets on my nerves in the best way!  He’s sharp, jovial, and so young-at-heart.  He is a real thinker and gives me such great old-time advice. I hope I get to keep him for a while!

If anyone reading this takes anything away from this post, I would wish that it would be something as simple as asking someone who looks lonely how their day is going.  Offer to help someone unload their groceries into their car.  Pace yourself w/ someone in a wheelchair and tell them a joke!  Compliment an older lady on her hair or make-up.  Compliment an older man on his strength or tell him he looks handsome.  Just be genuine and smile while you’re doing it!  Try to get a smile back! Dentures cost a lot of money, and they should be shown off! :OD



3 thoughts on “The Gift of the Elderly

  1. Love this- and it’s all so true. I find I prefer to talk to my elderly great-aunt more than just about anybody else! You are so, so right (though I do admit I am at times guilty of being the snippy ‘out of my way’ thinker when in a rush or having a rough day and then getting stuck behind an elderly driver/walker when I just want to get going…)


  2. Jamie,
    Thanks so much for reading!
    Yes, I have definitely been on the ‘rushing’ side of things, too, a time or two — or even a few! I think as long as we acknowledge it and work to improve, we are good overall! I’m so glad to hear that you have such a great relationship w/ your sweet great-aunt! Positive thoughts to her on this rainy Monday morning! And positive thoughts for you, too! :O)


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