Sunday, January 13, 2013

Confronting the Needs of the Elderly

Elderly_Woman_,_B&W_image_by_Chalmers_ButterfieldImagine if you had 100 pennies, and you counted them, one by one. It does not take a very long time. Now imagine that each penny is one year of your life. 52 weeks go by so quickly. It’s no time at all. Holiday after holiday. Season after season. It all keeps going by, into the sunset. We struggle to hang on to our youth, but sooner or later, our face falls apart, and our organs start failing just like a car when it reaches 100,000 miles. Our children grow up faster than we can blink an eye.

The most important thing we can do in our lifetime is to introduce the children in our lives to the elders in our lives, before they die. This may require travel.  But do not delay! I delayed a visit to family friends in 2003 and have regretted it ever since, because they died before I ever got to see them again or introduce them to my children, whose birthdays they had unfailingly remembered by mail, their entire lives. 

There are certain people that touch your life. They are usually ordinary people with nothing special to say but they show you what it’s like to be whatever it is they are. If we didn’t have family and friends, we would have no idea what it’s like to be a normal human being. We would just sit alone in some kind of scary isolation chamber.

It would be best if all the old people of the world could sit on their rocking chairs within somebody’s living room and work on their knitting; and when they became too blind to knit, they could at least be there for anyone who needs a hug. Unfortunately, aging has become almost like a crime in this world nowadays. The elderly are often treated like prisoners.

Recently, I visited an old age home to see a 99 year old woman related to me by marriage. She was healthy but too weak to take care of herself. Still of sound mind, she was deeply unhappy. She could neither hear nor see very much, so all she did was sit alone near the window in a chair. That was depressing enough, but what I did not understand was why the hospital had hooked her up to an alarm that went off anytime she shifted her weight or stood up from the chair. This alarm was torturing her to the point where she felt she could not cope emotionally, and no longer wished to live. 

Well meaning people try to look after their elders, but they have full time work. Caring for an elder can be as much work as caring for a newborn baby or more, but it can actually go on past twenty years. Sooner or later, that old person is going to be sent to an old people’s home, or else they will become some family member’s full time job, when they become too weak to take care of themselves.

In particular, white people are facing an elderly population boom. The entire reason Europe invited all those controversial foreign workers was to pay the social security taxes for the aging white population. The Western lifestyle, with its small families, rebellious children, and small individual dwellings, is not equipped to meet the needs of the elderly. Most European countries have a socialist medical framework, so that takes a huge load off families, but in the US, an aging person can truly be an expensive burden. It is not possible to hire the help you need to keep an old person at home, unless you are very rich. 

Sometimes, when we think about old people, we think about what they have already accomplished and we think all is said and done, it’s all memories from here on. But their time is just as valuable as our time! Only God knows how much time they have left, or what they have left to think, learn, say and do.

What if, that which a person could accomplish between 60 and 80 would be considered as interesting and important as what people try to accomplish between 20 and 40? It’s the same amount of time. Ageism is the false belief that young people are more interesting than old people. All those revolutionary groups trying to save the world better make room for the elders, because not only do they exist, but usually they have something to tell us. 

When the things older people have to say are not nice – whether they are unpleasant truths, unfounded criticism, or outdated politics, it can be easier to just shut them out of our lives. In many cases, there can be a direct connection between unhappy parent-child relationships and the distance between the grown up child and the aging parent. If there is lingering resentment, or a personality conflict, taking care of someone you don’t like, or who makes you feel bad about yourself, would definitely be a real trial.  

So, if you have children, take care of them well, because the amount of cuddling and positive emotional reinforcement they have received from you will probably have a direct impact on their level of personal interest in taking care of you when you grow up. If your mother weaned you too young and put you in day care when you were a baby so that she could go to work, perhaps you will feel justified putting her in a home so you can concentrate on your career. Unless you can find a way to break the cycle of emotional violence and learn to give to your parents what you have not received. This would require deep meditation and soul searching.

The extended family structure is essential to maintaining the well being of all its members so that work and responsibilities can be shared. It is too much for one person to take care of a child, let alone an aging person. If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to take care of the grandparents.

We are all going to meet on Judgment Day anyway, so it makes sense to meet each other earlier and try to make amends while we are still living. Why not. There are so many things we could care about – why not care about the people who have the most rights upon you?

No comments: