“I am so lonely at night. I have no one to talk to from the time I get home at 3.30 pm until I go out again the next day at 10.00 am. The dark makes me sad.”
“My dog is my only company and he’s getting old and his hips are very sore. I might have to have him put down. I am scared of being without him. I will be totally alone then.”
“No one comes to visit me. My daughter only calls me if she wants money.”
“I haven’t spoken to anyone for three days.”
These are real words spoken by real elderly people I have spoken to in the past week. They make me cry. They make me scared to get old.
It seems the older a person becomes the less visible they are. They are no longer deemed important once their bodies and minds start to fail and it appears they no longer have anything to offer the mainstream world.
I know I am generalising because I do know many people who love and cherish their older relatives and take extremely good care of them, however I do know that too many people don’t.
I spend a lot of time with elderly people due to the care I provide for my Mother in Law each week and regular visits with her 70 year old brother and cousin. The more time I spend with them the more I realise that, whilst their bodies are frail and their minds are failing them, inside is still a human being who hasn’t forgotten what it is like to love, laugh and cry. Sadly many of them have more cause to cry than they have to love and laugh.
I fear as a society we tend to write off old people as “past their use by date”. Would you ask the opinion of a 75 year old woman on a social issue pertinent to something going on today? Whilst they are often thought of as “old fashioned” what we tend to forget is they have seen the world change more than any other generation of people who have ever lived. Think about what Australia was like in the 1930’s and 1940’s and think about it now. Wow. How valuable are their stories and perspectives? Incredibly important I think.
Sadly, we treat their views as “what would they know, things are different now, old people are always whining about the good old days”. We discard them along with all the other things we throw away when they are no longer “in vogue”. Once upon a time we made our stuff last a lifetime. We looked after our belongings, we treasured them. Everything could be mended and fixed, many times over. We didn’t throw things away. If something broke it might be fashioned into something else, or it was kept in the shed “just in case”. Nothing was discarded.
In previous times our elderly were also better taken care of. Families seemed to have more time to spend with their parents and grandparents. Family outings included all generations. In many cases up to three generations lived in the same home. The elderly were called upon to impart advice, provide assistance with rearing of children, help with cooking and mending. They were included. They had a purpose. They weren’t discarded.
A conversation with an elderly person is something special. They know about things we couldn’t even imagine. They lived in a time that we would struggle to survive in now (although many of us do yearn for simpler times). Many of them had very tough upbringings. Often kids worked from age ten. They supported their family. They didn’t get a part time job so they could save to go on an overseas holiday or buy a car or just party with mates. No, they worked part time and sometimes full time and gave the money they earned to their father or mother and it was used to buy groceries or pay bills. That’s just how things were. They still had dreams and hopes like we all do. Success meant falling in love, working hard and owning a home, having a family and to be happy. Sure they measured success differently, but sometimes when I look at the world today, I think perhaps they were a bit more on the money than we are.
To hear them tell of meeting the love of their life and to see their tired pale eyes suddenly sparkle again for a moment is beautiful. To feel the sadness of the loss they still feel when love left them is heart wrenching. Things were different, love was different, yet it still had the ability to make them soar with happiness and crash with despair – just like it does today. Love 100 years ago, 50 years ago, 20 years ago, 5 years ago still comes with the exact same feelings.
When was the last time you sat down and talked to an elderly person? Not chit chat about the weather and their latest ailments, but really asked them important questions about their life. Of course they will want to tell you about their arthritis and sore back and ingrown toenails, that’s what they do, but underneath that is world of stories that will make you laugh and make you cry. You just have to take the time to ask and listen. Once they start it is hard to stop them – they literally go back on the journey with you – it truly makes their day and it will make yours too.
So next time you see your granny or grandpa or the old lady next door, sit down with them and really talk to them. You will be surprised how long it’s been since someone really wanted to talk to them about them and their life and what matters to them.
Also, do you have any elderly people in your street? Do you know them? Do you know their names? Do they have regular visits from family and friends? Do you not have any idea? So many elderly people live alone without regular visits from family and friends. Most often the only person they see each day is the Meals on Wheels volunteer. Next time you see an elderly person, smile and say hello. Help them if they are struggling. You could be the only person they have spoken to all day. You will most likely make their day.
Christmas is coming up, quite often the loneliest time of the year for many of our elderly. Is there something you can do to make one elderly person’s Christmas a little bit sweeter?