We weren’t always old


An elderly gentleman sat quietly in a wheelchair, hunched and feeble, and his tired eyes peered through thick, smudged glasses. What remained of probably a head full of dark, wavy locks now lay in thin, white whisps. A young woman in a healthcare uniform sat next to him, smiling as she helped him eat some pudding from a small plastic cup. He looked longingly at the family sitting across the room entertaining what he assumed was a grandparent. His thoughts wandered back, 30, 40, and 50 years, to the days of his youth, as a young husband and father.

He remembered the excitement of family vacations, the birth of his first child, his first job and promotion, and buying their first home. So many things had happened, so much time, so much life, so many had gone on before him, so many yet to come. To him, just a moment ago, he was a young man, but now… He glanced again at the family, and around the room at the other residents of the nursing home.

“We weren’t always old,” he whispered under his breath, a single tear sliding from beneath his heavy glasses. The woman continued to give him the snack until the cup was empty. A moment later, he’d dozed off and she was pushing his chair back to his room.

I saw countless scenes like this while I cared for my parents. Life has a way of teaching us things, whether we are willing students or not. As we age, begin to understand pearls of wisdom shared by our parents, grandparents, and teachers. Somehow, the man’s lament of “we weren’t always old,” stuck a chord with me. I wasn’t either.

For some reason, the young seem to ignore the person behind the white hair, walkers, and wrinkles. Somewhere in there is the person they once were, young, vibrant, active, and productive. They were actors, writers, salespeople, teachers, police officers, musicians, mothers, lawyers, doctors, and so much more. They were somebody, and we should never forget it!

Everyone’s got that grandparent, aunt, or uncle, who sits in the corner at holiday dinners telling stories of the old days, but almost no one listens. They’ve heard the stories over and over as if the person’s mind is locked into that point in their life history. I learned a lot about my dad while I was caring for him. He would sit and tell me stories as we worked a puzzle or watched an old western on TV. I tried hard to understand who he was beyond the man I knew as my father. I’m not sure many people ever do that with their senior family.

As we age, we are still people, still individuals. We can still dream, imagine, love, care, create, understand, learn, and grow, but the system doesn’t always let us. Eventually, we will outlive our societal usefulness. We’re parked in Hell’s waiting room as our relatives wait to argue about who gets the junk we leave behind. It’s no wonder our minds retreat to better days. It’s ridiculous, and it’s pretty sad. There is so much to learn from our seniors, so much history, life lessons, and experience, all of which would benefit us to learn and absorb.

It’s strange how we treat the elderly in this country. In government, we routinely elect and re-elect people who stay in power for decades, until they finally age out to illness or die in office. Most are still holding political office many years after corporate America would have shown them the door. But most of the rest of us are “put out to pasture” at what is arguably a very young age. Illness notwithstanding, senior citizens still have a great deal to offer. They should be the schoolteachers, counselors, and mentors.

Our society might be in better shape if our youth paid more attention to the mistakes and successes of past generations instead of constantly trying to reinvent the wheel. So, my

advice to the younger folks out there is simple – spend more time with the older folks in your lives. Pay attention to their stories – listen and learn. You never know, you both may learn something!

Gery Deer is a Greene County resident and columnist. He can be reached at www.gldcommunications.com.

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