There are things in my life that remind me of an often repeated scene from Frankenstein movies. The moment what the doctor finds to his surprise he is successful and his creature shows signs of life.He shouts either, “He’s Alive” or “It’s Alive” depending upon the film version. Despite the fact that American society is getting older on the average, the treatment of the elderly is still suspect. There is a feeling that those of us over seventy are just relics roaming the Earth like Zombies. It isn’t easy getting older and not just because of the accompanying aches and pains. It is the attitudes you are faced with by younger people who act surprised you are still alive. As an actress friend, Grace Lee Whitney, once commented “Getting older is not for wimps.”
We know that there are those who feel that retirement homes are where all the elderly belong. Don’t get this writer wrong, there are some great ones. But there are some like the late Jonathan Winters described as “waiting rooms for God.” My wife and I have worked in various such homes conducting Bible Studies and have found a concern that many of the elderly stay cooped in their rooms doing nothing but watching TV or staring at the walls. Of course many such homes try to have added activities, but the great sadness is the many elderly who have no friends or family to visit them. A sad part of living many years is the family members and friends who have graduated to Heaven and are no longer available to chat with and share experiences. Of course we can all look forward to that great reunion we have waiting for us in Heaven but for too many the time in between can seem unbearable.
All people have gifts, no matter their age, something to offer. As the years pass there are experiences and memories accumulated that could fill books. All of us can probably look back to parents, grandparents and other family members and wonder why we did not ask them more questions. It would be like gold if all of us kept written records of our journeys through life that could benefit future generations. As we get older we often find those memories grow stronger no matter the state of mind.
I remember a grandmother the age I am now, in her mid-eighties, considered to have lost all memories of the past. One day I heard her murmering, “He danced with a pillow on his stomach.” I had to ask and after getting her to think back she revealed her love for dances as a girl. She said she attended a dance where a cousin could find no one to dance with and her own card was full so he wise cracked, “I have a perfect partner.” He tied a pillow around his stomach, took the center of the floor and stole the show dancing by himself like a Fred Astaire. Youth that I was, I had never visualized my beloved Nannie being a desired dance partner on a dance floor. Very much alive.
And that gets to another area about aging, what is classed by many names ranging from dementia to Alzheimer. It is something that can be anywhere from slight to total and we must applaud the caregivers who devote their lives to caring for those with memory losses. It can be harder on them than the person suffering, especially if they are caring for a beloved family member. It is sad when some of these people are treated like they are mindless, little better than vegetables. A wrong assumption is that they no longer exist. Ah, but they do even if it be so deep down you think they are totally lost.
My wife’s mother was diagnosed with dementia due to improper medications prescribed for her. (Something we all need to carefully check, by the way.) And yet she would show sparks of memory at times that were unexpected. Little things that when remembered bring a smile. As a caregiver friend told us who had the care of her mother for years, “If you don’t laugh, you cry.” She made use of something too many forget. As we get older we have memories and we like reminders around us. Pictures, music from the past and especially visitors. We cannot praise too highly churches that make it a point to have regular visits made to all elderly members, especially those no longer able to get out.
Keep in mind, age is just a number. History has recorded great contributions made by people often considered today as elderly. People who helped build this great nation and whose greatest work in the arts came when in their advanced years.