Saturday, November 10, 2007

On the Old


Every so often I'll be hit with a thought that seems to have sprung from nowhere. My mind works that way a lot. I kinda find it funny, and most of the time I can amuse myself for a while by retracing my thoughts in an attempt find out where the random thought could have stemmed from.

Anyway...

Last week I was taking care of something at home, when all of a sudden I started thinking about elderly people. Severely random. But once I got over my self-chuckle on the weirdness of my brain's workings, my mind kept on whirring and produced some interesting thoughts which I decided I want to air out here.


I was never too fond of visiting nursing homes. Maybe it was the antiseptic-yet-stale hospital smell, or the fact that so many old people didn't understand when I spoke, (my grandparents often wonder out loud how anyone understands me...) or how the patients used to be self-suffieint and independant and now need help even for their most basic needs, or simply the tangible weight of all the emotional memories pervading the halls... I went to visit a couple of times purely as an act of chessed required of me by my high school, or because all my friends were going, but all the time I was there I felt unsettled, unhappy, and...frightened. Not so much scared by the thought of, "This could be me or someone in my family," but more like, "What happened to the people that used to be living in these bodies...?"


Old age happens to everyone. We mature, go through life stages, get old, and eventually die. Just as surely as young adults start dating, get married, have kids, buy homes, go on vacations...they get old...and then pass on. Even us young people will get old. It's so hard to believe it now, but it's true. And scary. We forget that one day we'll be needing help even for those most basic of tasks which we find so easy to do now. I really don't intend this post to be depressing or morbid, but this is real, it's life, and I think it's important to think about it some time, while we can still appreciate the freedom and spirit of our youth...

I'd once heard that one of the worst feelings in the world--yi'ush, despair--is often felt by the elderly who reflect back on their lives and realize that they could have been better, could have done something differently, should have been something else... And I keep thinking, "Oh, Hashem, let me not know of such feelings. Please allow me to live my life so that at my end I don't regret what I did or lament what I could have done..."


And then there's the beauty of old age... Society so exults youth that so often we forget that the elderly are a product of so many years of self-toil and development. They have wisdom, knowledge, experience, and so much to share...if we just slow down enough to listen. I wish I had more time to sit patiently with my grandparents and hear thier slow tales of their lives and their lessons for how to better live my own. An old person is so complexly beautiful if we learn to look past their wizened exterior...



I was really hoping this post would be shorter than I usually write them. It's just that I always have so much to say, and few words never seem to be enough. I can go on for days; succinctness was never my forte... Eventually I'll find something to say that I can write concisely :-)






10 comments:

The Dreamer said...

again, i feel like you're writing my life story...

gosh. what does it feel ike to live inside my mind?

Scraps said...

I often feel the same way about nursing homes. They make me unsettled, uncomfortable, and rather sad. What happened to these people, their lives, their life-force? And what will become of me, when I reach their age?

However, more recently, I had an experience that made me want to visit nursing homes more often, at least the one in my hometown. I went with a group of people on Simchat Torah to visit the nursing home and I recognized a woman that I saw there--she had come to my kindergarten class to do art projects with us. Even 19 years ago she was old, but now she was older still. I went up to her and introduced myself and told her how I remembered her coming to my class, and her face just lit up and she started to tear. It made her so happy just that someone remembered her. And I thought--wow, I just made that woman's day. I should go back more often.

behind a smile said...

I love my grandmother but it is so hard to see the deterioration that I don't go as often as I should - hard to face that we just get old and dependent, I don't find it horrible just so sad to see what she has become.

Madd Hatter said...

Great post. Thank you for giving me a new perspective on spending time with the elderly. I've never been comfortable around the elderly either. I didn't really grow up with grandparents. My father's parents were alive, but they lived in Israel, and by the time I had the opportunity to visit them, my grandfather had passed away, and my grandmother was on the decline. She has Alzheimers. I loved hearing her stories and experiences, but I don't think I really appreciated what she had to say until it was too late to hear it anymore.

Bas~Melech said...

My bracha to you is to get very, very old... but still be in good mental and physical health.

Yes, I know that muse from somewhere... (especially the end note!) I started getting better at relating to aged people, but nowadays I just don't have (nor make) time for them... :( At least now it's justified, not like in the past when it was avoidance...

Ezzie said...

It's interesting. I used to visit nursing homes all the time as a little kid to see my great-grandmother... but I *hated* homes after that. I couldn't bring myself to go - too depressing to see the deterioration of people. To me it wasn't their physical deterioration, but the mental. I couldn't handle it.

The same is so true now with my grandmother. Suddenly she can't remember any of us. It makes me so sad to see her, and have her ask - embarrassed - who I am again. It makes me too sad, makes me cry...

halfshared said...

I love going to the nursing home. I once saw the comparison of an old man/woman to a baby. Completely helpless and dependent. Only difference is that a parent knows that eventually the child will grow up and become self- sufficient and independent while with the elderly, we all know the next step. When I went to the nursing home, I tired to think of them as little children that need love and care just as babies do.
But I always think like you do..I also hope to look back at my life and not beat myself with regret. May we all be zoche to a long, happy and healthy life.

corner point said...

Dreamer--
Am I? How so? Maybe you could help me figure myslef out...if you so see yourself mirrored in me...

Scraps--
It's scary, no? For me, though, I think the most was the tangible weight of all the emotional memories pervading the halls... I dunno why, but all the collective memories and past experiences, both good and bad, somehow scared me...too much emotional overload...

And beautiful story...Glad you had a good experience...

Smile--
I know...I know...but if we don't go now...

And...Smile--where'd you go? What happened to your blog?? I miss you...we all miss you...

Madd--
So true...
I remember hearing something in 5th grade from a friend whose grandfather had just passed away. I recall how upset she was about how much more time she could have spent with him and she didn't, and it made such a big impression on me...I made more of an effort to keep in touch with my grandparents from then on...

Bas--
AMEN!! Same to you and everybody reading this! Gorgeous bracha...

I can empathize about the lack of time...
And blogging sure does not help matters one iota... :-P

Ezzie--
Exactly. Seeing the hollow shells of people who were once so dignified, so intelligent, so alive...

Half--
AMEN!! (Wow, we're very gebentched today :-) !) Same to you and to everyone...

It's great that you liked going. I had friends who went all the time, but it so wasn't for me. I could do hospitals, special children, even the very messy aspects of those two...but old people...I just can't... I hope that's okay up there...

Interesting analogy. It just makes me sadder tho... :-(

David_on_the_Lake said...

I get so depressed in old age homes...even though I love old people..
I love talking to them..
When I go to a chasuna..and I dont know many people..I always look for a lonely looking old man and strike up conversation..they have sooo much to say..and no one to listen..

the apple said...

This post really echoed my feelings and emotions the summers I worked in a nursing home ... people would hear what I was doing and praise me, when all I could think inside what how uncomfortable I really was around elderly people, especially around the people who had lost their full mental capacity or the ability to talk clearly or their ability to take care of their own needs . . . nearly everyone there, really. Getting over the fear of sitting with them for extended periods of time was difficult. Having other teenagers around to be role models was helpful, but I'm not going to pretend that I wasn't relieved when my volunteering was over. And I'm not particularly proud of that - I wish I had worked a little harder to develop the patience and stamina and interest necessary to really be able to learn from these people. Oh well. We can only learn from these types of experiences . . .