What a good time to share this wish with you while we enter a new decade.
“You work with seniors? Wow! I do not know how you do it. I find it so depressing.”, words said by so many people with me.
I love it. As a kid, looking up, my job was always going to be working with seniors somehow, someway.
Being the youngest of the youngest in a big Catholic family made it that many of my cousins gained the privilege of closer moments with my grandparents. Though grandma’s mink coat was always so soft as I rubbed it during long goodbyes, by the door, while her delicate perfume lingered in the air long after she left and the weathered skin on her hands made the moment so memorable. That grandma widowed young. During visits at her house, while the adults spoke, I slid open the neat door of the round wood living room table to have access to the remnants of the smell of Grandpa’s pipe tobacco in a wooden box and it always fascinated me. Somehow the tucked-away box and strong smell allowed me to share a special moment with a grandpa I never really knew.
My paternal grandma travelled with a different energy, just as attractive but in a very different way. A lady who worked the land with a tougher skin and calves that looked amazing in her small black heels as she stood in the kitchen or walked up the stairs. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet my paternal grandpa, but I did enjoy the kind voice and the friendly approach of my grandma’s third husband, who was her first boyfriend. Sweet.
In our small countryside community, there were a variety of seniors. Again, being a person who has travelled as the youngest it seemed for the longest time that everyone was a senior, always older than me. Just now, at 48 years old it seems like people are starting to be younger than me!!
Perhaps being the youngest is what has been one of my saving graces, simply to see people for who they are and seeing beyond their age.
Many people tell me, ‘I just do not know what to talk about or what to say to a senior.’
“Really? Ask them how their day is going. Complement them on the smile you see in their eyes. Ask them where they would like to travel to or where they have been and what they liked about one of their favourite life adventures…. just like anything you would talk about with me.”
When you see me walk down the street, who do you see? –A woman, midlife, walking unassisted, fit and willing to tap into life as best as she can while she soaks up my surroundings. You do not see that my left leg, from hip to toe is remarkably smaller and atrophied, you do not see that I have recently faced huge changes in life and how I have been propelled into an abyss that has rattled every part of my cage and being. Do you? No, I doubt it because you do not see me as pared down.
For the past 10 years, I would say, I have been struggling on every front but seeing that I was surrounded by my immediate family, my so-called health and my house, all was good and nothing to worry about, right? Wrong. Should I have been that much older and pared down the way that life has unfolded for me I know that as a senior I would have been avoided, been pitied, been shunned and perhaps seen as hopeless and that there was no bouncing back. The bouncing back part, no matter my age will always be mine to manage and engage in.
This past decade I was seen for who I am and for how I like to travel. Not the loneliness nor the weaker left side nor my lack of knowing how to move forward. Why? Because of the elasticity of my skin? Because of my lack of needing a cane and able to move around quickly? Because my car had passengers in it? I can guarantee you, there were seniors out there who were and are in much better shape than me on every front but because of their age, their skin or their cane they are seen for what they have lost, or what we think they have lost, and not for what they have.
Having worked with a wide variety of seniors, a life built and engaged in is what we see. Some people living with the effects of a stroke decide they want to bounce back and get back as much as they can. Though at times they fall a bit short of gaining everything back, what they have is what they celebrate. Some people living with the same condition let their couch gobble them up as they throw in the towel and disengage. Some people decide to match their hair die, a hot pink (I have seen it!), to their cane or walker and ride the wave while others decide to risk a fall because of pride in using an adaptive aide.
In the end, for me, as well as for seniors, what we see are the choices made in life. How we allow people in or push them away. How we decide what we want and how to rise from the challenges that are served up to us.
There is no recipe to know how to be, at any age. No date says we become a senior. There is no moment in life when we do not want to be seen unless we choose otherwise for ourselves. At every age, we lose and gain as we journey forward and face our new today’s and life’s moments the best we know-how. A 25, 38, 51 or 86-years-old we are on the same page when it comes to facing today’s challenges (s—with many s’s)—it is everyone’s first time.
So many times, I face families who want to bully their elderly parent to do something they think would work best, or impatience because they are not ‘doing it right’. Maybe they do not want that for themselves. Maybe they have decided to lean back instead of leaning in. That is their choice. In the end, they end up paying the price for their choices. Kindness, respect, and holding space for everyone in our life will enhance results and offer safe places to land which is what we all want. We all want to be seen. We all want to feel like we matter. No matter our age.
All that being said, knowing my journey, knowing that so many seniors share with me that they feel transparent, unseen and tossed to the side and how so many people tell me they feel pity for what seniors have lost…….my 25-word wish for our society, is: May we see seniors for who they are, not for what they have lost, and invite them to remain engaged and involved in our communities.
It is each and all our jobs to elevate each other up at every age.