How does it feel to be old?
Years ago, I had asked my friend to make a house call for a surgical consult for my then 90-year-old grandfather who was staying with us. Since both of us have always been used to being the ones to take charge of a situation, we proceeded to discuss his case and formulate a plan. Ready to move to the next action step, we were both surprised when Lolo, who was two feet away, interrupted us to say that he had heard every word of our conversation.
Lesson number one. Always include them in the discussion, and seek and value their opinion. In matters of health or any concern that involves them, they have the right to know and should be given the options. The final decision, which on certain occasions might be difficult to accept, lies with them and should be respected. After all, it is their life and not yours.
He had always been a constant figure in church and maybe only one of the few left from the past generations of lay ministers. Seeing he was alone, I caught up with him and was pleasantly surprised that he remembered me. I quickly engaged him in a conversation that was mostly centered on asking about his well-being. Though the gesture was borne from a genuine interest to know how he was doing, it was primarily to ensure that he would not get into an accident on his way home. It was less than a brisk walk to our destination and to this day, I am glad I never offered that arm to help. Upon reaching his gate and offering thanks, he said that it was his turn to walk me home and that he religiously reads and enjoys my column. After politely declining, I had to be quick in saying goodbye as tears were about to fall from his kind gesture and his words.
Lesson number two. Allow them to do things for themselves as they know the extent of their limitations. Be around to assist if and when needed. Offer help only if asked for.
“I want to go to the farm.” An uncle was in his late 70s and had the habit of taking long road trips on a regular basis. For most of the way, he would indulge in short naps and conversations were limited to navigation concerns. As most of his children had day jobs, his constant companion would be his driver. On reaching his destination, one would expect that he would stay for a considerable amount of time. On a majority of occasions, it wasn’t longer than the time allotted for a decent coffee break. This and his penchant to embark on agricultural projects which were mostly more of financial risks than income generating would spark lively debates within his family. Members of the clan were always the lucky recipients and at one point had to find ways to share the produce for everyone was already in danger of getting carotenemia.
Lesson number three. Let them be. To some, it might seem to be a waste of time and resources but to them, it might be the very thing that gives them a sense of purpose.
“Are we passing the hat?” A group of classmates from an all-male school was planning a repeat reunion. It had been 46 years since their graduation and everyone was excited about the idea of meeting on a regular basis. Most of them were retirees, empty nesters, and enjoying their lives as indulgent grandparents. As anyone knows, topics can be varied and you can’t help but ask about people who were not able to make it to the party. The talk eventually centered on a classmate who was reluctant to join as he had verbalized that it would entail cost and had a lingering illness. The class was divided on whether assistance was to be given or withheld.
Lesson number four. Be extra sensitive, especially about financial matters. Offering help might be perceived as an insult rather than a gesture of goodwill. On a lighter note, make an effort to be present so you don’t get to be one of the main topics in the general conversation.
All of us will eventually get there. Oftentimes, youth makes us feel as if we are invincible and though unintentional, gives an unofficial license to stereotype those who are older in years as frail and limited. While it is part of our culture and our love language to care for our older family members, caring also entails remembering to constantly make them feel relevant by giving them the dignity to make their own decisions. You are only old if you get stuck in believing you are. It’s always a matter of perspective.