It’s Sunday, and I try to keep myself busy on Sunday mornings because they were usually reserved for conversations with my aunts.
Growing up, I can’t remember a Sunday when my mother didn’t insist that we make our rounds of calls. We were the only Chicagoans in a family of east coast dwellers, and while I would visit them every summer, during the other seasons she wanted to make sure that my relationships with her 10 older siblings were reinforced. So, Sunday mornings were always reserved for phone calls to, at least, my Aunts. She taught me that it was my responsibility to check on them, and felt that the onus was hers to instill.
Fast forward to adulthood, the tradition continued, but I sadly have fewer people to call. My Aunt Emily passed away in 2014 at the age of 86. She was the sister closest in age to my mother, and the happy recipient of my mother’s jewelry when she passed away. The best part about Aunt Emily was her lack of filter, which grew more threadbare as she aged. It was wonderful to hear unvarnished versions of the stories that I’d heard throughout childhood, without the truth being altered to protect the reputations of the guilty. I so looked forward to our conversations, which would sometimes last for several hours, because she was also a fantastic person to talk to, having seen it all, done it all, with great advice to share. And because she knew me so well, the advice was personalized and valuable.
Some people would say that it was “good of me” to call her regularly. But she didn’t need me; I needed her. My cousin, her son, was an amazing caretaker. I felt it was my honor and privilege to have her in my life. I selfishly wish she were still here because I have SO many more unanswered questions.
The shittiest part of becoming an adult has been watching my older relatives succumb to aging, and eventually leaving us.
Which brings me to the point of this blog, buried all the way down in the 6th paragraph. (BTW, the beauty of blogging is that I can take great liberties with the rules of writing, and if I feel like burying a lead, I bury a lead without fear of scolding from an editor. And I can completely digress if I want to. ) So, I’m really concerned about our treatment of seniors.
During my frequent trips to the grocery store, I notice a lot of seniors, moving slowly, fending for themselves in a sea of the frantic able-bodied desperate shoppers who view the elderly as mere impediments to their pace. Some of them don’t have proper PPE, and I wonder how they arrived at the store, and if they’ll get home safely.
My dad is in his 90s, and I am more grateful for him than I can express. He lives across the street (at my insistence), and he’s my favorite neighbor. I’m fortunate in that he’s more alert and physically capable than people several decades his junior. While I applaud his mobility and encourage him to be independent and social, his daily errands (pre-pandemic) were also terrifying, because we live in a society of disrespect.
Just as I was taught to check on my older relatives, I was also instructed to look out for the elderly on my block — make sure they don’t need anything, pick things up for them, offer to help, never call them by their first name, and the list goes on.
Unfortunately, those traditions haven’t been maintained by most people and I rarely see kids who have the proper amount of respect for elders. I take great care to make sure that my father doesn’t fall victim to scammers or bad-ass younger folks who would kill him for $20. And those are just the people in my own family! I kid, I kid, but it does happen in some families. It’s heartbreaking to learn when seniors are taken advantage of or mistreated. I wouldn’t go to jail for many things, but let me hear that a person is trying to abuse my father or any of my elderly relatives, and I would act first and don the orange jumpsuit later.
That said, I hope everyone who reads this truly understands the value of seniors. Maybe they’re not regarded as fun to talk to, or they might move slower than you, or not grasp technology as well. They might not go out drinking or partying with you, but they’re still the same amazing people they’ve always been, except they’re now living within aging bodies that betray them daily, and most of them aren’t happy about it. They have stories to tell and things to teach, and as one of my good friends often says, when a senior citizen dies, it’s like an entire library burns down. We shouldn’t move so fast that we forget them.
Being child-free, I often wonder where I’ll be when I move past my age of “usefulness,” if I’m lucky enough to live so long. I do like the idea of co-locating nursing homes with childcare centers, and while little kids drive me insane, the interaction is good for both seniors and children. Older people could benefit from the youthful energy of little kids, and children need to benefit from the wisdom, and be taught patience and respect.
The best thing I’ve seen lately was the outpour of responses for seniors in nursing homes who were looking for penpals. I hope it continues, and for the people who don’t have seniors to care for, I encourage everyone to informally adopt one — especially during this pandemic — and make sure they’re okay. Have good conversations, because tomorrow isn’t promised. You never know what you’ll learn.