Our dog, Millie Sue, has a gray beard. She’s skinny and lumpy. She’s become even more skiddish in her old age and barks incessantly to be let in to only want to go back out again in order to escape the terrors of a toddler wanting to squeal and grab her tail. We jokingly tell the story of how Millie joined our family when after a fun day of boating and possibly a beer or two, an offer was made to take one of several puppies from a litter down the street. My parents and a friend were taking one, so why not me, too? I was a grown up, newly married living in my own home and knew we could handle the challenges of puppyhood. I was warned of potty training, household destruction, and the rest, and we certainly had our fair share of ripped carpet and chewed shoes. However, what no one mentioned or warned us about was the elderly phase.
The same goes for us humans. It stinks getting older. Moving from childhood to adulthood is difficult with the numerous stresses of responsibility (hello to a handful of my high school classmates considering back surgery!), but nothing seems to compare to the last phase of life. Mind you, I’m not yet 40 and God-willing, have plenty of phases left to experience, but I’ve been on the caretaker end and have observed other families struggle through it. It’s frightening to think about. I have recently watched an elder of mine struggle with physical pains, memory loss and it has left them emotionally overwhelmed at times. They were once incredibly vibrant and now feeling helpless and frightened. I know this is not the case with all folks reaching the end phase of life, but so many that I’ve seen have faced difficulties I imagine they never expected to endure.
This collection of beautiful photography art reminds us that all of our elders were young, lively, and lovely at one point in their life. It reminds me of how much there is to learn from them if we would just sit and make the time to listen. My grandmother, my daughter’s namesake, just passed away in January and what I’ve thought of the most is how much I wish I’d asked more questions. It makes me want to slow down and pay attention to our older generation. Although I carry my manners with me in most situations and am respectful, sometimes I’ve been guilty of feeling frustrated by a slow driver/ slow grocery cart cruiser and have heard myself talking both louder and slower to elderly folk (as we stereotypically do with those who don’t have English as their first language) as though they’re children. How selfish can I be? What is so important in my life that I need to be rushing and feeling irritated? How little I truly know in comparison to many who have lived a full life. Thankfully, I have grown some in my awareness of this issue over the last few years and try to make a point to meet eyes with the slow grocery cart drivers. As is the case with every human being we pass, what are they going through? Are they lonely?
I wonder if those in the last phase of life are reflective of all they’ve experienced and look at us in pity or frustration? What would they have done differently if they could do it all again? How did they manage to work through some of the more challenging hurdles of life? These are the questions we could all ask. We will not live forever and will all meet our time in life that forces us to slow down or lose a reliable physical and mental level of health. I want to be a great deal more respectful of our elders; treat them with kindness and patience and love them. Ask them questions and seek advice. Join me in slowing down and start looking at the silver-haired folks you run into as deep wells of experience and knowledge.