When I was younger I hope I wasn’t impatient with or dismissive of older people. They were part of the scene. I saw them in the street and when they got on buses. You could tell that they were old because they dressed old and walked old. Sometimes they were family. An elderly Aunt who as a child used to entertain me when she was still in bed and my day was half through, telling me tales of when she was younger. She was a Baptist and very religious in a way that our more routine church- going wasn’t. And my grandma who – probably with justification –had the reputation of being neurotic, suffering a myriad of imagined illnesses. And my grandpa who always seemed reserved and rather fierce. Two vivid memories of him – the fruit knife he always carried and the meticulous way in which he peeled and cut an apple, and I was fascinated with the speckles on the back of his hands, as my grandsons are with mine!
As I get older I wish I had had a greater understanding of my parents; especially my father.
He was a strong, quiet man though with a wonderful sense of humour. In some ways self-contained and very much of his generation, he had none of the self-disclosure of himself more typical of today. My great wish is that I had known him more. At the end his health was poor and not well diagnosed. Perhaps I didn’t realise how bad things were for him. He was unable to lie in bed at night and latterly always slept sitting up. That’s how I found him one early morning. Orderly and correct in his life, so had he died.
As a child but also well into maturity, old people were only the background of my life. Working for the Church meant however that I began to meet and care for older people in a way that forced me to take them seriously, but perhaps sometimes not as seriously as some of them took themselves. I would have to listen to long tales of pain and injury with I hope as much sympathy as I could muster, though I do remember one occasion when someone recited to me in great and bloody detail the parlous state of her bunion, and I thought to myself ‘what on earth am I doing here?’
Perhaps it is only as one ages that the complications and hazards of old age become apparent and one gains in sympathy for others who are going through the same.
The tendency when we are younger is to say to older people who complain about the limitations of life, ‘snap out of it’ . We may say it to ourselves. But it’s not that easy. Now we know what it means to find that your body no longer behaves as it once did. Pain and discomfort, uncertainty about what’s happening to you and constant visits to the surgery (‘sorry. its me again, doctor’) can be part of the pattern of our lives.
…so this is how it is!