When we were young, becoming elderly never crossed our minds. We continue to enjoy life, including the down periods, thinking we’ll always be able to be in good health and carry on in comfort. If we ever thought of becoming old, it is usually in terms of personal financial security, pensions, and medical insurance. That is important to our future, and everybody wants to arrive at old age thinking, ” I’ve lived life and now deserve a good break to take it easy and do what I please.” If that’s the case, we’re fine individually, and imagine that we’ll live without a care in the world.
That’s rather unrealistic because when you reach those middle years, you will find yourself physically changing with life itself changing for you. Many see retirement on the horizon and may think, “Now, what shall I do with myself, when I needn’t wake up early to go to work?”, maybe after 30 years of this routine. You feel at a loose end. Money may not be a problem, but too much time is. How to kill time?? To resolve this problem, some people take to voluntary work with charities, some decide to further their studies or find a new occupation or hobby, some join clubs, like elderly singles clubs to meet others of their own age, some take to staying at home and watching several video movies a day, and doing myriad other things.
The other major problem can be – the silence. The children have grown up and gone away. They have their own families, their own lives and are walking the same path in their own ways. They may come back to see Dad and Mum, Grandpa and Grandma, once or twice a year depending on their present situations. The heyday of family ‘get-togethers’ has fast faded away and children are no more talking the same language as their grand-parents. The label “Oldies” has become applicable to you. You begin to feel irrelevant and left out, as sadly the younger generation inadvertently form their own cliques sharing common interests. Sometimes, you can’t find a common topic for discussion even with your own children who are still in work and busy with their own concerns. They don’t always come to you for advice.
When I look around sometimes and see old people sitting on street corners, some being beggars, some sitting on park benches or in shopping malls, just watching the world go by, to while away their time, it feels like a tragedy. Some of them are homeless, some probably come out for the day, having nothing else to do and return when the sun goes down to a small room in the inner city slum area. A long time ago, I met an old beggar-man with no fingers. He said he used to work as a gardener but lost his fingers in a fire. Thus disabled he lost his ability to earn a living and was forced to beg for a living. I don’t know if he had any family, or if caring for him proved too much for them.
Some old people have tragic stories of being chased out of their homes for conflicts with children they’ve been living with; for others, life with the family had become unbearable and so, they ran away from home. Some had become veteran street people, having grown old in that environment. There was once a newspaper feature on old people being abandoned in local hospitals by their families. These poor souls were taken into welfare care to live out their last days. What hurts most is the knowledge of being unwanted because you are of no more use to your family or apparently, to society at large.
I used to live in single block of medium cost flats, and every evening waved a “hello” to the group of old people sitting in the area outside the lifts on the ground floor. Many of these elderly people lived alone and went to the ‘coffee shop’ over the road for meals or bought packed food from it. One lady told me she found cooking for one too much trouble and effort. Aging saps one’s energy. You could have 10 children or more, but for a number of old people, the number of children they have raised is immaterial, as they inevitably end up alone or back to being a couple with only each other to depend on, in a small one or two room apartment. Yet, others may be relegated to old folks homes, living amongst strangers and becoming disorientated and suspicious of everything unfamiliar to them.
Old age has many issues as the aged become more frail and vulnerable. In his sermon, a priest told the congregation this story, “A small child was sitting at the dinner table with his parents. His grandfather was sitting at another table in a corner, eating out of a cracked and much chipped china plate. This seemed to be the family practice. When the grandfather passed away, the child’s father threw away the cracked china plate used by the grandfather. The little boy, picked up the plate, cleaned it and stored it away. When his father asked him why he did that, he very innocently said, “I’m keeping it for you, when you get old.”
The young learn by observation. We must remember that we will also reach this destination, because youth and health are passing things, and age can result in lonely invisibility.
What is said in this post, is not the experience of every elderly person. For those who are lucky enough to know they belong somewhere and feel included, it is something to be thankful for but never to be taken for granted.