Saturday, April 28, 2012

Our Real Living History

One of the primary reasons many come to my blog is because of a love of the past. (Haunting, spooky stuff is just a bonus that goes with the territory) Most of the people I hear from and spend time with have a deep and abiding love of the past. We love the old houses, buildings, landmarks, bridges and neglected landscapes that allow us to escape to a time when perhaps they were new and shiny, full of the sounds of laughter, music and life in general. We easily imagine 1920s "liberated" women with their pin curls and cloche hats, or bustle skirts, parasols and gentlemen in suitcoats and bowlers or top hats. Some more adventurous souls picture a Depression Era couple in plain brown cotton, aged white shirts and tattered straw hats, their shoeless children knocking cans down a dirt road with a stick or swinging on a rope out into the middle of a pond.

Whatever it is we envision, it is the sensation of being transported back to another "simpler" or more elegant time, imagining the voices of those who came before and seeking some tangible connection to that time. Something I learned from an early age is that history is far better when it comes in story form from those who were there. And this brings me to the topic of this post.

Recently I posted a photo and a link to my Facebook page about an online community called "The Forgotten Ones: Compassion for the Elderly." Very few of us have gone throughout life without being touched by the challenges of caring for an elderly family member or friend. Many of the people I hear from work in some capacity with the aged. We have shared stories of the sweet and the angry, the kind and the difficult to work with. Age brings its own frustrations that the younger caretakers do have a hard time understanding, or keeping in mind in the middle of a bad day for an elderly patient. For so many of us, it seems so hard to imagine how countless elderly citizens go neglected and forgotten, yet we already know in our hearts that it is a daily fact. It tugs at the heart strings, but in most cases, becomes the "unspoken problem" for which no one has a solution.

Now for the reality check. Yes, growing old (and I mean VERY old) is very different from finding one is terminally ill. When a younger person is diagnosed with a terminal illness, it is a shock. It is often very cut-and-dried: There is a prognosis and no treatment, just a list of symptoms and conditions to look forward to and to prepare to deal with before the end. Or, there are treatments and a ray of hope, however large or small, and perhaps the disease can be held off or erradicated. Until then there is a list of symptoms and conditions to look forward to and to prepare to deal with.

Growing old is not a disease, no matter how much some may say. It is, quite simply, the reward and accomplishment that too many never get the chance to experience. Having buried too many friends and relatives before they reached the age of 40, and in some cases, before their 20s, I, like many, can guarantee that these people would have made fabulous old people. We have worked through our feelings of "They were robbed" and some are still working through that. My blessings and thoughts to each and every one of you. In the case of an elderly relative, the difficulty is more emotional than anything else. It is very difficult to see someone who was once the decision-maker, the nucleus of the family, and the strength behind the family slowly becoming childlike due to physical, and sometimes mental, deterioration. These are more of the realities of living to an old age, but they are not the end. Always keep in mind that as the body begins to fail, it does not mean the mind is gone.

Now I will let you in on a little secret; One many of you may already know. Even though the body is infirmed, a brilliant, acute, sharp mind is trapped inside. That mind is a veritable storehouse of amazing stories, first-hand accounts of historic events that most of us can only read about and vaguely imagine, and experiences to challenge and inspire the imagination. Unlike a book, however, that record cannot be put on a shelf until it is convenient to call on it. It is only with us for a short time, only to be lost forever once that lady or gentleman passes, then their wisdom, and their example are lost to us forever.

I could very easily blame our current drive-thru American society for the disregard and disposal of our elderly. Studies have shown the change in trends in this country and others, fed both by the glamourization of "retirement living" and a mentality of entitlement, where parents who were once part of the nuclear family, are now a burden, or "in the way" as grown children have children of their own and establish their own families, however, the flip side to that is the mixture of cultures in this world, who now live most often side by side, holding fast to old values that included keeping elderly parents and other family members at home through their twilight years. These families are giving their children the gift of legacy, and their elders the gift of a rich life of being loved clear through to and beyond the end.

I have been teased about a habit of mine. Upon noticing an elderly couple in public, dressed in their finest, a throwback to five or more decades ago when it was the standard for their generation, I stop and smile, and at times am moved to comment how "cute" they are. The comment I get is "You think all old people are cute." My rebuttal is pretty simple, not all, but I do see more than age spots, slow steps and the signs of living decay and deterioration. These things are definitely in-your-face reminders of our own mortality.  There is something almost terrifying to many to realize that this could well be them one day. But these people have outgrown the insecurities of "losing their looks" and having to fit the expectations of society. (A little sidenote: "Society" does not set expectations. Individuals conjure their own limits based on what they believe others expect of them. Surprise..."society" has better things to do, and these individuals are not the center of the universe.)

I hope many of you will join me in embracing the past, seeking it through historical study, honouring old ways, its preservation through antiques and properties, but also through the eyes of our Living History, our elderly. Bring joy to someone who may well be feeling forgotten or insignificant, by simply listening to their stories and showing them respect and compassion. I guarantee that in return, you will be touched on a very deep level and come away far richer.

Below is the link to the online community I mentioned earlier. Take a moment to visit, and if you are so inclined, get involved using one of the many wonderful suggestions.

Now to drag my sentimentalist self off to get more coffee and do a bit of Hallowe'en writing.
Until next...


  1. There is a quiet dignity and humbleness that is so sorely lacking in an age where so many seek there 15 minutes of fame..Having worked with the elderly and enjoyed there company and wisdom I have nothing but respect for them, it is however heartbreaking to be forgotten in a matter of hours though. The benefit for a stranger is making a friend all over again it all depends on your point of view though doesn't it.
    Brilliant Post! Thank you...

  2. Thank you, Jeffery. If I had half the memories and experiences of the Alzheimer's and senility patients I have met and worked with over the years, I would be DaVinci. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.