Elders. They may be our parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, relatives, friends. Our elders used to be seen as wise, esteemed, a source of knowledge that can only come with age. With time. It was meaningful to take our time to sit and listen. People used them as a source of information to learn from. Talking with and learning from our elders has become a lost art.
These days it seems that the elderly are not (by most) looked to for anything, other than to complain that they are not current with the times. That they drive, think and/or move too slow. That our elders are lost in the dark ages, since most do not use the internet, or google or a smart phone, that they have nothing to contribute to any ‘youngster’.
I beg to differ. The elderly are more amazing than we give credit. If we stop and take the time to listen to the old stories, the wisdom and knowledge is there, ripe for the picking. We just need to stop and reach out our hand. I learned this in my early 20’s after a breakup. I went out to lunch with my grandma and her group of 4 woman friends. I was having a hard time and one woman asked me what was wrong. I hesitated to say anything. They were 75 years old and up. What would they know about it? They were nothing like me. They wouldn’t understand. But understand they did. They had been there. And past. They had been broken up with, left for another woman, lost boyfriends in the war, lost husbands, some lost two. They had lost sons and daughters. This amazing group of women knew a lot about heartbreak. A lot more than me. They also knew a lot about the loser type I had been dating and they told me so. I heard about the ‘bad boys’ of their eras, the trouble makers and that I was better off, that I should hold my head up and walk on. That I was better than that. I actually felt better. I got a good talking to by my elders and it was just what I needed. I moved on.
I continued to do lunch every Thurs. with my Gma and her friends for the next 10 years. Every single Thurs. Even after moving and out of town I would drive the little over an hour there to see them. The group did get smaller as they began to pass away. Then I had my first daughter. I made it for a bit but then it became too much, I thought, to take my little one out to eat. She was fussy, she was napping, I was tired. I made many excuses that I now regret. After a while I stopped going at all. Every so often I would make the trip with then my two daughters. I still called my grandma mostly each week but it wasn’t the same. When my grandma got sick no one wanted to bother me since I was so busy with my girls. My feelings were hurt, we had been so close. But I had myself to blame. I had made myself too busy when I should have been sharing this wonderful woman with my daughters.
I made the choice then and there to not be too busy. We began going every week. Even if my girls were tired or fussy or naughty. We went. I remembered the advise from the elderly woman who in their words ‘had already seen and lived it all’. They’d had kids. They’d seen the terrible two’s, horrible three’s, effin fours…multiple times. They weren’t fazed. I should have been learning from them. But I had forgotten the lesson they had taught me once already. I must be a slow learner.
When my grandma was finally the last one in her group my mom would meet us. Sometimes my sister would join. It was nice. We’d chat and share about what was new and what was old. When my Gma needed to move to an assisted living home because her cancer was too advanced we visited as much as we could. My mom was there everyday. One afternoon my Gma said to me “it’s was hard knowing”…her voice trailing off. I knew what she was getting at. But I in my fear said “knowing what”, hoping she would clarify. She threw a glance at me and snapped “you know what I’m talking about, knowing… you’re going to soon die”. I said “Oh, yes. I …” my voice trailing off. With tears in my eyes I couldn’t talk about it. It’s a regret I have today. I didn’t invite my Grandma to share what she knew first hand with me. Again. I tried after that to engage her to try to get her to share. But I had missed my window. The opportunity had passed.
Her last days I was by her side. She told me her biggest fear was that she would be forgotten. I told her that wasn’t possible. That I had learned so much from her. That I wanted her to stay because I knew there was more she could share. I’d finally gotten it. But too late. she passed away the next week. Her death was two years ago. I miss her everyday. I still get the reminder on my phone to call her on Wednesdays. I haven’t been able to delete it. She was my last grandparent left. I still want to talk to her.
I tell anyone I can to cherish the elders in their life. Soak as much wisdom from them that you can. Listen to their drawn out stories of days gone by. Walk slowly with them holding their hands to steady them as they walk while they steady you with the lessons they have learned first hand. I wish I had done this more. I wish I had given more time to the art of talking with and learning from my elders. This is an art that I’m afraid in the fast paced techy world of today will also be missed by many others.
*submitted to WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge