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Listening & Learning from our Elders: A Lost Art

on June 3, 2014

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


13 responses to “Listening & Learning from our Elders: A Lost Art

  1. I disagree in part with your article. The world is changing at such a fast pace that the elderly have nothing really useful to teach us. Even so, I recognize the value in listening to these precious witnesses of a world now gone.

    • Megan L. says:

      I learned patience, compassion, history, knitting, how to bake a perfect apple pie, how to make swedish pancakes, the power of love, and the pain of loss, many great card games, timeless fashion tips, to be brave and speak my mind, to believe in myself, and to roll with the punches. That is a short list of what I was taught by my grandma. My elder. A teacher of life. She may not have taught me about technology, but what I learned from her was even more valuable. I wish I had learned more.

  2. wow I’m sad for the previous commenter never seeking the richness of those who have lived so much life. Invalidating another’s experience seems so narrow.
    But I will agree with you. I just sat at the bedside of a family member who had seen 92 years of changes: from depression, to war, to the space age (where he was part of NASA), to the computer age… Wow!

    • Megan L. says:

      Thank you. My grandma was a month shy of her 92nd birthday. Their lives are really remarkable. Yes, the change our elders have seen have so much to offer. I’m happy you were able to share time with yours. He sounds very inspiring! ā¤

  3. focalbreeze says:

    I completely agree with you. The older generation has so much to teach us – if we only will listen. I lost my own grandmother when I was 11 and it was a hard loss. I stayed by her side when she fell ill to her cancer. By this time, I had lost my grandpa and he was the fun one I’d play with – so, I was familiar with death at age 9.
    I still remember one important thing she taught me so long ago. I’m 32 now but what she said, even then, made my young mind tick.

    I asked her, after Papa Sandy passed, when did she want to die. She took the question serious, though it was an odd question for a kid to ask, but she didn’t miss a beat.

    She said “When I can’t take care of myself.”
    Twenty years later and that answer still stops me, makes me think.
    She was born in the 1930’s, the depression era, and so very independent. She taught me to be that way.
    Google didn’t teach me that nor did some article that was written by business insider.

    • Megan L. says:

      You were very wise for your years! It sounds like you were able to do this even as a child. I’m glad you took the initiative to ask her those important questions. Grandparents are very hard to lose at any age šŸ˜¦ When we take the time to really listen it is amazing what they have to teach! Thank you.

  4. […] Meaningful Mommy Listening & Learning from our Elders: A Lost Art […]

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  6. ANooP says:

    It’s true that you can look forward to learn some basic necessary things in life from the elders. Patience and handling of delicate matters are prime things I learnt from elders. Though I don’t ask for any advise, I definitely observe and take the good things I can from them šŸ™‚

    Beautiful post… Cheers Megan

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