When most people think of beautiful, they don’t think of wrinkles, gnarled joints, stooped backs, and unsteady gaits. But when I think of beautiful, this is what I see. Why? Because those are the souls that have taught me some of the most valuable lessons I know. Welcome to my world as a recent geriatric nurse and as a long-time fan of the elderly! I invite you to see the stooped shoulders I have followed and the weathered hands that have shaped me.
Be the kind of person that is always kind. Some of the elderly will frustrate you and some of them will treat you downright rudely. But stoop your shoulders, wince when you bend, forget that you have control over your bladder, squint your eyes, and eat everything with your nose pinched. You will understand where their anger, their depression, and their neediness is coming from. Where once they use to take care of their children, they now must depend on their children to take care of them. Where once they grew from infant to adult, they now are receding back into the dependency of an infant. Where once they were able to care for the world, they must hope that the world will still care for them. You can walk away from their insult, but they can’t walk away from the reality that their body and their mind is deteriorating into the finality of morbidity.
Those who fail to value history tend to be the ones who repeat it. Grandpa Fred taught me that the grief over his wife’s death never ends, but sorrow mixes with the joy. My Grandpa taught me that to be a man is to not be afraid to show your tears and to often say, “I love you, babe”. My Grandma taught me to never forget to thank God for all He has given me. Mrs S taught me that you are never too old to flirt with your spouse or to find love again, even if you are in your 80’s. Denis taught me to laugh often, live free, and give everyone trouble because for goodness sake you aren’t dead yet. Barbara taught me that you keep on helping others even when you have all the excuses to stop. Pop taught me that you learn technology because someone needs an encouraging Facebook message. Grandma Peggy taught me that people need you to listen because you’d rather know that they are alive and breathing than to have silence. Captain Otto taught me that, to open up your home in a retirement park for the summer to a bunch of high energy youths to eat sloppy joe and do midnight Walmart runs, is one of the best memories you can give them. The husband who sits next to his fading wife, holding her hand all day long, taught me that love is faithful and enduring, even when only a shell remains of your spouse. The Vietnam war veteran taught me to admire our military who stand in front of us and once you are a soldier, you are always a soldier. And the old man at Walmart, who is still probably sitting next to the bathroom waiting for his wife to be done shopping, taught me that when you love someone, they are always worth it to you no matter how high the cost. If you wonder how I have developed these strengths, the answer is I loved the elderly.
Value is not determined on what you bring to the table, but on the fact that God made a soul with intricate worth. We all love babies even though we have to change their diapers, spoon feed them, and support their heads. And yet, once they develop chin hairs and their skin is coarse, it isn’t cute anymore. Do they lack any less value than a baby does? If yes, why? Because they are dying? Because they can’t one day do something for you? The true wealth of a society is determined by how we treat those who can do nothing for us.
I’ve seen a woman who no longer knows how to eat, desperately looking for her baby because, though she forgot the instinct of hunger, she didn’t forget the instinct of being a mother. I’ve seen a man who sits in his wheelchair all day every day, and yet he never fails to say thank you when I do what I’m paid to do by giving him his medication. I’ve seen many old souls who despite all their losses of loved ones and now even the loss of their independence, still say some of the funniest, freshest things. I’ve seen people who are closer to death that are more alive than most people my age. To be honest, I prefer the elderly over many people my own age.
Why do I love the elderly? Because I know what it is to be human and I know what it is to be humane. There is a difference, and I choose the second one.
~ Written by Sara Dragula