As a relationship therapist and from all my teaching and life experiences, it is clear that we can learn something from everyone – no matter what age they may be. However, many older people can offer observations, experiences, knowledge and support that can be extremely valuable. What are the reasons why?
1) I have been fortunate that in living in London, UK, I have managed to make friends with a few fascinating characters who survived World War 2. Their tenacity and joie de vivre has taught me that until the last breath is drawn, one should live life to the full.
2) Listening to their amazing anecdotes and fascinating adventures also resulted in my gleaning many captivating insights for how I wish to live my own life.
3) And just the other day at a lunch party, I sat next to someone whose father had been a British double agent in Hamburg during WW2. His stories were absolutely jaw dropping. On the other side of me, sat my dear friend, Alina, who escaped not one – but three concentration camps. She often relates her adventures with great humour, but also with an astounding memory of events that seem unfortunately, to resonate with some of today’s political events.
I suppose this is why I get frustrated and annoyed when the elderly are so easily waved aside and thought of as a drain on society. Some may well be, but many others are a vast source of knowledge that should not be ignored. Sure, I may not always agree with their outlook or indeed, their politics, but sadly, we somehow forget that a few wrinkles can actually represent a vast database filled with life’s experiences – which we can all learn something from.
4) But now so many are being left, forgotten in old age homes. It seems that we haven’t realized that by taking this action, WE are losing out. Besides ignoring the relevance of our ancestry and the heritage that our elders have left us, we are disregarding the fact that even our children can and do benefit from what their grandparents are able to offer.
5) Also, if a parent’s relationship is rocky or unstable, grandparents can offer a stabilising effect with valuable emotional support and care, also for their grandchildren, and in some cases even a home. This can sometimes negate serious long-term emotional damage.
And herein lies an important advantage. Those of my clients who’ve had supportive grandparents have certainly fared a lot better emotionally, than those who haven’t had access to this privilege.
6) Nevertheless, children need to be around the elderly and the elderly need to see their grandchildren. Indeed, many old age homes are finding that having children visit is a great joy not only for the elderly but for the children too. Having older people pay attention to children is so important. They often have more patience than their stressed and over worked parents, who may find modern life hard to cope with. But most importantly are the many, who say that their grandparents or great grandparents were important influences during their childhood.
7) And I know this too: My great grandmother survived the Boer War (1899 -1902), and she only died when I was 12. She was a child held in one of the concentration camps – nothing to do with the Germans. It was the British who set up the first concentration camps. You should Google this fact, if you don’t already know it. Anyway, she remarried whilst in an old age home at the age of 84. I watched her eat healthily, consuming apricots and prunes for breakfast and fasting once a month for 36 hours. I still use these healthy tips to this day. However, via her stories, she taught me just how precious life actually is.
8) Writing this reminds me that years ago, I attended an event where I met an elderly couple and they proudly announced that they had just got married. Both were 82 years old and they had both never been married before! There is hope for all of us I thought, as I wasn’t yet married at the time.
9) But now, many are trying to defeat old age by having facelifts, Botox, fillers and so on. But this is making growing old even harder, not easier. Many ancient cultures revere their elders understanding that with old age comes wisdom and experience. Yet we in the West have forgotten this value. We push our elderly into care homes and many never see their families again. Sure, there may be valid reasons for this, but we are creating a legacy and teaching our children how to treat the elderly. Indeed, we have forgotten that we too will get old, and that we too may get pushed aside and ignored, dismissed and abandoned – unless we begin to shift our perception of the elderly. And this is so important because many of us may now live longer than any of our ancestors possibly ever did.
10) So we need to be careful. Children learn from their parents how to behave and how to treat others. We could be teaching them that the elderly are insignificant and irrelevant, forgetting that this is exactly what our children may feel about us one day. And why shouldn’t they, if we’ve taught them that this is what we do to the elderly!
11) Sadly the greatest lesson of all is being lost. Watching our elders grow old also helps to informs us – how to or how not to grow old. It provides us with lifestyle choices if we are able that is, to take heed from our observations.
12) Sadly, the Covid pandemic has highlighted that there is a massive problem in many of our elderly care homes. But, even before Covid, abuse has also been rampant in some of these homes, as reported via in-depth investigations. Often this is because if families don’t express an interest, some care home staff may feel they can take advantage of the more vulnerable. A sad truth, that urgently needs addressing.
It now seems that our attitudes toward the elderly and how they are cared for needs a massive rethink. But before we do this, the enormous value that the elderly actually provide, needs to be understood, honoured and respected.
And you may have a few reasons why those older than us should be valued and taken better care of?
Either way it seems that we all need to rethink our attitude towards the elderly, before we are the ones sat there, left and forgotten, don’t you think?
Deidré Wallace is a relationship therapist and educator. She has had a private practice for the past 20 years. For more information, visit her blog website here: http://relationshipknowledge.com/
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