We shall all grow old, we and those whom we love, unless, of course, God in His wisdom chooses to take us earlier. Perhaps a little reflection on age is not out of place from time to time. The elderly tend to be excluded and marginalized in our culture instead of being treated with the dignity due their life experience. Old age can be an uncertain time for many, fraught with difficulties and fears. Many of our elderly brothers and sisters are isolated, either in their homes or in institutions, unable to care for themselves. Just getting through the day, performing the simplest tasks, can be a challenge for those with chronic health problems. Even minor aches and pains can make cooking, cleaning, and shopping extremely difficult. The cost of health care and prescription medicines can deplete the resources of some older people. Feelings of vulnerability and loneliness can open the door to depression in them at the very time when they most need their courage to face their final trials and last end.
Caring for the aged is a task often taken on by women, requiring all the sensitivity, common sense, and tenderness one can muster. It can be a means of learning patience; it can also be a way to glean wisdom and cultivate a sense of humor. Most of all, older people should be treated with respect, especially by children and teenagers. It is of the highest importance that our children learn to revere the older members of the family and community.
There are many little courtesies that can and should surround the elderly. It goes without saying that every family situation is different, with unique customs and habits. What counts most, I think, is an attitude of love and respect. Manners are a wonderful way to express such respectful love. Even if a story is being told for the thousandth time, the young can learn to listen patiently, or at least, not to interrupt. An older person should never be isolated at a party or dinner; the young should be encouraged to sit with them, get them refreshments, talk to them, listen to their stories, asking pertinent questions. An older person should be served first at dinner. Boys and girls can easily learn to hold a door open for grandma or grandpa, letting them go first. If necessary, an older child or teenager can readily give up his or her seat for an older person, if chairs are limited. For that matter, although it may seem quaint, it is respectful for children and young people to rise when an elderly friend or member of the family enters the room, if this can be done without causing embarrassment and inconvenience.
We can learn so much from older people, so much about history, faith, and sufferings endured. I treasure the hours spent with my own grandmother as she shared many family anecdotes. It builds a sense not only of identity but of continuity with the past. Spending time with an older person is a great gift to the younger person. We are faced with our own mortality; an encounter with age can be humbling and a source of wisdom.
(Reprinted from the January-February 2009 edition of Canticle Magazine) Share