Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The older we get...

"Seek out old people. When you find some, give them joy. Listen closely. Remember that each old person is a library. Listen closely. Be useful. Bring the gift of yourself. Be voluntary. Visit with magic. Try playing their game. Let wisdom seep in. Cradle your own future old person. Be gentle. Listen closely. Pay attention to an old person. The treasures will be revealed." --Sark, A Creative Companion

I had a second visit with an eighty-something-year old client today; quite the character this man is! Today's visit was a bit more enjoyable than our last in early January; he's since been fitted for a hearing aid and we didn't need to shout at one another this time. He's almost practically blind with glaucoma so couldn't read the letter I'd sent to let him know I'd be stopping by. I stood in the pouring rain for the ten minutes it took him to get to the door with his walker to let me in and then he couldn't see me to remember who I was.

;-)

The real purpose of my visit was to make sure that his landlord had done some necessary repairs that I'd required, but I could have just as easily done that over the phone - but for all that shouting! - the fact is that I love to visit my elderly clients in person when possible. They're often grumpy, but I love them anyway and usually end up feeling like I want to bring them home with me or at least adopt them for the holidays.

We had a nice visit and chatted about all his health issues and the problems he's been having adjusting to the hearing aid. Then the stories started - that's what I look forward to the most, you know! He told me about the jazz band he played horn in for many years - dixieland - and the time his band was asked to play at a funeral and had all the mourners up and dancing in the back of the funeral chapel. He also told about a half dozen bad jokes, but I laughed and he laughed and that's what matters, I guess.

Most of the seniors I visit live alone and are too far from family to have any sort of support network in place. Plus, I imagine they're really lonely and like the chance to talk with someone who's kind enough to listen.

I know it was that way with my dad. I used to pity the poor telemarketer or grocery store clerk who met him when he was in a talkative mood - which was practically always! - he could go on and on for hours and mostly my brothers and I had already heard all of his stories at least a thousand times so had stopped listening, really. I regret that now, of course, and sometimes feel like I would give almost anything to hear my dad tell the story of breaking my mother's Christmas angel or any of the hundreds of others he had saved up, just one more time.

I think the lesson for me in this is that it's too easy to take your own family for granted; the old guy I saw this morning has a few sons around, but I wonder if they are able to delight in him the way I found myself doing today. It's not easy to do, I guess, when other issues or emotions get in the way of just enjoying one another's company, but I think courtesy, a lot of patience and some extra attention can go a long way in making the elderly feel like they have something to offer the rest of us. It doesn't take much to be kind, does it? And they see far and know so much; we need only really listen.

15 comments:

Ruth said...

I love your opening quote. Age segregation is so unfortunate but happens too often in our society. I hope there is someone young to listen to my stories when I am old, even if I repeat myself.

Mary said...

Laura, you reduced me to a stream of tears. You know why... Thank you for caring so much.

Susan Gets Native said...

It's interesting that you posted this tonight.
I did a program at a senior center this morning, and I had so much fun listening to all of the folks telling their stories of this cool bird they saw, or the time an owl almost landed on their head, etc etc.
Alex Haley said that when an old person dies, it's like a library burning down. That's some truth, there.

crazyforcinema said...

This is so true. I have an aunt who turns 91 tomorrow. Thankfully, despite a few medical issues, her hearing isn’t too, too bad, and she’s still sharp as a tack. She’s great to talk to because she’s so smart and she’s a great storyteller. She was an executive in the advertising industry from the 40s through the late 70s. Unusual because it was such an old boys’ business. While she enjoys children, she’s not really intuitive with them so I was always intimidated by her when I was younger. Now, my brother and I really enjoy spending time with her.

This post brings to mind a wonderful documentary I saw on Cinemax last month called “Andrew Jenks, Room 335.” Andrew was a 19 year old who decided he would spend part of his summer break in an assisted living facility in Florida. He and several of his friends (his crew) filmed his stay and his interactions with the residents, a few in particular. He really connected with these people and you can tell they enjoyed his stay as well. There’s a very difficult scene in which one of his friends is literally almost on her last breath. Made me think of my dad and had me sobbing but, otherwise, it’s great. It illustrates exactly what you said in your post and the Alex Haley quote that Susan left in the comments. I checked the listings and it’ll be on WMAX-East tomorrow at 7 AM and again on 2/25 at 11 AM. I can’t recommend it enough.

bobbie said...

Bless you, Laura, for listening to the elderly. I'm sure it enriches your life as much as theirs.
It's strange. I'm almost 76. I know I'm old. I tell myself that, and when I look into the mirror I know it. But I can't convince myself of it - except when I catch myself telling those stories you talk about, and sometimes repeating them too often. Would you believe - there are mornings when I am helf awake, still in bed, and I sometimes feel panic because I can't remember if I'd done my homwork?

dguzman said...

You've got a good heart, Laura.

KGMom said...

Laura--you are so right about old people--in need of companionship, maybe in old age more than other times--but, really, don't we all need someone to listen to us?
And you are a dear to realize that--you could just go about your work without taking the time to listen. It's the latter that makes you so special.

Ramblings of a Villas Girl said...

Hi Laura! That is wonderful that you take the time with the elderly. Some are lonely and just crave a little attention. I find their "back in my day" stories fascinating and could listen for hours. My dad was the same. He never meet a person he didn't know. When we went to the mall my dad would sit down on the bench. We never worried that he would be lonely. When we got back there were always people sitting there
B-Sing with him. Unfortunately I did not inherit this trait from him. I miss him a lot. Not only was he my dad, but my best friend.
Well anyway, I was tagged by Bobbie and Shelly for a meme and I have tagged you. It is to list six habits and/or quirks we have. If you are interested, the rules are on my blog.
Have a good night and I know you will made another person happy by listening and laughing with them. Lisa

Rabbits' Guy said...

Well, they say, What goes around, comes around.
But gosh, sometimes it can be so depressing spending very much time with old folks. I guess that is why caregivers have to be sure to take long breaks from time to time.

Island Rambles Blog said...

Sometimes it takes someone outside the immediate family to appreciate an elderly parent. Some families are overwhelmed with the care or they are distant so thank goodness there are people like you.

z-silverlight said...

YES. for everything

gardenpath said...

Laura, I am sure your visit made his day. We definitely need more people like you around!

Endment said...

Laura - How old do I have to be to qualify for a visit from you?

Susan said...

Laura,
You brought back a memory - when I was a kid, I had a paper route. There was an elderly lady on the route that only bought the Sunday paper. When I walked the route on "collection day", I always saved her house for last. She would invite me in and talk for an hour or more. My younger sister took over the paper route when I quit & she kept up the tradition.

Cathy said...

Oh my gosh. I've got to make some phone calls. I read the comments above. Lovely.

Endment's is so sweet. I'll second it.