There are two older women who sit by Starbucks everyday in Winchester. They are both quite fashionable, one of them wears pretty tops and white pants and fashionable sunglasses. Her friend has a crouched back and a nice smile. Ellen and May sit every day and say hello to most people who come in to the coffee shop. Some don’t notice they are too glued to their phones , too entrenched in a digital world. They know none of this, they sit by and people watch with a couple of other people the ” Elder gang”. They all are in good spirits, sharing their lives and enjoying their time together. Ellen had just gotten back from a three month trip she took alone around South America. She is 84 years old.
We are taught that the worst thing that can happen to us is to get old. As women, we are placed in a corner of forgotten things, or sex appeal no longer useful. I never noticed how invisible the elderly are in the US until I started living with my great aunts. Often when we go out to eat the waiters won’t even talk to them, or talk to them as if they are a child and explain it VERY SLOWLY. The doctors as well very rarely give them the care they need, my great aunt was denied a heart operation because she was ” too old” only to be rushed to emergency when she had to do it.
I have elderly family members that live in fear. Fear of the darkness, fear of being looked at, fear of illness. My grandmother spends most of her days watching television in a dark room. Her life, is just a series of moments.
Society in America chews you out when you get old. In Latin America , no one would think of putting your elder relatives in a home, but here it is sadly commonplace. Everything they worked for their whole lives boxed up and sold away to absurd fees in assisted living. They get constant calls for donations, for changing their plans, of something or another. They are rarely viewed as people.
The very idea of Retirement is a bit strange. People work themselves to the bone and rarely enjoy their lives except to pay bills, and then for thirty years you do nothing and at the end of it it’s almost as you are just waiting to die. You are no longer ” useful” or interesting.
The elderly have been left behind. If they never learned about the internet they are even more lost, the world essentially has moved on. Basic things like owning a telephone, paying bills, how people communicate has completely changed since people have retired. So they can become even more isolated.
We have an inherent fear of being old. There’s a disprespect, a feeling that they have nothing left to offer. We often roll our eyes, shut them out ignore them and let it be in the darkness.
My mother often tells me that there are several choices you can approach old age. You can live it constantly focusing on your ailments, on who is dying off, on being weak or you can choose to be young at heart. The idea that everything goes downhill after a certain age is sad. It makes no sense. If we consider ” old” fifty and onwards and the average person lives till 80 that’s thirty years where you are no longer useful in society.
While youth has a certain exuberance and energy we should also sit down and learn from those who have been here for a long time. Maybe then we can start to not make the same mistakes and grow as a society.