In between fixing breakfast for my 10 year old daughter and searching the internet for anything newsworthy in the world of nursing home reform, I found myself feeling grateful for the blessing of loving old people. It’s not something I recall choosing. I’ve been like this since I was a kid. Every so often, I’ll meet another person who shares this affinity.
“You love old people! Me too!” As we excitedly share our newfound commonality, we invariably learn that each of us has felt this way since we were kids. So why and how did that happen? I believe mine developed from close relationships I had with several old people when I was a child.
Uncle Matt lived next door to us, was the barber in our small town, and loved me unconditionally. He was actually a great uncle, around the same age as my grandfather. Uncle Matt’s barber shop was across the street from our house. He didn’t give a second thought to stopping in the middle of a customer’s haircut to cross the street and walk me over so I could watch him from his second chair. It was my job to sweep up after each cut. My reward was a piece of Bazooka Joe bubble gum and a handful of warm shaving cream.
If you open a dictionary to find the definition of eccentric, you might find a photo of Uncle Matt’s wife, Alvina. What a treasure. She ran every minute of Uncle Matt’s free time and he followed her with a smile of content resignation. “How ya perkin” with a slap to her hip was her typical greeting. She needed little encouragement to take you in her arms to dance while she’d sing, “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.” I like to think I’ve adopted some of her eccentric ways. At least that’s what I tell myself when people call me weird.
I recall our visits to a nursing home to see my great-grandmother, who had developed dementia. During one visit, she clung to my mother’s arm and pleaded with us not to leave her. She said they were taking her food away and hurting her. I wouldn’t leave until my mother explained that “grape gramma” was confused and those things weren’t really happening. I accepted that as fact but my experiences since that time leave me in a place of doubt.
I’m sure most kids have experiences with old people as they are growing up and don’t develop this affinity for them. So why did I end up with this passion? I don’t know. What I do know is that I believe old people should be given the best of what we have to offer. They should expect warmth, safety, and comfort. They shouldn’t have to worry about where they’ll get their next meal. They should be able to count on family, friends, and society’s conscience to help meet the needs they can no longer manage. They should have a community that will rise up against anyone who hurts them and respond to any abuse with an iron fist.
We are far from where we need to be when it comes to caring for our old people. Guardianship abuse, nursing home abuse, cuts to Meals on Wheels programs and threats to social security are just the tip of the iceberg. The needs are many. We need to shore up our army of citizens who love old people and we need to make our voices heard.