A fact of life: as age settles in so, too, does honest reality. How do we want to be remembered? What lessons/values do we want to pass on to our young family members? Being older should mean being better people. We make a conscious decision as to how we want to lead our later years of life.
There is a voice in my head that won’t be silenced. And for better or worse, I want to record some observations, mine and those of friends, for our progeny to tuck into their own memory banks.
I hear echoes of early days with my parents, and I know that much of who I am was shaped by the love they showered on me. In the 1940ties and 1950ties, children were not told twenty-five times a day how much they were loved. Instead, it was assumed rather than expressed. Frankly, I don’t ever recall my father whom I adored ever saying how much he loved me; but I clearly recall his soft green eyes that radiated kindness, gentleness, intelligence and affection. They also revealed moments of approval and disapproval!
My mother used to ask me, “Whose girl are you, Joysie?” And I would dutifully answer: “Mommy’s girl.” Her question was not meant to draw me closer to her than to my father, rather it was her way of telling me I was loved. I knew that love was a given part of my life, but I also knew that much was expected of me. Proper manners, good behavior, obedience and becoming my best possible self.
It took much time, experience and effort to get to this point, to stop criticizing myself, to enjoy my own company, to feel comfortable living alone now that John is in Memory Care. Not an easy transition for either of us, but a necessary one….God has blessed us mightily, and I never, never take anything or anyone I love for granted. Appreciation is non-stop…as is giving back in whatever way possible.
The one thing I wish to share with our grandchildren and great grandchildren is this: we are not entitled to anything. We must earn it. We are given the freedom of choice, and it is up to us how we lead our lives. Do we wrap ourselves up in our own little worlds, or do we seek to touch the lives of others? Do we think of someone else’s happiness before we think of our own? When we see someone achieve something remarkable do we keep quiet or do we praise them for their talent or thoughtfulness? Do we wait for the world to come to us, or do we reach out to learn more, find answers, ask questions, or spend two minutes hoping to leave an imprint on someone else’s life?
Incidentally, I am proud that my John taught our four children that if they wanted something special they needed to buy it themselves. His depression era parents preached that rule to him and his older brother. At the time, I thought it was a harsh practice, but in retrospect, I know John was right. While we paid for college, camp, etc. our chicks earned the funds for non-essentials and spending money for college. Result: to this day, all four of our children manage money well. Yay!
Since my husband has been in Memory Care, I have seen him every day except three when I dashed off to the mountains with family. I missed him, but walking the hills provided ample opportunity to inhale nature, to listen to inner voices and to return with a fresh view of our lives. The cobwebs disappeared from my head.
I have learned to enjoy the quietude of solo time. A chance for reflection, which is important. A chance to assess life up close. As I enter the Memory unit each day, I am acutely aware of the cognitive disparity of the residents. And I see the faithful CNAs and nurses doing their jobs with empathy and understanding. Keeping track of impaired folks who wander aimlessly or those suffering physical disabilities is not easy. But the staff does its very best. Many CNAs worked right through Covid pandemic height when the unit was closed to all family members. How rough was that? I cannot imagine.
In addition to observing the love of those who care for dementia patients, I am also acquainted with the backgrounds of some (alert) residents. One lady, in her late eighties, is especially fascinating. Born in Vienna during the rise of Nazism, she was, at age nine, awakened in the middle of the night by her father, given a train ticket and a little backpack, and told to get as far away as possible from the oncoming Russian army. Her father was a prominent bell maker. He also owned a radio. If caught, he would have been shot on the spot.
Being a little girl who from age four skied the hills of Austria, this child was sturdy and strong. Her frightening train journey ended in rural Switzerland. Not knowing a single soul, she quickly learned to be resourceful and to fend for herself. As a result she found work on various farms in return for food. And, along the way, she met people who treated her with respect and affection.
After the war, she attended university, earning her doctorate in Art History…After her marriage she came to the USA, to Washington, DC and Nebraska, where she helped certify a college to become a university. Throughout her fourteen years of teaching, this remarkable lady took groups of students to Europe. She knew how to lead/to take charge. She also knew how to relate to young eager students. When I asked her the one lesson of her childhood, she did not hesitate: “I learned to do what I was told when I was told.” Even now, although afflicted with dementia, this woman is cooperative and kind. She and John enjoy sharing dinners and conversation together.
For years, since experiencing our multiple corporate moves, I have met and known a diverse society. Not only are we different colors, races, religions and backgrounds, but we come from different cultures. Each person is a mirror of his or her environment. Thus, never criticize folks for what they don’t know! Instead, learn from them and add to your own knowledge and appreciation.
That belief helped me immeasurably when we moved to the Capital of the Confederacy from Connecticut. So much has changed in the thirty-one years since we came here. I loved the Virginia history with its Civil War stories, stately vintage homes and plantations built during an era of hoop skirts and parasols. How sad it is now for me to drive down our once beautiful Monument Avenue with its absence of Confederate War generals and abundance of graffiti.
Granted, for a girl from Ohio, I am not well versed in the discord that affected all those who protested last year…..some violently and some peacefully. Slavery cannot be erased, but we each can learn from history so as not to make the same mistakes again. Please, people, let’s do it with empathy and kindness. Teach our children the Golden Rule. Teach them the values that our generation holds dear.
Recently, a lingering lunch with three dear friends provided a great catch-up. We have been good pals since soon after John and I moved to Virginia…we now are scattered around the city. Conversation is never lacking. And yesterday I asked what they want to share with their grandchildren….two of the three said RESPECT and one said LOVE. To me the two are synonymous….in that how do you show love to another without manifesting respect?
Respect for another person’s feelings, opinions, beliefs, and ways of life. How easy to criticize, how easy to disagree or be rude in today’s society. Where is compassion? Where is kindness that once was the norm?
Our older son Sam and I are quite verbal and exchange views on many topics. The other day he told me, at age 55, that he believes it is “shared values from our melting pot of citizens that makes our country pull together and makes us better.” I agree, and applaud his observation. As our child, he moved several times with our family, and lived from far north and Canada to deep South of Mobile. Our four children were young, but they experienced much upheaval as a result and learned to make friends all along the way and value people for what was inside them.
Many Americans are tired of today’s rancor…tired of political infighting, and harsh disagreements on almost every issue. How can we as older people be role models if we don’t listen to each other, even if we disagree? How can we teach our younger generations that each person is to be valued, no matter their point of view? My simple answer is that it is okay to disagree but it is not okay to dishonor.
Yes, the tendency to be defensive and combative is all around us. What good does that accomplish? And yes, it hurts when someone you love adamantly refuses to take the vaccine or to give your views credence. But just as friendships must be circular to survive, so, too, must families and friends be willing to listen to each other, and never become divided. That is where I feel the older generation plays a huge role. We must set the example! It is not always easy, but it is a goal each of us should set.
Sharing our legacy is a topic to be continually pondered. We could write a book about it…and I believe there already are books on this subject. But for now, I must close with the hope that we will open our eyes to the advantage of leaving an imprint on this world by sharing basic values that have proven to work for centuries.
“The more we share, the more we have.”
“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”
“Joy multiplies when it is shared….”