There’s a story that needs to be told. It’s the story of what’s happening with our culture’s elderly, and I feel (at least somewhat) qualified to tell it. It is, in its entirety, beyond the scope of a single blog post and may hopefully someday come to fruition as a published book. This is my attempt to flesh out a few of the many aspects of this tale.
My initial plan was a comparison of the way that the wisdom of the elderly is received (or not) across several different cultures. Everyday I see older Americans that are essentially “warehoused” in long term care facilities and treated, essentially, as burdens on a society where an individual’s inherent worth is directly measured by the ability to actively contribute to the capitalist structure. The collective wisdom amassed by this population from having considerably more life experience and, as a result, sage advice on life in general, is largely ignored as it simply does not fit into the scheme of our social structure.
I have personally benefitted from much advice of this type as I am fortunate enough to be in a professional position to do so. I regularly meet couples that have been married for 50-60 or more years and have shared anecdotes that have helped my own relationship with my wife. I have sat with a wide spectrum of people from very diverse backgrounds and have found something valuable in all of these experiences. The unfortunate truth is that most people, unless they have regular contact with an elderly and revered family member, never get the opportunity to hear such stories. There is no fixed dollar amount on the wisdom of the elderly and it therefore too often is lost.
While we as a society can surely benefit from such wisdom, there is a flip side. My patients light up when they find that someone takes a genuine interest in what they have to say. They sense that they are important in a way on which they may have long since given up. My interest provides them with an outlet to share their story and, in doing so, give a voice to their own personal narrative that may help them come to peace with the lives they have lived. Knowing that they still have something of value to offer at least one person can be the fuel that ignites a meaningful relationship at a time when their spirits are at their lowest.
I understand that this post barely scratches the surface as to what I would like to convey regarding our elderly population, but I feel it is a good start. Until next time.