I took a walk with a friend not too long ago and during our conversation she mentioned an incident with her married daughter. She had gone to watch her grandson play a Little League baseball game. The game was rained out – not something that happens often in Southern California! With the game cut short, my friend related that her daughter began to berate her for not paying more attention to her grandson. “You hardly ever come to his games!” The conversation went downhill from there. My friend was left very saddened by the exchange with her daughter. She found it hard to defend herself because “getting into it” with her daughter just means she sees even less of her. She observed to me that she would love to attend more of her grandson’s games, but her daughter never has provided the schedule of games even though she has requested the schedule many times. My friend then went on to say that she texts her daughter from time to time and never hears back from her. My friend has stopped calling her daughter because she never picks up the phone, apparently doesn’t listen to the voice mail messages she leaves, and doesn’t call back in any event.
I pointed out that her daughter is a busy woman with a job, a family, a husband, all demanding her attention and devotion. My friend acknowledges all of that, but the inattention, however justified, still hurts.
The same friend recently went on vacation with her extended family. She described an incident in which her sister-in-law asked my friend’s children, in her presence, what their plans were for the holidays. My friend was devastated! It wasn’t the question that hurt; it was the fact that the exchange occurred in a way which made it clear that her input was irrelevant. “Input from me was not required. The ‘adults’ will decide the agenda and I, as an old person, will be expected to go along with whatever is decided. I’m not included in the ‘adults’ category anymore; I’m just old (67) and so no longer thought of as having any input in these matters.”
I met another friend who just celebrated her 47th wedding anniversary. She and her husband went out to dinner and a show, and had a good time. But, she didn’t receive a letter, card, email or text message from any of their children wishing them a happy anniversary. Her comment: “Well, you know, the younger generation just doesn’t do that kind of thing anymore. . . I understand, but it still hurts!”
I can remember my mother-in-law complaining of waiting around her apartment for her grandson or granddaughter to show up. The grandchildren had said they would come by. Even though she had other things she wanted to do out in the community, she stayed at home waiting. The grandchildren, by contrast had spoken casually, and didn’t think it was really so important to come by at a set time or even to show up at all if there was something else that came up that made the visit less urgent or attractive. So my mother-in-law sat at home, waiting, sad, and alone. She understood, but it still hurt.
If you visit retirement communities, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and other places where older folks live and/or are warehoused, those old people exhibit lots of emotional states; boredom, anxiety, depression, but the one that stands out most for me is just plain old sadness. It’s the sadness of those hundreds or thousands of small hurts that others dish out to them without though or intention.
This month I celebrated reaching the age when I am covered by Medicare saving me hundreds of dollars a month in medical insurance premiums. But, I also then passed a threshold at which I am on the road to being old. I’m still alive, still a vibrant person not willing to be put on the shelf. I have work to do, places to go, meetings to attend, and decisions to make in the course of my life and work. I’m very optimistic by nature and have a full life. The small and casual hurts are just beginning, but I can feel them. I tell myself that I need to build my own life with my own friends and not let the hurts accumulate, but those small cuts still keep coming despite my best efforts.
George Bernard Shaw is credited (by some) with the observation that “Youth is wasted on the young.” There is no getting around the fact that the truth of this observation is itself not generally appreciated by the young, and so on. But, we are all entitled to dignity, kindness and respect, and that includes the elderly.