Do you know what it’s like to be old? I don’t now and I surely didn’t when caring for my now deceased mother. One of her favorite treats when I came to visit was going out to eat. The restaurant of her choice catered to seniors and was always filled with other adult children like myself, taking their elderly parents out for a meal.
I was always struck by the level of criticism in the conversations I overheard around me. Of course, I failed to see my own culpability as I too became a bit exasperated at much of what my mother did. Why didn’t she go out more and take advantage of the local senior center? Why couldn’t she focus more on the future instead of living so much in the past? Why couldn’t she manage her junk mail instead of letting it pile up?
I have an elderly uncle and aunt who live nearby and I have become involved in helping their adult daughter care for them. I have thought a great deal about how I interacted with my own mother in her final years and I now believe that much of what I did was driven by my complete and total lack of understanding of what it is like to grow old.
I believe that is a central problem for all caregivers – we have no experience with growing old. We can manage situations with our children since we have the experience of having been children from which to draw insight and solutions. But not so with growing old. So now I am trying to help my cousin “walk a mile in the moccasins” of her aging parents. I shared a story with her that seemed to help and now I would like to share it with you.
Years ago I had some success pursuing a career as a commercial actor. One day I was hired for a television commercial to be shot on a hilltop out in the country. When I arrived and made my way to the makeup trailer, I spotted a very elderly gentleman in a wheelchair with his caregiver negotiating their way to the trailer.
I recognized him immediately as the male actor who had been featured in the legendary “Where’s the Beef?” advertising campaign for Wendy’s hamburgers. One spot featured a woman named Clara Peller, who went on to achieve celebrity status with that commercial. The other spot featured the man I was about to work with and faded away in favor of Clara’s spot.
The day was sunny and hot and getting that elderly gentleman to his spot beside me on the hill was no easy task. As the day dragged on, I got up the courage to ask the question that had been burning in my mind since I first saw him. At his advanced age, why was he still doing this? So I asked and his reply shall be forever etched in the recesses of my mind. He looked at me and said, “I do it because it gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”
Try for a moment to imagine a day in your life where you have no reason to get out of bed. Some of the overburdened and overwhelmed among you might find that appealing, but day after day? With the only end in sight being your own passing from this earth?
Those are the moccasins worn by many seniors. Think about that the next time you find yourself exasperated with them.