I have several friends who are going through really tough times. As we age there are some things that you don’t expect. We all picture growing old gracefully and walking off into the sunset together. It’s sad, but for most of us this is not the case. Many things can happen that change your world. They sneak up on us and suddenly you are in a foreign country trying to learn to speak the language and find your way through a maze.
I think one of the hardest things is when one person is well and the other is not. When I was young I never thought what it would be like to have to care for someone. What it would be like to be on call 24/7. Never to be able to go out for a meal or visit with friends.
Caregiving is one of the most stressful tasks on this earth. What if you are afraid to leave home because your spouse may fall while you are gone? What if the dependence of that person on you grows obsessive and you have to account for any moment away? What if every time you walk away to another room you are called again and again to come back. The person you love has turned into a demanding attention seeker. They have not done this deliberately but fear inhabits them and being alone triggers terrible anxiety. They did not choose this path. It was foisted upon them. Age happened.
When we are young we never see the anguish that can be aging. We can see all of this as a burden for us and turn away. Yet simple things can make a difference. Volunteering to visit for an hour or two while the caregiver gets out. Making a double recipe for dinner for your family and sharing it. Even words of understanding and encouragement can help.
While we are young we need to show compassion for those whose life is in crisis. In order to do that we first have to notice. The elderly can so often be ignored.
I have long been fond of this poem by Ogden Nash. It shows us how we are blind to those who are aged.
People expect old men to die,
They do not really mourn old men.
Old men are different. People look
At them with eyes that wonder when…
People watch with unshocked eyes;
But the old men know when an old man dies.