My friend has lived in a “place” for oldsters for the last 4 years. Her husband died about 3 years ago. Before that, her youngest child died after a long battle with cancer. And recently, less than a year ago, her only daughter died. She mourns the loss of her home which grounded her, gave her peace, supported her creativity, cushioned life’s hardest knocks. She’s mourning the loss of her daughter and son who’ve died, and loss of another who sees red when she says green.
Does old age bring happiness? The topic of a NYTimes op-ed on December 5th brought many comments. These spoke to me; “I am 95, and my mind is still functioning, I have an excellent memory, and a great family and friends — all of whom are one, two or three generations younger than I. I am content, but not happy. I miss my husband and the many friends of my generation…” And this; “Mr. Brooks should walk down the halls of America’s nursing homes and see the number of elderly women sitting in the hall outside their rooms, staring listlessly into space most of the day, or hear their screams of “help!” at night, repeated again and again…”
“The elderly in this country are essentially invisible. We have little role in society. Much of our time is spent looking after our aging bodies…” Last quote, I promise; “Mr. Brooks suggests that elders have more empathy, knowledge and maybe wisdom. Yes, some, but many do not. Surely he has seen the stubbornness, the surviving hatred and the loss of perspective that too often accompanies old age, not to mention of those in need, physically, emotionally and financially…”
Yesterday in a store I cringed at the check-out counter, seeing the employees with their cheery faces and wearing holiday hats. I hoped they would not bestow Christmas wishes upon me in that sugary sincerity that sets my teeth on edge. And not just because I’m not Christian, don’t celebrate Christmas and don’t appreciate all the frou-frou Christmas songs, decorations, false cheer that abounds. What about if you’re my friend, and cannot smile even with all this the in-your-face holiday cheerfulness?
I stand on the outside of Christmas yet I’m amazed when people stare at my son who talks too loud, or has a temper tantrum in a public place. Where’s the hearty ‘love your fellow man’ spirit? We all know to try not to judge the person badly for parking in the “Handicapped” space when we see them get out and walk to the store. We can’t always SEE a disability or disease or mental illness. (Card, right; Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. Quote by Barbara DeAngelis)
The word depression doesn’t light up on our foreheads for the rest of humanity. If they could see the word wouldn’t they take note and then treat the wearer tenderly and with compassion? Maybe. I don’t have answers to the December dilemma.This is what Jews call the fawning Christmas-ness that occurs in December that doesn’t include the stranger or the outsider. It also doesn’t offer the deep need we all have to connect sincerely to other people, to feel kindness and respect because we live and breathe, have hopes and dreams, no matter our age, infirmities, and abilities.
When I’ve been in depression I rarely went into stores beyond shopping for food. I didn’t pay attention to much of anything around me, or anyone. But I have learned to appreciate freedom from depression. And I love my friend and feel pain for her losses and her circumstances. Sometimes all we can do is feel. I’ve been carrying this quote around with me, by Richard S. Wheeler a western novelist from a book published in 1983, Winter Grass;
“We have to keep letting go of things before we can grasp the future. The more we cling to what was, the more we freeze ourselves where we are. Like excess baggage on a long journey. How do we get where we’re going encumbered by it all?”
Here’s a young woman who figured out how to let go. Trash the Dress.
P.S. The top card has an Irish blessing; “May the blessing of light be on you. Light without and light within.” I apologize for getting this out today, the first day of January. Originally written December 5th. Oh well, these things happen.