The people who have most understood, sympathized, and walked with me through this time of pain have overwhelmingly been older than myself. My "lunch buddies," my swim/exercise class, my Mom's small group - most of these folks are 15-30 years older than I am. Friends my age are compassionate and encouraging, but they don't have any idea what chronic pain is like. Please understand that I wouldn't wish this on anyone... but those who have been through some pain have a unique perspective that has been especially helpful for me.
I am ashamed to admit that I used to consider "old folks" to somehow be different from me. They couldn't possibly understand any part of my life, or have any wisdom to impart, or be active members of society. "Elders" were equivalent to "Grannies" who are meant to only play with grandchildren and bake as often as possible; otherwise, stay out of my life. Although they deserved (and received) my respect, I could not see how they were like me.
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” -Mark TwainI want to publicly apologize to all of the EXCELLENT ELDERS that I know (and to those I have yet to meet). I see, now, that you are actually people! (Insert chuckle here.) I realize, finally, that we have more in common than not... we all have a variety of (and sometimes longer) life experiences. The more I get to know some of the elders that are in my "village," (later in April, V=Village) the more excited I am to hear their stories and know more of their lives. They have traveled, had children, worked, played, and voted. They are volunteering, giving of their time, effort, and experience. They are continuing to grow themselves, learning new things and teaching new things. They have bad days, occasional bad attitudes, sometimes bad hair days, and they keep "starting over" again and again.
I'd like to add the following: "As I get older, my elders get smarter!"
My sister-in-law always wanted to live with her extended family, with grandmothers and granchildren under the same roof (e.g. The Waltons). I never thought this was a good idea. As we've grown older, she may have changed her mind... and I may have, too! Now, I see the benefits to the older and the younger generations living together (provided that there is LOTS of space and good boundaries set in advance). It may no longer be feasible in our current age, but we are losing a good part of our culture as we lose touch with our elders.
I have long detested the way our society (in general) treats our elders; but this has been a philosophical, rather than personal, opinion. I now see these elders as PEOPLE, with dreams, memories, hopes, fears, and life left to live. This business of "putting up bodies" in hospital/homes is not good for the patients, for their caregivers, for their families. I have a friend who works in nursing homes, and frequently she is frustrated by the over-medication and under-care given to her patients.
I realize that there comes a point where a person needs more care than can be given at home. For those folks, they need excellent and compassionate professional care (and, please let me say that there are some excellent places available for this). The home caregivers need to be guilt-free about providing other care for their elders. (I've seen my share of caregiving, and those people deserve to be twice-blessed!) And, as a society, we need to re-think the repercussions of lengthening lifespan without lengthening health, too. But, these are larger topics for another day.
In the meantime, here's what I've learned: my life is better because I have friends who are elders.