Generational Kinship

03 Feb 2021

The roots of a lifelong compassion for the elderly

By Christine Hall

“I have been reflecting on your question,” I wrote. “I could not pin it yesterday. I think partly because I have never been asked, and maybe, partly because I did not know. It was just always there.”

I typed these words back in 2018 as I sat at my laptop contemplating a simple question posed by my Pastor; “What is it about the elderly that gets to your heart so much?" It had unexpectedly brought tears to my eyes, leaving me speechless.

The question came following my earnest request to organize a church fellowship event for our elderly members and homebound. Wanting to foster fellowship in a pre-pandemic world, I had suggested ideas: A Spring Fling, an Easter Tea, or an Ice Cream Social. I was ready to make something fun happen!

But the tears were an unexpected accompaniment to my “pitch.”

To help understand why a simple question brought up such deep emotions, I reflected. The conclusion I came to is somewhat complex and centers around my experiences as a child, adolescent, and adult spending time with elders.

Beginning at a young age, I cultivated compassion for the elderly and the importance of embracing these people who have so much life experience and wisdom to impart. In times like these, we could all use
more embracing.

As a young child, my mother would take my brother and me to Penick Village in Southern Pines to visit my great Aunt Vivian. Aunt Vivian had endured multiple strokes and was chair bound, unable to feed or care for herself. But she could smile, laugh, and communicate with slurred speech. Her body was failing, but her mind was alert and capable of experiencing both joy and sorrow.

Through these visits over the years, I experienced a lot. I saw the isolation of elderly who had no one to visit them. I saw the emptiness that was possible at that stage in life. I sometimes remember other residents of Penick noticing my family joking around with my great aunt, the nurses, and staff. They would join in the fun; peddling their feet on the floor in their wheelchairs as they made their way over to share celebratory cake or ice cream "from outside the walls." It may have been the highlight of their week. In this elderly care unit, there were some moments of joy, but often it was a time filled with sadness.

As a young person just getting my bearings in the world, these impressions were long lasting.

These memories have cultivated compassion into each interaction I have with an elderly person, whether it is at church, with family, or at the grocery store. It also is applied to my time with my grandmother, Rosa, who adores visiting with her great-grandchildren at age 96. These moments leave an impact on young and old alike.

Fast forward three years from this reflection in 2018 and I realize how terribly frightening the pandemic has been for our elderly neighbors, friends, and family. Despite our highly connected world, many have suffered in silence, unable to connect – physically or virtually.

Keeping our elderly optimistic, healthy, and ‘connected’ may require a little more creativity and forethought than before, but there are still meaningful ways to reach out.

• BAND TOGETHER: Some area neighborhoods have created online networks through Facebook and email to identify neighbors in need, offering to shop and pick-up groceries or medications, drive to medical appointments, etc.

• SHARE CHEER: Call a senior living facility nearby and ask if they offer volunteer programs. Offering a caring note, a bouquet, or balloons to someone who is alone can have lasting impact.

• PLUG IN: We can help seniors cope by helping them learn ways to connect through technology.

So, a simple question, "What is it about the elderly that gets to your heart so much?" unearthed much beneath the surface to consider. But I think I dug it up. So, what will you do for the elderly this Spring?

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