Friday, April 21, 2017

Our older generations often the forgotten ones

     No matter how you want to gloss it over, or ignore it for that matter, the fact is there is a huge portion of our population that is elderly. Their collective voice gets lost in a society obsessed with remaining youthful and egocentric.
     You can’t look the other way at this American dilemma and have a clear conscious. It’s a plight that is not going away on its own.

      A senior population needs appropriate affordable housing, transportation, care giving and proximity to medical services. I could go on and on about the limited availability, or perhaps lack of, such services in our rural part of the state. It does take solid advocacy with persistence to speak out on these issues, and to get our legislators to listen and take action. There is something wrong if it takes 10 years of politicking to get proposed bus transportation around Keuka Lake, for example.   

     Older folks are not advocating for themselves as a group. Why? There are a couple reasons.
     Often they have lost their ability to speak up,  too physically and emotionally worn down by life’s complexities to help themselves. The world moves so fast around them, and they no longer feel able to participate. Once part of the productive segment of society, now these are the same people who have been put out to pasture. They may question their usefulness, and rest on their previous laurels quietly in the background underappreciated by a youthful society.
     Many seniors feel that no one is listening either, and why bother. Voting is down among this group as a result.

     There might be a solution. When younger folks learn to appreciate their elders, they will see their needs much clearer and be willing to advocate for them. 
     Kindness is a trait learned from practice, and it is especially important for holding up intergenerational connections. It is not someone else’s responsibility to check on your elderly neighbor, or give a helping hand without being asked. Consider it yours. 
     If you take a moment or two to simply listen to someone much older than yourself, you will walk away amazed at the wisdom and history you have gleaned.  Stopping in for a game of cards would go a long way in developing appreciation and compassion for fellow human beings. That’s a lesson that can’t be taught from a textbook.

     How many young children experience the thrill of hopping on great-grandpa’s knee for a ride, or playing with his walker? And for the older member of the family, a little bit of loneliness has been put to rest for a short spell. I just keep thinking that, if we could find strategic ways for all ages to serve and interact with our seniors, we could in turn realize positive outcomes for our younger population too.
     As a society we tend to push aside the truths of growing older, and fail to recognize that our seniors have fewer social opportunities and loss of freedoms, such as driving to go where they want to when they want. For example, most of their friends are no longer alive, and it is on rare occasions that they do get together with one or two that are remaining, They usually have never been “phone people” so if they are lonely, they are not going to call someone.

     A friend told me that she asked her elderly 96 year-old father what he did when he felt lonesome, and he said he prays. He doesn't feel that he's been forgotten because he knows people care, but he also doesn't want people to think they are obligated to visit him either.
     In other societies, the senior is revered and honored. Not so much in ours unfortunately. A lot of this rests on the simple fact that society has changed, and no longer do family units live close by.

     There is a beautiful story in my neighborhood about the passing of one family’s patriarch this winter. His huge family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren live in close proximity. They gathered for a memorial celebration along with assorted lifelong friends. His time on earth was up, but his life was not in vain as evidenced in all the lessons they shared from grandpa in their eulogies. His family is a disappearing type, though.
     On the other hand, dealing with an aging parent while working in a distant city requires a juggling role. In the meantime, pity that elderly person depending on local resources – scarce as they may be – and gracious neighbors or friends to get by, and often barely.   

     A major problem is a lack of activities in rural areas that are geared toward the older population many of whom have recently retired and lost their circle of work friendships.

     There is a newly-formed wilderness awareness club, Wayland Wilderness Warriors, and the founder, a younger person, hopes to get everyone - children and seniors included - involved in gardening, hiking and field trips to places like Pollywog Holler, Letchworth, Healing Spirits Herbal Farm and Education Center, art fests and walkathons.  Check its Facebook page.

      Consider it a Catch 22. For some seniors the golden years bring new opportunities, and for others an endless stream of betrayals, humiliation and loneliness. Not everyone experiences older age the same, and depending on their resources, it can be a dream or a nightmare.
     I have only skimmed the surface, and with your additional thoughts and stories, I will continue the conversation in another column. You tell me.