|You know that old treesjust grow stronger and old rivers grow wilder every day. But old people, they just grow lonesome waiting for someone to say, 'Hello in there. Hello.' -- John Prine|
My mother is aging. So am I, for that matter. At 85, she has decided it is time to sell her home of over 55 years, and leave her hometown. She's moving to Pittsburgh to be near some of her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and me. While I welcome the idea of having her close by, I'm also wading through a bit of grieving. My mom wasn't supposed to grow old. She was always supposed to be the strong, independent woman I modeled myself after.
We visited 3 retirement villages/homes a couple of weeks ago. While walking through the second one, I found myself screaming inside. Not here! Not with all these old people. There were women sleeping in chairs in the commons areas. Men drooling on their brown plaid shirts. This was not the place for my mother. I knew that if she ended up there, she, too, would grow old in no time.
As it turns out, we found a lovely place for her, just 6 short miles away. She already connected with one of the residents who is looking forward to having a new pinochle partner. I believe she will thrive in this place, and it will be a long time before I see the hollow look in her eyes, that exists in so many others. God knows I'm just not ready for that yet.
One of the young mothers in my church posted a beautiful tribute to the elderly population. Those who are drooling on their brown plaid shirts and staring mindlessly at televisions that no longer speak their language. I asked her if I could post it here, and she graciously agreed. Caitlin Lowry-Shegog not only has a gift for words, but she also has a gift for perception. And compassion. After you read her piece, I encourage you to watch the YouTube video I've posted of Bette Midler singing Hello in There. And then, my friends, call or visit someone who is lonely... someone who feels discarded by society. The elderly are a treasure.
Here are Caitlin's words:
There is a sadness in me. Not the kind of sadness that is the desperate lover of tragedy, sadness that catches your breath in the back of your throat and inclines you towards writing long notes to friends and leaving your valuables in the back room of the Salvation Army. Not even the sadness that accompanies missed opportunities and marred friendships, sadness that churns in your stomach and leaves you feeling slightly discontented. But the sadness that walks hand-in-hand with the passing of time, the ache that creeps through you when you imagine old men as babies and babies as old men. The frailty of all creatures is at one time a cause for cooing and swaddling and rocking and a time for shunning and relocating and abandoning.
When I was a girl I would visit a place where old men and old women went to live, although “living” is debatable. People spoke of this place in hushed tones, with furrowed brows and sad eyes. Aging was a tragedy. The old men and old women sat in oversized chairs with wheels that had scary metal bits protruding every which-way. There were tubes in their noses and sometimes in their mouths. Their voices were raspy and deep and laced with pain, and sometimes they had no voice at all. A smell hung about the air, a thick smell that stuck in your eyes and mouth and burned your nose. Non-descript prints hung on the walls with swirling shades of blue and green. They could have been anything, or nothing at all.
In each room, they sat, the discarded remnants of our civilization: WWII pilots, nurses, schoolteachers, doctors, farmers, lawyers, secretaries, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, their skin creased with time, their minds tormented with the memories they had lost or the memories they had retained. I would often get lost in their eyes, and I wondered who they had been and who they still were.
At one time, their mothers had carried each of them and lovingly brought them into the world and had in one instant fallen in love with their milky skin and their deep, bright eyes. They had learned to walk and talk and read, and they grew into men and women. They met a person whom they adored and had married, had babies, and had maybe gone to war. They were young and ambitious and filled with dreams and expectations. They lay awake at night thinking longingly about the future and all of its possibilities, and in the blink of an eye they were here, before me, unable to talk, unable to care for themselves. They were just like me, and at one time they stood in this room, this still, foggy room, and looked into the eyes of a person just like them. They had thought the same thoughts and dreamed the same dreams and felt the same sadness, the sadness that walks hand-in-hand with the passing of time.