Three Life Lessons from an Older Adult
My husband and I had the pleasure of listening to an elderly gentleman as he shared a few of his life stories. He lives in the same senior care home as my mother-in-law.
My mother-in-law was seated in an easy chair near a window as we read to her and talked with her for about an hour before she began to nod. We continued to sit with her knowing that she would wake up for a moment and look for us.
As we sat, the elderly gentleman walked into the sitting room using a walker. He was a tall man who appeared a bit fragile. He gingerly sat in a cushy chair next to the window and said “good morning” in a clear strong voice. The care home works with older adults who have special care needs. Some residents are physically fragile and need help with daily living. Some have memory concerns like my mother-in-law.
Visitors never really know what frame of mind the residents are in. Older adults despise the loss of their independence. Don’t we all? They are frustrated by the loss of mobility. They are also confounded by the loss of their mental faculties. These residents see themselves as functional adults who are able to take care of themselves, but the reality is they need assistance. Senior care homes can be depressing for the residents and visitors. Today, however, everyone seemed content.
The gentleman began to talk with us as my mother-in-law nodded. He shared some interesting facts about himself. He was born on December 7th, the day the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor. He said “all of a sudden you’re close to 100 and you say how did I get here so fast?” He could not quite remember his age. “84 or somewhere around there,” he said. His wife was four years younger than he. “She was 80.” He added “It took me four months to convince her to marry me.” “I asked a fellow, how to get her attention and he said ‘send her flowers.’ So that is what I did. I sent her one flower a day for four months.”
He went on to say “flowers could be expensive.” My husband asked what type of flowers he gave her. With a smile, he said “whatever the florist had that’s what she got.” He smiled easily when he spoke of that special time in his life.
He said that he spent many years in the air force and then worked for the FAA. When he got much older, he decided to give up his driver’s license because he started seeing people who were not there. “I was afraid I would kill myself and kill other people.” “So, I gave up my driver’s license and that is when it went downhill.” “That’s how it is.” The therapist in me noted that his facial expression was congruent with his tone and mood.
Talking to the gentleman was such a pleasure. He shared more than his fractured memories with us. He shared wisdom about time. Tomorrow is not promised and time waits for no one. We spend a great deal of time focusing on building a career, building the illusion of wealth or building perceived status. We work all of our lives accumulating material possessions that cannot replace our mental abilities, lost memories or physical mobility. In a short period of time, he gave me quite a bit to think about and I share this with you.
Here are three lessons that I pulled from our conversation:
Take the time to build meaningful relationships. You will have wonderful interactions that you will never, ever forget.
Slow down and savor every moment. We rush through life as if we are in a race; however, the finish line represents a permanent ending.
Listen graciously to the stories of older adults. They have been where we are trying to go. They have much to share. In addition to their stories being relevant, the stories are entertaining, educational and enthralling.
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