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The death of a confrere of mine recently has me thinking. Like myself, he was in his eighties. I ask myself what does the present generation of young people think of the elderly. In the past they were respected and valued. Their death was like the loss of a library. Their wisdom and lived experience were considered priceless treasures.

Today we experience the stereotyping and demeaning of the elderly in a culture besotted with youth, sexual attractiveness, status and productivity. We use the word “old” pejoratively: “old codger”, “old woman”, “old fool”. Of course, if we live long enough we’ll all become old fools, but we have a choice about what kind of “old fool” we become. We can become a “pathetic old fool”, an embittered “old fool”, or a “contented and happy old fool” who accepts one’s age and diminishment without pathetically clinging to the past without bitterness. It’s not how old I am but how I am old.

We all seem to want a long life but don’t want to become old. We fear old age because of what it may entail. People say they will never allow themselves to reach that point. They say, half-jokingly, “just give me the end-it-all pill”. As I do, they quake at the thought of loss of control, total dependence, incontinence, a ravaged body and a lost memory. And none of us wants to be a burden on others. It takes incredible courage to let go, to be vulnerable, to allow my weaknesses of body and mind to be exposed, to be dependent.

In old age gratitude takes on a new importance. Morris West, in his own old age, said: “Once you reach a certain age there should be only one phrase left in your vocabulary: Thank-you”! With every birthday, gratitude should deepen until it colours every aspect of life”. To always live in the “now”. The future is not important anymore and the past cannot be remembered. Any fixation on the past or the future prevents me from giving my full attention to the ‘now’. It is so hard to live in the ‘now’. It takes humility not to be jealous and resentful of the young and, unfortunately, many of us don’t age well.

All his life St. Paul struggled with some physical, psychological or moral brokenness. I take comfort in Christ’s reassurance to Paul that it’s actually OK that we never fully get our act together. “My grace is all you need; My power comes to its full strength in your weakness". (2 Cor 12:9).


'It’s not how old I am but how I am old.'

And that, my friend, is real wisdom! :o)
Yes indeed.
It depends on the culture, I suppose. I understand that in Germany and some of the Scandinavian countries, they have established communal homes where college students are given free room and board to live in a community of elderly residents, provide companionship, do chores and share lives with the older residents while they attend college or university. I think that is an amazing idea, but I doubt we shall see such thinking anytime soon in North America.

There is a tendency to marginalize the elderly. Predatory nursing homes and over-priced assisted living facilities are the primary games with too many instances reported of elder abuse and exploitation.

I've heard of one of the Northeast states experimenting with homes for elderly stocked with plants and pets for a dynamic environment.

Given the demographics, politicians had better step up and start planning for greater regulation of exploitative industries, or there is going to be a crisis of epic proportions (as if there isn't already).
The idea of mixing old and young I think would be fantastic - but as you say not likely to be a reality in Ireland.
Abuse in nursing homes unfortunately IS a reality here.
i prefer Dylan Thomas' words

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.