06 August 2011

On Growing Old and the Ignorance of Youth

A couple of weekends ago, we were far from home celebrating my Beloved's mother's birthday; about 365 miles away, in fact.

For all of you who are now green with envy at my being so far from the 'outlaws', let me say immediately that this vast distance is a big problem for us. I actually like my in-laws and wish they were closer to hand, particularly as they get older and more infirm. My own father and step-mum live 200 miles away, and the same sentiment applies.

My Beloved's father is not, to put it mildly, a well man. In respect for the squeamish among you, I will not catalogue his impressive collection of surgical procedures. Suffice it to say that his heart is not likely to be made available for transplant ...

On the Monday after the festivities, we convinced him to see the doctor about an acute problem he was having. The doctor, on seeing how breathless he was, checked his blood pressure and pulse and promptly sent him to hospital where he was admitted.

I find myself thinking more and more about the ravages of age—perhaps because I am in my late fifties and beloved members of the generation before mine provide a salutary warning of what could lie ahead of me ... I reflect on how active and vital my father-in-law used to be—he did 20-mile walks easily when I first met him, and was involved in all manner of activities—and how much he struggles now. I see his frustration at the diminishing of his powers, and contemplate the inevitability that lies not far enough ahead of us ...

As a younger man, I hardly ever thought of ageing, let alone being old. We seem unable to grasp that the old were once the young, and that, one day, we will become the old, should we be lucky enough to live so long.  This seems to produce a disconnect in us that impacts forcefully on the way we treat the old.  We talk to them as though they are infants rather than possessors of hard-won experience; we see them as inconveniences to be stuck away in homes instead of people who spent themselves to give us a good start in life. For the young who are prepared to listen, the old are a source of wisdom and good advice; they have seen it all before, been there, done that, suffered and survived harder times than any we have seen.

I am disgusted by the contempt that certain elements of the young seem to display for the old.  Then again, they seem to be the sort of ignorant fools who show contempt for anything and anyone they perceive to be vulnerable; the sort of scum that torments puppies and terrorises old ladies.  One day, they may get a taste of their own medicine ...

I know there are old people who are bitter and obnoxious—I have met a few—who expect respect but give none.  Some of them have been that way all their lives and see no reason to change, some have become that way because of the way they have been treated. Nevertheless, in general, we should cherish our old folks, especially our parents and grandparents, particularly those who have helped us to find our way in life.

My father-in-law came out of hospital last Friday, much improved, much less breathless, but on additional medication. We are grateful for every second of his life.

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