I first dragged my girls to play piano at nursing homes when they were in middle school. I wanted them to see firsthand what it’s like to get old–really old. I also wanted them to know what happens to you if you can’t take care of yourself any longer: Strangers do it. Enough said. At first, my oldest was intimidated by the bizarre behavior of those whose wits had failed. While she played, one woman kept yelling at her to, “Get out of my house.” My youngest went squeamish at the smells and sights.
While those experiences had a sobering effect on them, it didn’t last long and that’s probably a good thing. Why dwell on ones demise before one reaches the brink of all possibility? As teenagers now, their lives are mostly all ahead of them. They are navigating those chapters after, “The Preface.” For those in the homes where they played Chopin and Bach, life is mostly all behind in the chapters before, “The End.”
What most of us seem to forget, though, is that ALL of Life’s chapters carry equal importance. What good is the Introduction without the Epilogue? How can you understand Chapter 27 if you haven’t read chapter 8? The finest part of our stories ultimately comes at the Conclusion; that transfixing moment where all the tribulations and triumphs that made us human culminate. Who were we? How did we navigate our birthrights? Ultimately, what did we offer this world where we make such a very, brief presence?
I cherished my children from the moment I knew they were forming inside of me. My husband and I marveled over their first words, held our breaths at their first steps, dried their tears and held them close. Someday, though, someone else will hear their last words, watch their final steps and hopefully, hold them very, very close. We will likely not even be here when our girls reach the very age we are now. I have done the math. So, I have to hope that the world they are aging into will one day embrace the wrinkles, the mottled skin, and the dementias. For it does not now and the gap between our young and old is very wide indeed.
How to bridge it? Take the kids to Grandpa’s. So what if he is cantankerous and crotchety. All the better. Let them see how they don’t want to grow up. Pay your kids to rake the leaves off, “Old Aunt Becky’s” porch. Better yet, if your own parents are beginning to lose their grip, move them in with you. Even in the moderate stages of Alzheimer’s many are finding it both cheaper and more rewarding than a nursing home. At the very least, you’ve offered the example to your children. There’s really no time like the present. (Helen Hudson cared for her grandmother for 13 years when she had Alzheimer’s. “Kissing Tomatoes,” is her story of those years). http://www.helen-hudson.com.