As I complete another trip around the sun, I find myself reflecting on both the joys and challenges of getting older. Now that I have been promoted into the more advanced levels of this thing called Life, I have the frequent urge to share what I have learned with my younger traveling companions.
When I was younger, I did not understand all the things I now do about relating to older people. As a part of my desire to share wisdom (and also in the hope you will treat us right), I now share what we seniors would like you to know.
We don’t appreciate your predictions of doom about our future. Please no jokes about dentures, incontinence, wheelchairs and forgetting things. Not funny at any age.
Don’t tell us we look good “for our age.” Keep the compliment to “you look good.”
If you want to know how old we are, ask. If we want you to know, we will tell you. If we don’t want you to know, we won’t tell you. And we may be bold enough to question why you are asking.
Don’t insult our intelligence by asking questions that try to get at figuring out how old we are. Example, “How old were you when you moved here? How many years have you lived here?”
We have the urge to say things like “I was eight when I got my bunny. Then I was fifteen when the Smiths moved next door. I graduated from college with a 4.0. I got married five years after that …”. And we can keep the filibuster going indefinitely without ever really getting to our age. The question is whether you can keep up!
When people want too much information, we give it to them. But we control the content. An answer of too much information works every time.
Accept that we may tell you the same story many times. No eye rolling, sighing and saying, “You already told me that a hundred times already.” It is not always that we have forgotten we told you.
We simply enjoy going back in time and having you as a traveling companion. Come with us one more time. You may learn something new about the places we’ve been and the things we have done.
We may want to tell you about people you never had the opportunity to meet. The best way to keep someone’s memory alive is by remembering them. And we are happy to “introduce them” to you by talking about them.
Accept that we may tell you about the bad times too. It’s not that we enjoy going back there. Sometimes we are still trying to figure out the lessons life taught us. Sometimes we are still trying to “mine the gold” and it’s tough! Sometimes we want to share what we learned so you don’t make the same mistakes.
Let us give you advice. You can take it or leave it, but we enjoy the feeling of passing the baton on to those who may benefit from what we learned. We like the feeling of investing in a future we may not see.
Give us a minute to access the files in our brain. It’s not that we have forgotten everything. It’s simply that we have more things stored in the filing cabinet of our brain and it may take us a minute to pull out the right file.
Be patient with a little rambling. If we come across something on the way to pulling the right file, we may want to digress a minute and tell you about it. We are not confused. You just need to keep up when we switch topics!
Do not make comments about how slow we drive and we will not comment on how fast you drive. Most of us have lived long enough to witness accidents and we don’t want to be in one of them.
We already had our days of living dangerously. We now know how fragile life is and how everything can change in a second. We value the years we have collected and we are not ready to cash in our chips yet just to try to get to the store ten minutes earlier. Besides that, we want to go slow enough to enjoy the scenery.
And yes, we are secure enough to know our car horn works. We don’t need to test it every few minutes like you do.
Do not “help” us unless we ask or obviously need help. We value being independent. We don’t like even the appearance that we can’t take care of ourselves. If we stumble, see if we can right ourselves before you grab us by the arm. If we “miss our mouth,” tell us discreetly. Don’t reach over and wipe as if we were a child. We will give you the same courtesy.
On the flip side, be patient with our asking for your help. Sometimes you may think we are being overly dependent or whiney. But really we may be testing whether you will be there if we do need you. Reassure us not just with a promise for the future, but by indulging us a little now.
Listen to us tell you about our present day life. It may not sound as exciting to you as your life, but it is our life and it is important. We are not just sitting here waiting to die. We are living. Going to the store, visiting a neighbor, looking at the flower bed are the adventures of our life.
Understand we, like everyone, need to express grief over our losses. We are at the stage of life where we know, short of a miracle, we will never get to do some things again. That makes us sad. What you see as whining is actually grieving. Acknowledge the pain is real, let us talk it out and shed a tear or two.
When we get to the place where we have to accept your help, understand we appreciate all you do for us. But also know the appreciation is mixed with a sadness that we can no longer do it ourselves. Look for ways we can participate instead of completely sidelining us.
Don’t overemphasize who we used to be. That makes us sound as if we are not that person now. We are the same person, but in a different life. Feel free to ask us about the activities of our past, but acknowledge who we are right now.
Let us express our uniqueness and don’t be embarrassed by how we do it. Some of us lived with teenagers with purple hair, body piercings and tats, and smiled at their creativity. Now we may want to be a little wild ourselves. Whether it’s going to Walmart with curlers in our hair or wearing a little more makeup than you think we need, it’s all good.
Know that we may talk about dying. It’s not that we are morbid. But we have a lot of family and friends who have already gone to the other side, and we are anticipating joining them soon. Don’t deny us the anticipation of reality. It’s a simple fact. The young may die. The old must die. Help us pack our bags at our own pace.
Don’t tell us to “act our age.” We’ve never been this age before. It’s an adventure yet to be explored!