Tag: female

The Humanity of Our Elderly

In the carefully-equalized biome of the retirement center I work at, there live a great diversity of people who refuse categorization:

A man with dementia who sometimes recognizes me, smiles, and may say some sort of hello–who sometimes doesn’t recognize anyone and is shuffled to a table by his unspeaking aide.

A woman who has been rude to me more than any other resident combined as she is chatting with a friend at a table. I overhear her say she won’t leave the cafeteria just yet, “I’ve been alone all morning.”

One of my favorite residents with a sense of humor so dry, you could use it as a pumice stone dates another of the favorites who cannot wait to hail me to the table to tell me about their date last night. He laughs as he explains that the date would not end because neither of them could get up from the couch.

Right next door to the laughing couple who joke blushingly about stealing “sugars” at the table, is the circle full of mourners who have just been told that a good friend’s daughter, a long-time friend of them all, has passed away unexpectedly. They cry and talk with heads close together; they hug each other and apologize to me for staying so late past close.

Sometimes I feel utterly filled up by the humanity of the residents. They seem so human, so unrecognizable inside the stereotypes that society wants to smother them with.

They infantilize each other; they joke about being in the way at every turn, at being useless, at being messy or incapable of something or another. They get sick, and I don’t see them for a while. They start off walking to the table, but they graduate soon to a walker or a wheelchair.

Many of them remember my name, though the chances are slim I’ll remember theirs.

I remember, “Jersey accent, coffee with his meal, sits at the table on the far right facing the room.”

I remember, “Two coke zeros to-go, always up to the husband who is never well enough to come down.”

I remember, “A tall glass of ice, red walker, her doctor says she can’t have caffeine.”

I wonder sometimes what I’ll be like in my old age and whether I’ll live joyfully, flirting with my husband at the table with me, getting knocked down by the aches and pains, but laughing through it. Or, perhaps, I’ll be scowling and distrustful of the young help, but I’ll be so lonely, no husband to greet me in my apartment, no children to visit me on Sundays.

I love these people, and they astonish me. What stories I will write, taking a piece here and a piece there, a funny smile, a quirk, a name, and I will make them immortal. I will not let their years pass into oblivion, because they have crossed the path of a writer.

Yes, the residents are mostly Trump-supporters and they occasionally get pretty crotchety when things aren’t cooked the way they’d like and the rolls aren’t their favorite kind and “what do you mean, the coke machine isn’t working?”

But, they are so beautifully human, so unadorned with stereotype. I can categorize them no more.


Parents, Love Your Children

Tiny child, hungry for a small voice of assurance, looks into bewildered eyes. These eyes can’t seem to adjust, they blink and blink and try to find themselves in reality. Miracle of life, perfect and in-need, parents feed the child with soft words and hug her close to their chests. These adults, fully-formed in brain and in body do try to conceive of a greater love than this as they smell the rosy cheeks, pinch the chubby folds of kicking legs, peel radioactive diapers from the rashy butt.

But these parents, these humans braced for a life time of unshakable devotion–they forget. As this child grows a brain capable of thought, a mouth capable of speech that stings, a heart full of compulsions that lead her in directions that are firmly at opposite poles of their vision for her, they find no more chubby body to cling to, to smell and kiss, so they grab their dreams and ideals and clutch them fiercely to themselves. They sew protective garments for this new, living doll, stuffed full of expectations and fears. They don’t want to lose, too, these carefully nurtured visions.

But what of the child, once coddled, once adored, once spoken so softly to? She does still feel the phantom arms around her and dream of those words reaching her ears again. A simple, “I love you,” and trembling, tear-soaked hug bulging with hopes for her. This grown-up child still finds those bewildered eyes, but sees in her parent’s arms that eery doll; she feels the incongruity; she desires that they would leave this phantom of her created in their fear and invite her back. Her age has not changed her desire for acceptance, and her age has made her no less deserving of it. Her mind, her heart with lonely, searching calls, they are scared and isolated for fear of the doll, of the clutching, wide-eyed parents, and of herself.

There is no age at which a child feels ready to disappoint their parents. There is no age at which she needs those soft words less than before. But she does grow used to that odd, incongruous doll, and at some point, fears that they love it more than her. She won’t ask them to get rid of it, then. She knows it would hurt them to have to let it go.