Sunday, July 6, 2014

Making a Mockery of the Elderly

All of us enjoy having flowers or bows stuck or glued to our heads, don't we? If we don't, why would we make such a disrespectful display of an elderly woman celebrating her 116th birthday? She loves it, doesn't she? Sure she does. She probably didn't have anything to say about this disgusting display of stupidity meant to, what? Honor her? I hardly think it's an honor when you are used as a display piece for some else's benefit.

I have to get my Nora Ephron mood on here because this calls for a caustic response to the thoughtless actions of people who are supposed to care and respect for our elderly. How many nursing homes, assisted living residences or other facilities routinely engage in this nonsense? Yes, nonsense. This woman didn't live as long as she did to be made clown-like in her advanced age. She has earned respect and even a sense of reverence because, from my perspective, she is a living treasure.

Fast forward and let's turn to Japan. In that country, which is beginning to see an explosion of the elderly, there has always been a reverence for those of advanced age. Tradition required that the eldest son took care of his parents without question. He didn't have to be told by a social worker that they needed a place to live, medicine or food. It was understood and no daughter-in-law questioned this filial duty because she, too, saw the unwritten and unspoken obligation.

In fact, in Japan, the eldest of the elderly may have a special designation and are known as national treasures. We tend to forget that these individuals are keepers of the flame of history and we fail to allow them to help us record all that they have seen personally.

How can a textbook compare to the audio recording of someone who saw the beginnings of the industrial age, the invention of the light bulb, the civil rights or women's suffrage movement? Have you ever seen the famous Dorothea Lange photos taken during the Dust Bowl Era of Florence Owens Thompson? What about that photo, famous above all others, of the "Migrant Mother" affected you? You can see she's thinking, "How am I going to feed these children? Where will we go tonight and who will help us?" But you can listen to the actual recording of the woman's voice because someone was bright enough to capture it for us.

In China, families are required to care for and to visit the elderly. There's a law that demands it. The "Elderly Rights Law" makes it illegal to either neglect or snub your elderly. How many people in the US are doing that right now? Do we really need a law to tell us what is human decency? Have we gone that far away from the care and help of others? I suppose we have forgotten quite a few things our parents and grandparents taught us, especially those two words that I hear so infrequently, "Excuse me." How many times has someone pushed past you and not even looked back to see if you are still on your feet?

If we fail to care for and respect our elderly, what kind of nation have we become? I looked at that video of the 116-year-old woman with the flowers pasted on her head and there was no joy in my heart. I saw a vulnerable woman who was being pushed in front of media and video cameras like a trained seal and I wondered how she felt.

I have a nagging suspicion that she was too afraid to do much of anything except give some labored responses to the same old questions asked of everyone considered exceptionally old--"How does it feel being over 100?" Oh, it feels just grand, I can imagine, especially when you can't even get up out of bed without assistance. "What's your secret to old age?" Well, just taking one day at a time. Hmm, not one week at a time? That would be one answer I haven't heard at all.

I wonder if some of those folks would like to say it was due to lots of hard liquor or Jack Daniels or wild living or eating all the pies they could stuff in their faces. What does it take, indeed.

Respect the elderly. If you're fortunate, you'll be there some day and you'll really appreciate it.