AGEISM-MAKING SPACE FOR THE ELDERLY

Henri Nouwen believes that the question is not:” how to go out and help the elderly, but how to create the space where they can be heard and listened to from within with careful attention”.  He goes on to say that we often want to: “preach, teach or cure” and that prevents us from: “perceiving and receiving what those we care for have to offer”.  Henri believes that: “healing first of all takes place by the restoration of self-worth”.  He believes this is not possible: “unless there is someone able to discover the beauty of the other and willing to receive it as a precious gift”.  Henri concludes: “where else do we realize that we are valuable people except in the eyes of those who by their care affirm our own best self?”  He admits that this is: “far from easy. Old age is hidden not just from our eyes, but much more from our feelings.  In our deepest self we keep living with the illusion that we will always be the same.  We not only tend to deny the real existence of old men and women living in their closed rooms and nursing homes, but also the old man or woman who is slowly awakening in our own center.  They are strangers, and strangers are fearful.  They are intruders threatening to rob us of what we consider our own’.  That paragraph is so powerful!  I believe this is the heart and center of all ageism!  I repeat Henri’s words again: “They are strangers, and strangers are fearful”.  That is the fact and as he points out many times in his book on Aging, the only cure is to make friends with the stranger we are becoming.  The best way to do this is to connect with those who have lived into the reality we fear.  That is why we must draw them to us and make them welcome for as Pogo said so eloquently:  “We have met the enemy and he is us!”  By making friends with the elderly among us, we make friends with the stranger within us.  How many of you agree?  Have you had a different experience?  Please share.

3 thoughts on “AGEISM-MAKING SPACE FOR THE ELDERLY”

  1. This article (concerning the “fear” of old age/older people) really hits home for me. When I was young, my grandparents lived with us. We knew and respected them as an integral part of our family. We shared their aging process, but continued to love them, grieving with them at old age losses, and, finally, death. But with families today being so spread out, sometimes rarely seeing their elderly, as we are, living in the South, our own children and grandchildren (who all live in the North) will never have a chance to know us as we age, and share in that part of our lives. This grieves me, and I know I am deeply saddened by the losses on all sides. I feel that our own 6 children (with whom we were so very close not so many years ago) have distanced themselves from us mentally, whether because of the physical living situation, their involvement in their work and family activities, or maybe because it’s easier to think of us as “old” now, and somehow different from “real people”. My heart aches that my children and we have lost so much closeness, and that my grandchildren will never share the special bond that I shared with my Grandma. Was that time so long ago?

    Reply
    • Dear Helen: That is the entire purpose of this blog…to help those who are young begin to “prepare themselves” to receive the STRANGER, the aging part of themselves. I know as a child I was guilty of this fear. I had a Grandmother who did not speak English and I know I was afraid to approach her on so many levels. Of course, I now regret that. My other Grandmother became my role model and I know I patterned myself after her but I created a fantasy because I saw her for only a few weeks each summer. Your childhood situation was ideal. You interacted on a daily basis and became intregal to each others lives. I don’t think that can be achieved in all circumstances for many reasons. All we can attempt to do (this blog) is make people aware that this prejudice is based on avoidance and fear and the best way to combat it is to open ourselves up to receive that part of ourselves. This can only happen one person at a time but by allowing this process, we give a gift to ourselves and those who are aging among us. Keep sharing when you have time. It allows for dialogue and that is how we change perceptions. Bless you.

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