Today I have been speaking to one of my most favourite people. My Auntie is older than she looks, and we are not allowed to say exactly when she was born, but she has been around for a long time. A normally sunny and happy person she is now facing the dilemma of ageing as her body is giving up far quicker than her mind. When I see her now I notice that she is smaller than she used to be, her face shows worry and she appears somewhat diminished. However, spend ten minutes talking to her, once she has got over all the things that are wrong with the world, she is easy to get chatting about the old days when she was young and she becomes younger as she talks.
I first remember her when I was about ten or eleven, when she arrived home from living in another county. She was blonde and smiley with an enthusiasm for life that was very attractive to me. She would arrive at my parents house with gifts for us kids, and it was never anything ordinary. She bought me games my friends have never seen or special pens and paper for drawing with, and she would sit and chat to us kids as well as to the ‘grown ups’ which was very unusual indeed
Over the years things changed, her life went in a different direction as did mine, but once I was married with babies, she again leapt into my life with vigour. ‘A little help is better than a lot of pity’ was her catch phrase and she helped me in so many ways. Taking the babies to the clinic she was there with me, a baby each to dress and undress, cleaning the house to give me more time to take care of the little ones, Marigold gloves in hand she was there. All done with no fuss and a lot of fun.
In recent years she has been feeling the passing of time, her hubby passed away and living alone was proving difficult. We talked often about life, the past, the present and the future. She stays with us at times and we spend long hours laughing and sharing stories. She is still the same person she was when I was ten. Her body is older, so is mine, her laugh is still as strong, so is mine, and her spirit is still there, hiding under her fear of the future. I can so understand this. She is making massive changes at a time when she is feeling challenged by her physicality. She is struggling with new environments and new people and muddling through the changes that are necessary for her to live safely.
At this time she needs to be reminded of the person she once was. She is still that person. Just because age is upon her, doesn’t mean she is no longer funny, strong and interesting. Just because she sometimes repeats herself, or focusses on the things that have gone wrong, doesn’t mean she can’t be reminded of the fun of life and her past strength and courage.
It is so easy in our early years to take life for granted. Busy with family and making a living, we don’t look forward to the future and imagine ourselves older, tired and feeling unsettled. When it happens it must be a shock to the system, but I have learned from my Auntie that the real you is still there, just waiting to pop up again. Talking with her about things she loves, people she has known and the memories of my family that no one else alive has, is so important to me. We laugh often and compare our lives, for there are indeed some similarities between us. At these times I see her once again as my bubbly blonde Auntie.
So, if you have older people in your life, albeit in your family, friends or neighbours, I would say to you, look past the grey hair and see the blonde or the brunette that used to be there. Listen to the stories, you may never hear them again, or mostly likely you will do so the very next time you meet!! Respect these senior citizens for they have lived a life we could never imagine, and above all see the person, the personality and the life within the tired body.
One day it will be our turn, if we are lucky, we will be the older person. We will be a bit confused, a bit worried, eager to talk to you so much that we will forget what we have already told you. We will know that we haven’t changed so much from how we are today, we are still ourselves, and we will puzzle at why the world cannot see this. Our opinions, our knowledge and our memories will be intact and we will want to share them, quickly, while we still can. We might appear to be grumpy and to dwell on life’s bad bits, but with encouragement and patience we will be able to show who we really are. For within the tired old bones and shaking body the spirit is intact and waiting to be seen.