I’ve made some new friends this Fall. There’s Amy, who is 98, still driving and who lives in her own condo. Then, there is Margaret, 83, who has had five strokes yet who retains a hefty helping of charm and poise. Brett, 87, is a former police chief. He is a real talker and although I can’t say that we have conversations, per se, Brett does like to have an audience every now and then. And I’m happy to listen.
I have no specific training in elder care. But visiting seniors has helped ease the huge hole my mother’s death made in my life. I enjoy their company, in part because it reminds me of the time I used to spend with my mother. And in a strange way, Amy, Margaret and Brett return me to the very familiar territory of Listening – really listening – to what an elder has to say.
Seniors have had most interesting lives. Their stories are fascinating. No matter if it takes extra effort to understand sometimes garbled speech. These people have lived lives of passion and romance; even danger sometimes (Brett’s tales of his arrests of criminals can be hair raising!). Seniors don’t lose the complexity and wonder of their lives just because they have clocked a lot of miles.
But every storyteller needs an audience.
I may only be an audience of one but I continue to benefit from command performances when I visit my new friends.
Margaret and I had a great chuckle together during our last visit. She used to own a tots and teens clothing store. In fact, my mother bought my first bra from Margaret. It was, of all things, yellow, and easily seen through the fabric of the white blouse I wore with my school uniform. At the time, I was mortified. Margaret almost fell off her chair laughing. “I fit a whole generation of young girls with their first bras!” she laughed.
Brett was too young to fight in the Second World War. His battlefield was the town, whose people he safeguarded. He earned decorations and commendations, and his family should be very proud of his legacy of dispensing justice.
And Amy – well Amy is an Ever Ready Battery of a woman, very much in command of her independent life. She used to be a singer and we share a deep love of music. She tells me some of the music she used to sing and I realize she must have been an accomplished singer to have mastered so many difficult works.
Promise yourself that you’ll sit down and listen without distraction to your elderly parent, neighbour or friend. You will learn something, for sure, but you will also be giving a precious gift to a senior who often feels pushed aside. You’ll be giving yourself, and there is no better gift.