Monday, February 28, 2011

Respect

Last Monday, I came home from running errands with my husband to discover my father had called. It’s well known in my family that if dad calls during the day, something is wrong, and this call was no exception. He had called to let me know that one of my step brothers had passed away the night before. This was the second one of my step siblings that had passed away in less than a year.

At 53 years old, Wally was the youngest of my step mother’s biological children. His death was sudden and completely unexpected.

My parent’s live in Springfield Missouri and since my father was too ill to travel, my brother who lives about an hour away from him went to watch him while my step mother and another step brother flew into O’Hare to stay with us for a few days so they could attend the memorial service.

They flew in on Thursday evening, and with the memorial service on Saturday, that left us with time to pass on Friday. Mom wanted to see a couple of independent living centers they were interested in so we spent the day doing that and running other errands.

My mother is slightly handicap and often walks with a cane – especially if she’s getting tired or in an unfamiliar location. To make things easier on her, I always pulled up to the door, got out of the car, helped her out of the car, parked the car and then came back to her. When we were leaving; I went and got the car , pulled it up to where she was waiting, helped her get into the car, shut her door and then drove on to our next location.

On Sunday, when we were heading to the memorial service, my mother decided she would ride with my two step brothers since for starters we couldn’t all fit into one car and second, so she could spend a little time with her son that lives here instead of in Missouri. There was about a half an inch of snow on the ground and the roads and pavement were slick with ice. Needless to say, I was completely in shock when my step brother parked the car at the funeral home and had my mother walk clear across the parking lot instead of dropping her off underneath the portico. He realized once she was half way across the parking lot that he could have done that. When we left the funeral home he did pull the car up for her so she didn’t have to make the trek again. Our next stop was a luncheon at a small dining hall, but once again, he parked the car instead of dropping her off at the door, and when they left, he again made her walk through the icy, slushy parking lot with her cane instead of picking her up.

By the way, my mother is 85 years old.

I was completely flabbergasted. Not only is she not well physically, she has had several small strokes – the most recent less than a month ago, she’s prone to falling and has pins in her leg and a new hip because of that. Add on top of that a recent airplane flight, all the running around the day before, and most importantly – the stress of losing her baby boy and you end up with a woman who actually should probably have been in a wheel chair, not trekking across snow covered parking lots.

:Later that night, when we were all back home and mom had some time to relax a little and attempt to unwind, we ended up in a conversation about the lack of respect Americans give to elderly people and to “age” in general, and how this differs from so many other countries in the world.

In other countries, old age is almost synonymous with wisdom and respect. Here in America it’s associated with being worn out or used up. We are told everyday in our country (just turn on the TV) that it’s not good to look old, that indeed it’s a bad bad thing. We have to wash the gray out of our hair. We have to inject our faces with literal poison to get rid of the wrinkles (often along with facial muscle control!) in order to try to make us look younger, newer. We are a population of people that has decided young and dumb is far more desirable than old and wise – that unfortunately says a whole lot about us as a people.

I refuse to buy into this attitude anymore. I admit I caved a while ago and did wash the gray out of my hair when I was trying to find a job, and unfortunately I think it made a difference. I had interviews with gray hair and didn’t get the job, but this interview as a younger looking brunette I got an offer almost immediately. Did it have anything to do with my hair color? I can’t be sure, but I can tell you there was an extreme lack of gray haired people where I had worked. (I have since left that job and that’s a whole other story!)

But, I won’t do it again. I’ve lived 41 years so far. I’ve raised 7 children. I’ve buried my mother, all my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, my best friend, 2 siblings and many many more people. I have not had an easy life and with that has come gray hair. Each and every one representative of a battle I had to fight or endure. I may not always have come out on top, but more importantly even than winning:

1) I showed up, and
2) I made it through

Each one of those gray hairs that I now carry around with me are proof of another grain of wisdom I’ve acquired somewhere along the way.

I’m taking back the respect and power I deserve – the respect people have so desperately tried to take away from those who are older, The power that has been stripped from them when they start to age. There is no reason to hide our age, no reason to be embarrassed, no reason to try to pretend we are young and dumb instead of older and wiser. I hope others will join in with me and embrace their increasing age and show the utmost respect to those around them who truly deserve it.

At some point. one person came up with the idea that youth should be more desirable than maturity, and somehow that idea spread. Lets start spreading the ideas that wisdom and maturity are the truly desirable qualities people want to see in each other – not botox injections.

And the next time you go somewhere and you see an elderly person struggling with something, help them out. Hold the door open for them. Carry their groceries for them.

Whatever you do, simply do it with the upmost respect.

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