This summer I’m working with home care service. I have been thinking foolishly that I’ve been serving them, until I realized that they are the ones serving me.
Wise old women and men sit alone in their apartments, longing to give. Gentleness that only an old person can provide flows toward me. I am cared for.
It was beautifully written in the original language, and it made me tear up. These words made me remember how our society uses us while we’re strong and productive and then tosses us aside like garbage when we no longer fill that role.
I’ve been blessed to have several older people in my life on a regular basis. Several of the members of the Swedish class I teach are 70+ years old. They remind me on a weekly basis about what matters most: family, friendship, roots, community, and good food. What I love most about meeting with these folks—and what I think my sister is eluding to—is that they have nothing to prove. They’ve had their careers and raised their children and count every new day as a blessing. They are able to give in a way that younger people are not.
Flowers arrive at my door. As do baked goods and jams. My Swedish students remember my birthday and sign actual, physical cards for me. They’re not too busy to attend parties and celebrate the little things in life. They came to my book launch! They care for me.
In the new society I propose in Her Lost Year, I write about how we can do elderly care differently:
Rather than shipping the elderly off to retirement homes, the norm is to invite parents and grandparents come live with their families or in close proximity. This is good for the well-being of both the elderly and the families. The older generation gets a boost from feeling safe and needed (having a sense of purpose). And the younger generation benefits from the wisdom, support (grandparents are good at a lot of things), and love of the older generation. And when retirement and nursing homes are a necessity, they are combined with daycare centers and schools so cross-generational interactions, learning, and bonding can still take place.
Here are some great examples of this happening already:
- Preschool in a retirement home in Seattle
- Dutch nursing home offers rent-free housing to students
- Intergenerational cohousing in Ecovillage at Ithaca
Just because someone is old, doesn’t mean they can’t provide value. On the contrary. Any new social model must recognize this and take advantage of everything our older—and wiser—brothers and sisters have to offer. This is community. This is care.
P.S. I have an article featured on the Mad in America blog: “One Family’s Encounter with Modern Psychiatry and a Call for Social Change”