Today was my granny’s birthday, and feeling sad she’s not here anymore, I got to thinking about how much I missed of her when she was still around. When she was younger, fitter and more lucid, she was too busy asking me about me, (or, more importantly to her, what my husband did and what exactly was a computer anyway!) than telling me much about her own past life. Admittedly, she was quick to boast (quite justifiably) about being one of the first female doctors in Ireland, and married to a man who came from a small farm in Donegal to become the moderator of the Presbyterian church. I remember her telling me about the Belfast blitz, and many funny tales about her work, like when she asked a lady how long her father had been ill when the patient lying in bed was actually her mother, or the time she taught herself to drive a car in a day so she could do the job as a locum GP (she had to ask a man at her patient’s house to reverse it for her though!) There were so many laudible things about this little lady, and yet, painfully, she passed her last years sitting, mostly alone, in an old people’s home. The visitors steadily tailed off, and my granny, previously sociable, ever admirable, was frequently forgotten.
I wonder how many wonderful, praiseworthy older people sit by themselves, their many achievements overlooked, as they’re called ‘love’ and ‘pet’ a thousand times more than ‘hero’. Because that is what they are: they lived through turbulent times, they broke down previously unassailable boundaries, and now, they’re belittled, and unheard. How many inspiring stories do they have, now silenced by neglect and loneliness? How many lessons are we missing by not taking the time to listen? As the third age extends in years and numbers, these questions need to be taken seriously. And not just because this will be us as well one day.
The one thing I am sure about is, any time I have sat down with an elderly person, I have walked away feeling blessed, and humbled. There is frailty of body, but rising above that, there is often unparalleled strength.