I’ve Learned To Appreciate My Elders

I’m beginning to understand the hate and sadness that plagues the older generation, and I am in awe of the ones who don’t let it consume them.

I have a writing job where I do research on medical marijuana and write about the benefits it has. A lot of research I do is with the elderly and their diseases and disorders. And it’s depressing.

First of all, I have every disease I read about after a while. I get into the symptoms, and I’m like “OH MY GOSH I HAVE FIBROMYALGIA I HAVE TO!” I get over it though because I recognize my paranoid tendencies and it is so often joked not to look up your symptoms because you’ll think you’re dying, so it’s embedded into my mind that it is common to have that reaction. Look at me thinking healthy but not at the same time.

But I read about what people go through just from aging. Things they can’t help. Something that I can identify with. I think that as someone with a mental illness, it makes me able to identify with a wide range of people because I firmly believe that poor mental health is the basis of our society’s turmoil. I want murderers and rapists out of jail cells and into facilities that retrain or treat their brains. I want children to learn about mental health the same time they take sex education. (I learned about sex when I was 9 and about depression when I was 12 and in a mental institution for having suicidal thoughts) I just am very passionate about mental health, naturally.

But I think about it, and these people are surrounded by their mortality. Even now I think about how much energy I used to have, what about missing how easy it was to walk? A lot of these people are in constant pain, and I am out of commission after I pull a muscle.

They have lived most of their lives and now get the chance just to reflect on every decision they have made and not be able to do anything about it. If they can even remember. I spend nights awake just thinking about the last few years and how much of a screw up I am, but I have time to make things right. And I have been. I can’t imagine the feeling of running out of time when I feel it in my twenties.

They have to watch their loved ones go, or wait for it to happen. That is one thing I am not looking forward to. Sometimes I stay up at night and think about how terrible it would feel to wake up and my husband not be there. How lonely it would be. I cry and think about how silent it would be. How I would reach for my phone. I would probably keep his phone just to text it. Go crazy and have conversations with myself. My eyes are watering just thinking about it now. I think about the loneliness he would go through. The clutching of the pillows. Listening to my voice on recordings over and over. How do people go through that?

They wait for it, they expect it, and they go through it. And they have to pretend like everything is okay. Like they didn’t just lose their best friend. That they had a good run and it was time, or they are in a better place. How do you do that?

My grandmother is a widow now. I recently went to the Zoo with her. I decided I needed to spend more time with her after my grandfather died. I always knew she was a cool lady, but I wanted to really know her. I wanted to meet her as an adult, and not as the granddaughter who comes around Christmas and Thanksgiving and smiles and says I love you and leaves.

I asked questions. I wanted to know things about her. She has so much value. She has been through so much, learned so many things, and she is just a capsule of brilliance waiting to be opened to the first person who asks.

She spent most of her life judging flowers. Over 20 years on a national level. We walked around the zoo, and she would explain to me the beautiful foliage that decorated the park. I think she cared more about those than the animals which was impressive to me. She knew all the names how they grew how hard they were to take care of. I would joke and say she was an expert. Because if you do anything on a national level for 20 years, I’m pretty sure you’re an expert on the subject. But she denied it, masking her insecurities with humility.

She would tell me that she used to work in the Mayor’s office. She would handle rude people who would yell at her all day like most public servants. And people were in awe of her ability to hold her composure. She could calmly speak to any raging lunatic like it was her superpower. This woman was a calm storm to be reckoned with.

She didn’t want to take any pictures. I wanted to know why and I eventually found out why she thought she was so hideous. When she was a girl, and her mother was doing her hair, she would say, “If you can’t be pretty, at least be neat.

Wow. Who says that to someone? Their daughter? MY GRANDMA??? Why I oughtta.

And I saw this magnificent broken beast that had conquered so much. My respect for her grew and grew as we talked. Her favorite invention was when she was in grade school the ballpoint pen came out. She thought it was so neat, and as a writer, I was like that’s my blood right there. I took pride in her. I always saw her as my sweet grandma, but that day I saw her as a strong woman.

Take the time to appreciate your grandparents or the elderly around you. They need us. And we need them.

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