Ten Misunderstandings about the More Mature
A couple of months ago I mentioned to a young man – who is in his late teens – that my 87-year-old mother has a Facebook account. His response startled me. It was something like “That’s just sick.”
This is how I interpreted his response: “I can’t believe I would enjoy anything an old person would enjoy. Facebook is for the young, so an old person on Facebook is just not age-appropriate.”
Misconceptions. I extrapolated that reaction into attitudes a lot of us may unwittingly hold, no matter how many years we have lived. As I consider the aging process and observe those who are decades older than me, I am becoming more aware of misconceptions about those we would call elderly.
The misconceptions can begin with this phrase:
“Once you’re over the age of _____”: [Fill in the blank with your age plus 20.]
- You’re so set in your ways you couldn’t change if you wanted to.
- You have no needs beyond being fed and out of pain.
- You’re content to sit in a room by yourself in an assisted living or nursing facility with occasional social interaction with those of your own age.
- The desire to have fun and to enjoy new experiences is important only for those younger than you are.
- Your history doesn’t matter. What’s past is past.
- You can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be my age. Haven’t you always been old?
- You don’t mind being dependent on others. After all, you’re old. What do you expect?
- You’re too old to care about your appearance. Your wrinkles and sagging skin shouldn’t worry you; you can’t expect to be attractive anymore.
- You don’t mind if I talk about you in the third person while you’re present.
- You should keep any strong opinions to yourself. They’re sure to be outdated.
I trust none of us would express these misconceptions out loud, but as I move closer to the front of this queue we call our lifespan, I realize how many times I have misjudged, misspoken, and behaved badly toward those whom I would consider elderly.
What I Learned from Abbie Deal. This realization smacked me between the eyes a couple of months ago through the fictional character, Abbie Deal, heroine of A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich. A Nebraska pioneer, she made countless sacrifices for the benefit of her family, resulting in their financial and professional success. Toward the end of her life, though her children loved her, they tended to patronize her and disregard her wisdom. Once, when she began to talk of something that had no connection to their conversation, they decided she was losing touch with reality. In reality, she was standing apart from them, viewing the whole picture, while they could see only the parts.
I can’t expect my young friend, with a remembered history of about 16 years, to identify with an 87-year-old woman who survived the Great Depression and the dust bowl years, with the experiences of her own generation as well as those of three generations to follow.
That’s why the more mature may not need me to defend them. They probably possess enough grace to excuse our misconceptions. They probably have enough experience to understand our misunderstandings. After all, they were our age once.
Talk to me. Am I wrong about what I perceive to be misconceptions? Do you have observations to add?