Monday, March 30, 2009

More Than Just Old

In 2002, seven percent of the world population was over sixty-five years old. China has the largest elderly population (ninety-two million) but this is only seven percent of the Chinese population. In 2000, the United States population consisted of twelve percent over the age of sixty-five. Population experts say that over seventeen percent of America’s population will be considered elderly in 2020.

Lloyd said in Dumb and Dumber, “Senior Citizens, while slow and dangerous behind the wheel, can serve a purpose.” We are the generation of the future; we don’t really look at the generation that got us where we are today. Too often we overlook the elderly. We brush them off as old people who don’t know anything. Sometimes we forget that they need grace just as much as we do. Working at a nursing center, I have learned that elderly people may do wacky things, but they have lived hard lives, and most of all, they are people, too. I want everyone to see lives with value when they look at elderly people.

I only work in the kitchen at the nursing center, but in the eight months that I have worked there, I have grown attached to all of my elderly residents. Sometimes it is hard to have a positive attitude, especially when there are residents yelling at me for potatoes. I always put on a smile. When it starts out as a fake smile, it eventually turns into a genuine smile because my residents do wacky things. Some spit out their teeth and others just spit out their food. Sometimes it is downright disgusting, but sometimes it is heartwarmingly hilarious. They put the whole saltshaker in their prunes. The slightly confused elderly people say some wacky things, most of which I don’t understand. One of the residents who can barely hear or see once screamed that she needed light bulbs.

While I clear the dishes in the dining room, there are some residents who are waiting to go back to their rooms. At times I get the opportunity to talk to them. There is one resident who I especially love talking to. She is in her eighties and used to work in the nursing center as a nurse. She once told me that she never knew the meaning of working part time. Even though she sometimes falls asleep at the table and in front of the television, her favorite show on Sundays is Lawrence Welk and she doesn’t eat butter. She has lived a full life and learned to help and serve people. She doesn’t mind sitting by the residents who need a little more assistance, because she has an encouraging heart and loves other people. She has lived a life all her own and even though she lives in a nursing center, which is a hard adjustment for most, she has settled in and always seems content. I don’t know a lot about her life, though. I don’t know if she had a husband or if she had kids. I don’t know much about her, but I do know that long before I even entered the world, she was a nurse, helping and loving others.

One of the most important lessons that I have learned is that just because elderly people are “old,” they are still people. They have feelings, experience pain, and need love and encouragement. There is a resident that most of the certified nurses’ assistants don’t really like to work with, because she asks to go to the bathroom about twenty times in one hour, randomly starts eating other people’s food and because she can be a little annoying. However, I have found that when you say hello to her and ask how she is, she smiles and looks so happy. She just wants someone to care about her. She has the same desire that everyone has—to be cared about.

Recently a new resident arrived at the nursing center. She has a black and blue arm because she shut it in a door. It is obvious she doesn’t want to be there. The first night she was there, she didn’t say anything and was the last one in the dining room, even though she scarcely touched her food. The next night, her husband came to sit with her and feed her. It is the kind of relationship that everyone hopes to have, a love that hasn’t changed over time. Before it was time for him to leave, she looked at him with sad eyes, “Do you have to leave? Please don’t go.”

It’s strange to think that I used to be afraid of old people. I used to feel awkward around them. I thought that we had no common ground. There was no way anyone could be more different than me. All that changed when I start working at the nursing center. I never intended for it to be that way, I only wanted to earn money. I wanted to raise money so that I could go into college for ministry. I never used to think that a nursing center could be a place for ministry, until I got to know some elderly people in the nursing center. They need grace just as much as anyone else. Even though they may do wacky things, they have learned lessons through living their own lives and they are people of value, too.

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