Growing old is hard. You hear it all the time.
Your little body starts to wear out, you feel more tired than ever, you stop earning the sort of money that gives you choices and the world seems to be slightly embarrassed by your greying hair, inability to adopt the newest technology and lack of youthful exuberance. And forgetting totally your years of knowledge, experience and contribution.
But that’s just life, right?
For those really fortunate they find themselves surrounded by a loving bustling family, noisy grandchildren, sleeping great grandchildren, long family Sunday lunches, trips to the beach and laughter, giving life that warm peachy glow.
But not everyone is so fortunate. It’s breaking my heart to see how disgracefully a couple living opposite my parents, who are both in their late 80’s, have been abandoned by their family. I don’t know them well, I call in occasionally, pick up the odd paper or bottle of milk, a few trips to the hospital and in better times we’ve sat on their front wall talking gardening tips and the good old days.
In all the nine years I’ve known them, I’ve seen their son visit twice but never their daughter (something to do with a falling out when she was 16 and wanted to get married. That was 44 years ago). Apparently they’re both ‘living the dream’ abroad and other than an ‘elderly’ sister living in Yorkshire they have no one but their neighbours.
Oh yes, every year on Christmas day an inappropriately sized flower displays arrives all the way from South Africa, which only serves to demonstrate how out of touch they’ve become. A couple struggling to maintain their property, who are restricted to shuffling slowly round, distressed at how they will care for such an expensive and exotic bunch of flowers. Where are the warm slippers, the hand-made gifts from the grandchildren, poster paint drawings to stick to the fridge or the indulgent chocolates they would never buy for themselves?? I even heard one year that they were asked not to call their daughter until the evening of Christmas Day as she was having lots of friends over for the day and wouldn’t have time to talk to her them.
I would forsake all meals, all friends, all gifts to spend just an hour with my parents, loving every second I still have with them and knowing the real pleasure it gives them to see me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t come from that happy 2.2 family, roaring fire, Mum making dinner while Dad does the crossword. Dysfunctional barely scratches the surface. But I’ve learned over the years to forgive and to embrace who they are and that they too are just human and make mistakes.
He turns ninety this week. 90. Ninety! Meaning he was born in 1922. He saw the poverty of the twenties and fought heroically in the second world war. And guess who will be there to light the candles on his specially designed garden themed birthday cake and sing ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’? His children, grandchildren, great grandchildren (because he does have all of those and more)? No. my parents, me, my husband and a collection of other local neighbours all taking time out and their place to honour a wonderful man. His children aren’t able to make it. I simply don’t understand why not.
They’re old yes, but witty, alive with stories, they still argue, he’s still handsome and she worries he’s too much of a flirt and might go off with someone else. They love wine and food and love to talk about the things they’ve eaten, and cooked over the years. They love going abroad on holiday. She worries she missed her dentist appointment last week (they both still have all their own teeth!) and that the car needs cleaning. She loves cheesecake and a glass of red wine after dinner and he loves to wander round M & S indulging himself in ready-made meals, because he can. They set the table every evening with linen napkins and wine glasses and have one of those 70’s plate warmer cabinets. It’s utterly adorable. They are utterly adorable and I know on Thursday I’m going to try and make myself be son, daughter, grandchild, niece and cousin for them.
So, if you haven’t seen your family for a while, there is still time to reach out and be in their life. You can call in, phone, send a card, text…………….