By Adele Haas
I live in a retirement community and am surrounded by so many people who, at first glance, may all look alike: white hair, a slower walk or perhaps using a cane.
However, if you get to know us, you will learn that we are former teachers, nurses, Navy pilots, lawyers, secretaries and engineers. We are the sum of our decades as we go forward on this conveyor belt of life. And each of us has an inner self that wishes that those of you who care about us and for us could have known the “real” us.
I have often wondered: When you look at us, what do you see? Do you see only wrinkles and limbs that respond slowly? Do you sigh when you hear the same stories too many times? Well, we remember how we used to be and wish that you had known us at our best.
There was a time when we were the ones in charge, when we were the ones helping our parents, paying our children’s tuition bills and volunteering at the nursing home. We were once young and strong and sure of step. But that was then and this is now.
Fortunately, we do have our memories. That’s when we can pretend that we are children again, recalling the moments when it was time for Dad to come home after a hard day. We would be in the kitchen doing our homework and the wonderful smell of the chicken roasting in the oven and the burbling of the potatoes on the stove were a promise that soon another delicious supper would be on the table.
We would say grace, and then enjoy Mother’s wonderful cooking, hoping against hope that we would have Jell-O for dessert – a favorite. We would stick our spoon in the side, so that we could make a louder blurp than our brother could make with his, and everyone would laugh, even Mother, but she was always a little embarrassed, because it may not have been a seemly sound.
Life then would have appeared simple to you, but it wasn’t. There was a world war being fought during our childhood. Times were frightening, headlines were blaring and our parents had many a hushed, worried-sounding conversation long after we had been sent to bed.
We used to be bright. We used to read everything we could. But now, having to use a magnifier slows us down. We used to run to catch the bus, so we wouldn’t be late for class. We used to drive a car with a stick shift, and smoothly, too. We used to be in charge but now we are becoming the dependents.
We don’t want to complain because we know what this is. We saw our parents and grandparents go from vital, to slower, to limited, to where we are now. It’s just that it went by so quickly.
We are grateful to still be here, but mostly we wish that we could run and not lose our breath, and that we had appreciated that something so simple was so wonderful.
We knew youth would not last. We knew that we would not be the exception. We just wish that now, when the final chapter of our life is being fulfilled, that you would know that we were just like you once. Please look at us and see more than what you see before you.
As another year ends, and during this season of giving thanks, we thank you for being so kind. We know that caring for us is not always easy for you. Thank you for your patience. It is comforting for us to know that we will still have our memories and your care for one more day, as each day becomes more precious, before we say goodbye.