Sunday, March 2, 2014

Growing Old Gracefully

A research  professor writing in the Catholic Times reflects on what  it means to grow old gracefully. Riding the subway recently she noticed that some of the elderly men were behaving in ways she found very strange, not like the elders of our society normally behave. It made the other passengers feel uncomfortable, she said. There appeared to be no  understanding  of how their actions were being received by the other passengers. They seemed to be men from another part of the world. 

As is widely known, our society is getting older and we have fewer young people to take care of the elderly. The numbers of those older than 65 years of age continue to grow and  the younger generation, who are expected to take care of the elders, continues to decrease. Complicating the problem even further, our society is developing technologically at an even faster pace, which makes it difficult for the older generation to keep up with the changes.

Under the name of restructuring, many of the young people are losing their jobs in industry.This situation  magnifies the feeling of the  older generation of being useless and a burden on society; often overcome by a sense of shame and helplessness. For some time now the older generation, with a smile on their faces, have been saying that whatever they have, much or little, they will keep their possessions until they die in order to get the treatment they deserve from their children.

Do we need to look upon these words and behavior of the elders as a display of strength, as something healthy? she asks. She wonders if it is not society that is bringing about these changes of skepticism and depression that frequently cause the elderly to take their own lives. As the elderly get older the rate of suicides among them increases. At the same age, the number of men committing suicide is two to three times that of women, an indication, she says, of the helplessness felt by many of the older men. She feels that our society and many of our families make those who feel dependent and unproductive lose their sense of worth and honor in society.

While our society is extolling the efforts of the nation in becoming more prosperous and developed like other first world countries, she wonders if it is at the expense of losing our traditional values and destroying family life. Without a safety net in place, those who will suffer the most are the sick, the young and old, she says.

It is often said that a noble attribute of the old is their wisdom. They have lived through the difficulties of life and have learned a great deal and have a lot to teach the young and middle-aged adults. But because one has aged does not mean they will automatically receive respect. With age it is natural to become physically weaker, but effort should be made to keep their mental faculties and the relationship with others as healthy as possible.  She hopes that the younger generation and the  middle aged adults will realize they have a great deal to  learn from the older generation.

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