This is normally the time of the year when I’ve provided abnormal Christmas shopping lists for the errant gift-givers among us who, having an elder somewhere in their lives, are thrashing about trying to identify the “perfect gift” — and coming up empty.
I could do that, but I’ve been doing that for the better part of 16 years. The fact is, I don’t have the foggiest idea what mom, grandpa or the 85-year-old next door might like for Christmas, or whatever your particular, current excuse for celebration might be. If I knew that, I’d probably know a lot of other things that are considerably more globally significant and, thus, would finally have achieved my true calling as Reigning Monarch.
But I don’t, so our current status as a republic remains, for the moment, relatively secure.
Here’s what I can do, though: I can tell you what many elders worry about, and let you take it from there.
In my business, people spend a lot of time trying to figure out “what elders want,” assuming, I assume, that elders are an alien species whose mental machinations defy logic and interpretation. So let’s try something. It doesn’t matter how old you are, were or want to be, just do this: Close your eyes and think about how you want your life to be when you’re 90.
OK, OK. Get through the obvious fantasies of winning the lottery and living on a beautiful, semi-tropical beach, surrounded by servants of the applicable gender, ready, willing and able to do your bidding on a moment’s notice. OK, are we past that? Good! And are we past the one of being 25 years old again? Thank you! Now, how do you want your life to be? Right. Most of you came up with the same answer that I do. I want my life to be pretty much, more or less, the same way it is now.
Ta-DA! How tough was that?
And what we mean is that we want to be able to do what we can do now, in our own time and in our own way, in relative comfort and security — more or less — independent and running our own lives, thank-you-very-much, and being able to contribute, to pay our own way (more or less) and not be beholden to anyone.
So, what does this abundant overstatement of the obvious have to do with Christmas shopping? Well, if you know that about yourself, then you know it about any elder that you like — and, for that matter, probably some that you don’t like — so you can begin to think that way about the individual in question.
Contrary to popular bureaucratic opinion, elders are not alike. Amazingly, they (we) don’t all believe or prefer the same things. Thus, you’ll be forced to resort to actually knowing the particular person in question.
For instance, for some folks, nothing will make you feel stupider or more hopelessly incompetent than trying to understand health insurance and/or the virtual vagaries of Medicare. Never mind the cost! Maybe you could help with that? Or maybe you could find help with that. Other folks worry about falling (a VERY smart thing to worry about) and not being able to get help for 3-4 days.
Some folks worry about how the yard or the outside of the house looks, because they don’t want to embarrass themselves or their neighbors. Any ideas come to mind? Some folks can handle pretty much everything, except, say, the vacuuming. Idea?
Some people would dress warmer and wear smarter shoes, if they could afford them. Others don’t go out at night because they’re smart enough to know that they don’t drive as well at night, but that doesn’t mean that there are never things that they’d like to do at night. Maybe they’re just gracious enough not to tell you what they are.
There are people who know they should give up driving and worry about it, but then what? Did you get confused? OK, close your eyes and think about what you’d like your life to be like.
I could go on, but as an act of pre-Christmas mercy, I won’t.
People, regardless of how many years they’ve logged in, fear gross discomfort, loneliness, uselessness and incompetence, but most of all, they fear losing the ability to live their own lives.
Most of all, we fear losing the ability to live our own lives — just like you, just like me. And we need to do more than just survive. We need to contribute, whether that’s a killer recipe for pumpkin pie or a timelier topic, such asd how we survived the-Depression. It doesn’t matter, just pick one.
In the end, it’s pretty unlikely that Pauline needs another commemorative plate for the parlor. What she needs is to feel that she’s still a moving part in this machine we call life.
More or less.
Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at email@example.com or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information &Assistance.