Recently my dear old mum was attempting to visit her brother (whose son had unfortunately just passed away that day) when she had a bit of an unfortunate accident and took a tumble that left her with a couple of fractured ribs, a split eye, multiple stitches in her face and, all things considered, having a bit of a rough time, bless her. I found out about her fall whilst I, in turn, was consoling a friend of mine who had – that same day – also lost a close family member who had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. So all-in-all it was a bad few days for everyone one that I hold near and dear.
There were actually a number of other things that went wrong during that time that I won’t bore you by recounting here, but suffice it to say that I am glad those days are behind me. I often wonder why bad things always seem to come together in groups? What was most interesting, though, was that all the bad things seemed to be happening to everyone around me, but not me. I was fine, my life was good, but the same could not be said for all the people I knew. I kept waiting for the ‘shoe to drop’, as the saying goes, wondering when my turn would come; but, when it didn’t, I realised that must be because I was meant to be there for the ones who were having the bad time.
Naturally, I had to get home to Ireland to see how mum was so I took some time off from The Q and hopped on a plane for a trip to my homeland. I can’t tell you how, on the one hand, it was great to see mum and give her a hug (gently of course, remember those fractured ribs!). Yet, on the other hand it felt terrible to see her in that state. She looked so small, frail and vulnerable to me – I just wanted to pick her up and look after her and tell her it would be OK, like she had done for me so many times as a child. It felt natural to be protective of her but I quickly became aware that it wouldn’t be helpful to anyone if I started to treat her like she was old and frail, because she isn’t at all.
My mum, though 76 years old, is still a vital and energetic woman. It comes from a lifetime of raising a family of four children on her own after my father unfortunately died just 10 years into their wonderful marriage. Then she was on-hand for her grandchildren too. All of that and working too – sometimes multiple jobs. They were made of strong stuff in that generation.
To this day she still wakes early and is up and out to mass first thing (her faith is very important to her), then meeting for coffee with her girlfriends (they all know each other from primary school!), then off to ‘do her messages’ as she would say. Most days there is some kind of activity on the calendar: there’s the choir with ‘the girls’ (the ones from primary school); her lunch club; or a game of boccia – a cross between bowls and pétanque – with ‘the old people’ (I’m not sure who ‘the old people’ are, but as far as she is concerned she’s not one of them!).
She also attends the University of The Third Age, or ‘U3A’ as she calls it, where they go on educational trips or learn new skills like Tai Chi. She lives a full and busy life. So to see her sitting looking frail and the worse for wear in a big chair in her little flat, not having gone outside for a while, was hard.
I hired a car at the airport with the sole purpose of chauffeuring her around and getting her out and about, and that is exactly what we did. It was great. We chatted a lot and drove to seaside towns I hadn’t been to since my childhood. We would walk gently along the promenade or, if the wind and rain got too much, just sit in the car and chat as we watched the world go by. We ate out every day, an extravagance my mum wouldn’t hold with ordinarily, but we thought ‘what the hell’. We had a great time. By the time I left she seemed brighter and more upbeat.
I learned a lesson though. As much as we want to care for and protect the older generation it is so important not to treat them like they are ‘old’. If we do that they may start to think that they are old, frail and perhaps not as capable, and they could start to age before their time. Rather, I learned to treat someone of the older generation like a person, first and foremost. Yes they are older, and yes they may have physical or mental health issues related to their bodies having had more wear and tear, but they are still people.
I hope I never forget that, and I hope when I get older that the younger people around me will have learned this same lesson too and treat me with the care and respect that every member of the older generation deserves!
Until next time,