Think back to when you were 8 years old , sweet 16, a new Mom of 29, or just last week. Do you remember that person? Don’t look in the mirror – look inside your heart. Aren’t you that person? I know that for me it’s absolutely true. Yes, I AM the SAME person I was at 8, 16 and 29! In my head and in my heart I'm the same. It’s just ME IN HERE!
I remember how the hyacinth smelled in my parent’s front yard on Easter morning when I was 8 and I still can feel how tight my patent leathers were. My stomach still gets in knots when I think about getting ready for prom. There is not a question in my mind that I can feel the butterflies of when I held my baby daughter for the first time.
Today I was with my mother in law and she said these words to me, “I am totally out of pink lipstick. As a matter of fact I don’t have any makeup. I don’t know what happened to those things when I moved here (to the Assisted Living community). The first thought that ran through my head was, “for heaven’s sake she is 90 years old, why is she even worried about that.” Then I had a realization.
She is the same person she has always been.
She still gets excited about a new outfit. She loves her Braves baseball. She can't wait each week to get her hair done. All of these things are normal. I should respect that!
Recently my Dad and I were talking about his life and what he has been facing with growing old. He said in a very matter of fact way, “You know, never in my wildest dreams did I think things would be like this, or that I’d be living like this. You know in my mind I’m still the same.”
Wow, another wakeup call! I get the distinct feeling that these two very important people in my life are trying to TEACH ME something. Just because we grow older, and ultimately grow old it doesn’t change the fact that we ARE STILL the same person. There is a tendency to view seniors as needy shells and not as real people. The fact of the matter is - it’s just not true.
Even when we have family or friends with dementia. If they loved music, warm baths, or hugs they will probably still find those things comforting even if they can’t express their wishes fully.
Next time you are with someone older ask them about a relevant episode in their life and watch their entire body language change. Their eyes become brighter, their voice becomes stronger, their mood will most certainly lighten- and WHY? I can tell you why. It’s because inside they are the same person that they have always been.
So what can we do to help our aging seniors maintain that sense of self that is so important to each of us?
Here are three tips that will help:
1. Do your best to keep your loved one connected to family and friends through visits, phone calls, outings, and even the computer if they are still able to utilize the technology.
2. Be a good listener. Sometimes offering a listening ear is the best gift you can give.
3. Think! What did Mom or Dad always love? What always makes them smile? (a new shirt for Dad for the family reunion? A weekly appointment at the beauty salon for Mom? A visit from a special friend in their life?) Make it happen if you can.
In many cases we must make changes to make sure Mom is safe, and Dad is healthy but that doesn't mean that we can't indulge them a little and make life sweeter. Sometimes it's the simplest thing that lifts the spirit.
Tomorrow I'll be makeup shopping for my sweet mother in law.
First item on the list…..PINK LIPSTICK!
PS As always I invite your comments and ask you to share your own stories.