Saturday, October 11, 2008

Do the ill & the elderly make us feel mortal?

Barbara Sher posted this as a comment to my previous post: "I have a question about interviewing elderly people. I wonder if some of us avoid the people we love when they grow older because it's painful to realize we'll lose them one day. Someone I know told me he was often short with his mother and didn't realize why until one day it hit him that he was angry and hurt that she was getting old and would leave him. He said he was embarrassed about having such a childish feeling, but the realization made him stop being angry at her, so he was glad it happened.

"Have you ever heard of or felt anything like this?"

That is an excellent question & I am glad your friend recognized the reason for his behavior. In fact, I see that happening right now with my husband and his Mother. She is 90 and some days she does not know who he is. That bothers him so much that he almost doesn't want to see her.

I see the same thing happen with people who are seriously ill. Family & friends may be reluctant to go see them, either because they don't know what to say, or because they want to "remember them as they were." In addition, circumstances like that tend to remind us of our own mortality - if it can happen to them, it can happen to us.

Those reasons are understandable, but unfortunately, that tends to leave our loved ones alone when they need us the most. When we do go to see them, it is important to carry on as normal a conversation as possible. Sometimes it helps to bring along favorite photos or memorabilia as a nudge for reminiscing. Especially with the elderly, they may have better recall of events from many years ago than they will of last week.

Recently, a friend of mine died from cancer. Although it was a bittersweet experience, I was able to spend considerable time interviewing her to capture her life story before she passed away. Her dying wish was to leave a written legacy for her adopted daughter.

I was honored to help make her wish come true.

For more about the experience with my friend, please see this blog post:

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