Aging. There's no escaping it. But what do you do when the younger amongst us wants to exclude the oldest amongst us when it comes to family functions?
That's what I was faced with in a very important question from Christina, whose brother is returning from duty in Iraq to a pair of homecoming parties -- but parties which Christina feels should exclude her 85-year-old great-grandmother.
This is a complex issue, one that is seldomly addressed head-on. I'll try, as you read more from my e-mailbag and my heart. What do you think?
My brother is in Iraq and coming home from his tour. We are planning a couple of homecoming parties for him. One is for his friends and one is for our family.
Mom, Dad and I will be at both parties. I don’t want to invite our great-grandmother to the family party. She will ruin it for everyone because she is a gross person. She is 85, and acts very old. She is in a nursing home and needs someone to pick her up. She is in a wheelchair and can’t leave the home without her oxygen tank. Someone has to take her to the bathroom because she can’t get through the door without help. When she eats, she drops the food all over herself. She looks awful.
Mom and Dad think we should bring her to the party. They say her mind is good and she would enjoy welcoming him back. They have this idea that my brother will want her there. I don’t think he will want her there.
I told Mom and Dad that I am writing you. They think you know how to help families of old people. They actually encouraged me to write! How can I stop my parents from inviting her?
Christina W., Huntington Beach, California
I’m so glad your brother is coming home. He is a brave person to face what he must have faced. This had to be a scary time for all of you.
I don’t know if you are in high school or a little older, but your letter sounds like many younger people. I understand what you are saying -- that when a person gets “old,” they can’t walk like they used to, they have trouble hearing what you say, and they have many other problems. They are not the attractive person you want to hang out with. They are embarrassing. I know.
But I want you to stop and look at things this way:
Your clothes are probably in style. If you can’t afford to dress like Paris Hilton, you would like to. Your hair is in style, and you do the things “young” people do. Going to a nursing home isn’t high on the list! The nursing home smells, and people sit around in a daze. Am I right so far?
If you would have been born 85 years ago, you have been the same person you are now -- just much older. You would still want to be in style and be accepted by your friends, no matter what their age. You would have dressed and acted the same way as other people your age, not the way your grandparents did. What people wore and what they did 85 years ago was different than today. That’s why the photos of your great-grandmother look so strange. In fact, back then she probably felt exactly like you do. She wanted to be in style and do what everyone her age was doing.
In short, she was probably as up-to-date then as you are now.
Your great-grandmother has the same feelings as when she was younger. It’s her body that has changed, not her soul, her essence of being, whatever you want to call it. She still needs and wants to be accepted. She still needs and wants to love and be loved. She still needs and wants to be part of her family -- and that includes a family party such as you describe. All of this no doubt is still very important to her.
I imagine that your brother has changed tremendously while he has been in Iraq. He has seen young people (and old people) who have had their bodies damaged by explosion and gunfire. And as a result of all of this and because he surely missed his family -- all of you -- my bet is that he would enjoy being with his entire family, and that would include your great-grandmother.
My simple advice to you is to invite her. Watch your brother and other family members to see how they react. If I am wrong, let me know, but I think you will be surprised at the joy she will bring because she is there.