She asked me, for the nth time, how to access her email on her tablet. I used to get a bit irked each time she’d ask me especially if I was in the middle of something. We’ve gone through the same instructions a million times and each time she’d take notes of each step. But for some reason, she can’t do it on her own.
These days though, I’ve come to accept that this is just the way it is and she’s never going to get the hang of it. She’s getting older and it’s just going to get worse. So I sit with her again to show her how to access her email on her tablet.
I can feel she’s embarrassed each time she asks. She looks more frustrated than anyone else at her inability to remember the same instructions given to her many times before. So I refrain from saying anything that would make her feel worse.
She also loves to play games. Yahtzee and Rummikub are her favorites. Every now and then, she’d ask me and her son, my husband, if we want to play. Before, I’d decline on occasion, coming up with excuses that can wait - chores, unimportant errands, and miscellaneous work that have no urgency whatsoever. Until one time, I thought about how it must feel to be in her shoes. Her husband hardly speaks and all day long she really has no one to talk to. It’s just the sound of the TV that fills the living room she hangs out in all day. She’ll play some word puzzles or make her husband something to eat in between. The rest of the time, she’s practically alone. And I realized how lonely that must be.
So the times when she asks us if we want to play with her and we oblige, I realized that’s probably the highlight of her day. The most conversation and fun she’s had. The most alive she’d felt that day or maybe all week. Those few minutes that were spare change in my schedule to her was the main event.
So now when she asks us if we want to play, we don’t hesitate before saying “We’d love to.”
At some point, most of us will find ourselves taking care of an elder. It could be your parents, your spouse’s parents, or an older relative with no one else to care for them.
It’s common to feel impatient with them especially when their minds and bodies start to go. But let’s not forget the decades they spent being patient with us. Putting up with our tantrums as toddlers, the stupid things we got ourselves into as teenagers, our know-it-all attitudes in our twenties, and our absence in our thirties.
Now, they need us. To help them with the computer or work the remote, to care for their home, to play games with, to talk to, or to simply have someone to be around.
Unlike when we were young and had friends to escape to, they have no one but us. Their friends are either gone or ill or alone too somewhere.
Think about when you get to their age. Think about not having anyone around most of your days, weeks, or months. Think about the frustration, the embarrassment, the fear of not being able to remember things or work the simplest of gadgets or appliances. Think of how it must feel to grow weak and feel like a burden. I can only imagine. I imagine it sucks.
So try and show them some grace. Some compassion. Even if they’re being difficult. They’re frustrated too. Give them their dignity. But most of all, give them some gratitude for everything they’ve done for you. And if the things you think you need to do can wait, go sit with them, bust out the board games, and start rolling the dice.
They just need some company,
Lillian Too’s Mandala Team Member, Marge