We often complain of the tumult of youth: life is uncertain, and we are unwise. We struggle on our quest to become our best selves, and too often, we fail.
But being old can be tragic. The elderly lose their friends and siblings, their health, their capability, and their independence. The world they knew fades. Without responsibilities, they may lose a sense of purpose that they will never regain.
Each stage of life presents challenges, and one way of coping is to share our burdens and joys with those of different generations.
Whether you visit a senior in a nursing home, build relationships with the elderly in your community, or make a point of keeping in touch with your grandparents, spending time with the aged is important — for you and for them.
Each week, I visit Trudy, whose name I’ve changed to honor patient-privacy regulations, through Hospice of Hillsdale’s volunteer program. For the past year, we have swapped stories and lifted each other’s spirits.
She remembers finding an old-fashioned penny-farthing bike in her garage as a child. It was impossible to ride, she said. Trudy is 94, and she is my friend.
When Trudy was my age, World War II had just ended. Her first husband, a schizophrenic, tried to kill her twice, so she divorced him.
When academics and passing frustrations get me down, Trudy’s stories help me put my troubles into perspective.
To think that this joyful woman lived through the Great Depression, the deadliest war in world history, and countless personal tribulations reminds me that overcoming hardship is part of living well. Trudy inspires me.
Trudy said the best thing she ever bought was a red three-wheeler, which she rode gleefully over the hills of the Upper Peninsula.
When she retired from decades of chemical-factory work, she bought a trailer and lived in Mexico for a year. A rainbow serape lies at the foot of her bed to show for it — the only exotic piece in her otherwise simple room.
Now, a day at the fair is an ordeal for Trudy, and she can’t take a step without her walker (“that dumb thing,” she calls it). But Trudy is an adventurer at heart. I send her postcards when I travel on breaks, and describe to her the sights, sounds, and smells of my weekend hikes.
I help her experience vicariously what she longs to do, and would if her health allowed. Through me, adventure is still a part of Trudy’s life, and her stories urge me never to stop exploring.
Trudy told me that someone once stole money from her room. A nurse at her assisted-living facility recommended she store her savings in a safe.
“I thought that was a pretty stupid thing to say,” she said. “That’s like telling someone to lock the barn after the horse already got away.”
Often inadvertently, Trudy amuses me, and it can make my day. But her greatest gift to me has been friendship.
Echoed by peers on campus, our collegiate angst can compound, but the elderly have a special power to mitigate it. Surrounded by fellow seniors in nursing homes, the elderly can grow dejected in the absence of youthful energy.
Trudy has touched my life, as I hope I’ve touched hers. Everyone should have a friend like Trudy. If you don’t, seek one.
We must eliminate generational isolation.
The young can be the hope and vivacity of the elderly, and the elderly can be the assurance of the young. Our challenges are unique, but we can overcome them more easily together.
Before leaving Trudy’s room, I turn to wave goodbye. She waves back and smiles.
“See you next week,” I say.
“Bye, hon,” she says. “I sure look forward to it.”
One day, Trudy will give me a final wave. I will never forget her: not her spunk, her empathy, or her story. We’ve shared life, Trudy and I, and through me, Trudy will live on.
Madeleine Miller is a senior studying international business.