growing old isn't easy. it's challenging and often confusing. not only is this a difficult process for those experiencing the ageing, but so too those witnessing their ageing.
one of the symptoms of old age is this idea of 'losing your mind'. the ability to comprehend reality becomes distorted, so too one's ability to engage others in meaningful conversations. this is humbling because the best and seemingly only way to connect with these ageing individuals is to talk about them. to focus on what they want to talk about. to meet them where they are with what they're sharing. and this can be challenging. we have to let go of what we think having a conversation looks like.
i'm currently experiencing this with my Oma. her cognitive ability has rapidly deteriorated as Covid has seen her more isolated and more alone than ever before. the mental stimulation she experienced with neighbours is no longer. so when i visit, asking "what have you been up to?" is a pointless, superficial question. a question she not only can't answer, but doesn't have anything to say because the truth is "nothing".
i remember reading in The School of Life's "On Being Nice" that the ultimate test of your social skills is your ability to feel at ease with a child you do not know. this is challenging because kids are unable to engage in the polite niceties that ease social encounters. as i read this, i thought that this too was applicable to the elderly. isn't it a test of our social skills to be able to engage someone who has lost their memory, lost their calibration of reality, lost all sense of their identity? how then, can we connect?
my solution? by being human. by discussing the things that make us, us. on normalising things like shitting ourselves. and by entertaining their stories with an endless curiosity. your job is not to orientate them, your job is to connect with them. and this is one of life's greatest challenges. but a challenge that humbles us as we realise, sometimes life can't always be about ourselves.
be human. be curious. and don't be afraid to be a little ridiculous. it's in this ridiculousness that we're reminded how similar we are.