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Aging

Chuck Zagorski

I one time told a friend that a lot of people sympathize for children, like the way they are, the things they know, mistakes they make. But I sympathize more for older people. The older people that have been around for sixty to ninety years. It is sad to see the elderly people being treated like they are five years old, or even hobbling along on arthritis stricken feet and fragile bones. It is saddening because they were once young and now they have to live a life that may effect the way they are treated by society. Aging is an important issue in my life and has been interesting to me even when I was a child. Aging is not only an important issue politically, such as health care costs, senior citizens, and just the rights that elderly people have, but also plays a great role in the media from television to the silver screen.

As far as a could try to remember when I was a child, I do not think that I actually new what aging meant. I always associated being "old" with my grandmothers. I feel that media had a great deal on my thoughts on "old" people. Take for instance the 1980’s cartoon the Care Bears. My sister and I grew up on this specific cartoon. I was probably six years old. I loved the Care Bears, they were cute, cuddly, and they were colorful. But I could remember that in one specific episode they had introduced several new Care Bears.

One of which was a Bear called Gramzy Bear. She was the new Care Bear grandmother and was of course old, but she was also the color gray and wore a little pink sweater around her shoulders. My mother used to buy my sister and I the Care Bear toys and we ended up getting the Grandmother Bear. I asked my mother, how come she is this color (meaning gray). My mother’s reply was when you get old, you get gray hair. I then associated a gray tone color with older people, but never really fully understood that because my Grandmothers never had gray hair. One had white hair and the other had brown hair.

I even remember two specific moments in my childhood when I was watching the movie StarWars. I could remember every Sunday, HBO had a nightly movie on. My mother and father would sit my sister and I down with a big bowl of popcorn and we would sit in our bean bags on the floor and watch movies before we went to bed. I always associated Star Wars with those Sunday movies because it was on often.

I remember asking my parents about Yoda. Questions like why is he so small?, How come his face looks like that?, and probably funny questions like is Yoda real? I remember my mother telling me that Yoda is old, that is why he has wrinkles on his face and he is small. In a link to that moment I could also remember another time when I was watching the third Star Wars, Return of the Jedi and seeing Yoda once again, but this time he had more wrinkles and he was coughing. And in this particular story Yoda dies from old age. I never thought that old people just die. I thought that something has to happen in order for someone to die like in a car crash, or by a weapon. That was probably the first thought I had of old age linked to death. At that moment I associated the more wrinkles you have, the older you may be. This may have started my knowledge of how people become old and when people get old they die.

With this knowledge I had, I began to ask more questions and even mock my grandparents behaviors, such as walking slower, talking with a crackled voice, and even replying to things that hurt me like my aching back, or my leg.

When my sister and I used to play school, we used to act like different people to pretend their were more people playing with us. I remember we used to set a room in our basement like a class room and make all of my sisters cabbage patch kids the students.
My sister used to walk around and teach the class and I used to be the principle who would stop into the classroom to check on the students. The way that I portrayed the principle was an old man. I would put a blanket around my shoulders and I had a walking stick that was my cane to support my limping leg. I also talked with an "old" crackled tone that made my sister and I laugh. Perhaps this is what the media defined old age to me as. My grandparents never had canes and never wore the clothing like sweaters wrapped around their shoulders. In fact they never even talked with an "old" crackled tone like they portrayed on television and in the movies. Maybe I was getting the wrong impression on what getting old means.

As time went on and I got a little older, I remember asking my grandmothers a lot about getting old. It always seemed to me that my grandmothers were the only ones that looked so old. My friends grandparents never looked as old as mine did and it began to worry me. I remember I asked my parents about their age. They told me that my grandparents are just older than the grandparents I see and everybody has different ages.

At that time I was around 10 years old and my grandmothers were between 65 and 75 years old. I did come from an older family, my parents were even older than my friends parents. My parents explained that no one ever gets younger, everyone gets older. My views on all of this may have been mixed, but I began to understand aging. I new getting old meant getting wrinkles and sometimes getting gray hair or losing your hair. I even knew getting old could mean dying. I also knew through the way my parents raised me that you should always be nice to older people, because like my mother would say that is someone’s Grandmother or Grandfather. I also figured out that a lot of this mattered to me because I too will one day be old.

As I entered high school I learned and knew exactly what aging was and how people continue to get older and one day pass on into heaven. I still had my parents to guide me and both of my grandmothers to be that special "old" person in my life. However, I still use them as examples in my mind. They are my reason that aging is such a big issue in my life. They and their surroundings are what make me happy, sad, angry, and content with the way they are treated and the way that their environments are.

There were times, during the summer of my high school years that I would ride my bicycle 4 miles to see my 92 year old Grandmother Smith for lunch. The heat from riding a bike will get you really hungry. I could remember pulling into her driveway and going into her air-conditioned house. It felt so good to feel her hug me. She would make me a sandwich and we would eat it in her yard filled with an array of beautiful flowers. We would walk through her garden and hand pick fresh tomatoes. She would tell me stories about her children, Europe, her life growing up, stories of my Grandfather and other stories that almost made it seem as if I were reading a book. Her stories are what I waited for. She was 92 and there was 92 years of stories. Her stories were so much real then the stories that are told on television. I learned a lot from my Grandmother Smith. I learned getting old is a feeling. If you feel old then you are going to be old. But if you live your life to its fullest then you are going to feel like yourself and age will not make a difference. To this day if you ask my Grandmother Smith, who is now 96 years old, how old are you? She will simply answer, sweet sixteen.

That is just one aspect of the issue of aging in my life. My Grandmother Smith does have problems seeing, hearing, and walking, but she is aware that she is getting old, but can not let that get her down.

One of the most sad parts of aging in my eyes is when older people can not help themselves like they once did. In my eyes I feel that older people are treated like they are handicap. If and when they are handicap, they are treated rudely. My other Grandmother is 80 years old and has within the last 4 years been dealing with Alzheimer’s. According to the Compton’s Encyclopedia, Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that effects mostly elderly people (18). My Grandmother lived in a retirement community for about 2 years before her Alzheimer’s had gotten worse. When it reached its prime, we moved my Grandmother into a nursing home. There was a point in time, probably 7 years ago that I saw a made for television movie called Winnie. It starred Meredith Baxter Burney who previously starred as the mom on Family Ties. In this movie she played an older handicap woman that had to live in a nursing home. The media depicted this nursing home negatively for the movies point. There were old people tied down to chairs, old people that were in wheel chairs that had just gone to the bathroom in their pants and on the floor in the hospital hallways, and there was screaming and crying by many of the old people that were being ignored by the hospital staff. It almost sickened me that stuff like that would exist. In fact I really did not know if that existed or if it was exaggerated for the movies benefit.

This reality hit me when we moved my Grandmother into a nursing home. It was not as bad as the movie depicted the drama of patients, but there were people tied to their seats so they would not fall out, there were people screaming and crying, and it seemed to me that the workers were ignoring all of this. I remember walking down the white floored hallways in this nursing home and just looked around. A lot of the older people smiled at me and were happy to see a young face. Some of the old people called me over just to give me a hug. I felt a little bit uncomfortable; however, I felt for them and I new that my Grandmother has to now live here. When we left the nursing home, my mother cried because she said it is sad to get old and it hurts to see those people like that, especially my Grandmother because she was once so independent. To this day I dread going to the nursing home to see her because of the hurt that I see in the hallways and in the smile on my Grandmother’s face.

The nursing home is a political aspect of my issue. I know it is important that they clean up and properly staff retirement homes and nursing homes so that elderly people can live happily in their end years. Many do not support the rights of the elderly people because they feel that it waists government money. But these elderly people are our Grandmothers, our Grandfathers, even our moms, dads, aunts, and uncles, and one day perhaps us. One day, in fact, we will want that to be changed.

From the time I was born I was experiencing aging within my own life and body. I then had to learn what aging was around me . From Gramzy Bear from the Care Bears, even Yoda on Star Wars , I learned what aging was slowly from the media, from my parents and even what my Grandmothers taught me. I am learning how they live as older people and how one of my Grandmothers lives with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home.

Politically, I am still learning about changes we as individuals have to make and the changes that the United States and the world has to make for better living for elders. Perhaps it is the media or political views that have an effect on aging. It mostly is the way a person sympathizes for older people and should be based on who the person is rather than how television portrays that specific age group. Because I learned that way.

This issue matters a lot to me because one day I will be old and I will want to be treated good and "normal". My experiences through life have made me a better person and more understanding to certain age groups. It means a lot to me that my parents treat my Grandmothers good and that they taught me to be nice to older people. However, it still makes me sad to think that so many people can care less about old people simply because they are old.

I remember one time my grandmother told me after a hard day at grade school. A day that I was being treated differently from other classmates. She said, just be you, just act like you do at home. Do not change because people want you to change. Just be yourself.

I have taken that into my heart and my soul and I know also that besides all of the "old" people stereotypes like gray hair, crackled voices, walking with canes, and wrinkles, that older people have been around for a long time and they are wise. Wise to what is going on.

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