At 55, I am writing this post to my 75-year-old stuff. If I make it to that age, I hope to remember that I wrote this and listen to me carefully.
Now that I’m edging into the far end of my life, I pay a lot more attention to the elderly. I listen carefully to my parents and elderly friends as they face difficult financial and medical decisions, I attend to issues that sprout as they begin to stutter and fail, and I am keenly aware of the impact of decay on our everyday interactions and attitudes. While I’m still relatively spry and of sound mind, I want to lay down a marker for myself. A reminder of the 40-50 year old perspective (the age of family members I’ll be most likely to interact with). I want to remember what makes it hard for them to be around the future me and what they most likely will want to hear.
Try not to talk so much about your health, ok? While it’s understandable – what with so many burgeoning conditions causing pain and so much of your days taken up with medical appointments – hearing about it really gets old. Unfortunately, there’s not much that your family and friends can do about your physical health, so don’t burden them with endless catalogues of what ails you, the medications you’re taking, the procedures you’ve undergone, or the symptoms that blossom. It’s not that you should lie about it – just try not to dwell on it.
Ask questions and be interested in the answers. Maybe it’s due to hearing loss or maybe it’s just that the elderly have more stories to tell but it seems to me that older people tend to tell long, rambling stories (most often based in the past) with few inlets for conversation or exchange. A little bit of that is ok, just don’t make a steady diet of it, future-me. Ask questions of the young people in your circle. Find out what makes them tick, what are they reading, what music do they listen to, what are their hobbies, what’s hard about the work they do, what are their fears?
I hope you’ve nurtured your sense of humor, future self. Don’t take yourself or anyone else too seriously and have a laugh as often as you can.
Avoid revisionist history at all costs. There is nothing more tiresome than an older person explaining to a younger person why something was “so much better” when they were a kid. People weren’t more considerate, entertainment wasn’t more enriching, food didn’t taste better, and wars weren’t good. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that “new” is worse than anything that’s come before it. It’s fine for you to remember your past fondly, but don’t make the mistake of robbing the current generations’ pleasures by comparing them to an inaccurate vision of your past, colored by the rosy glasses of time.
But mostly, future me, give those younger people around you some reasons for hope. Some positive perspective on their future. They’re all worried about what it’s like and what lies in store for them. Reassure them and tell them its going to be ok. Even if you have to lie a little.