The older we get, the wiser we become. It’s like life and its infinite lessons become clearer year after year. For this reason, our parents, grandparents, and aging relatives are gems on Earth because they possess so much wisdom that we could all learn from, no matter how old we are. Even when we don’t live close to them, their lessons can transcend distance. And when members of our elder generation pass away, the void in everyone’s heart is tremendously deep.
In many cultures, like in Latin America and Asian countries, the elderly are revered and highly respected. They even have special titles, certain manners of speaking, and specific grammar structures when speaking to the elderly to demonstrate respect. For example, some cultures use specific words either before or in lieu of an elderly person’s name as a sign of respect when speaking to them, like “Doña” in Mexican culture for a female elderly person and “oe halmeoni” in Korean culture for a maternal grandmother.
In fact, in many countries, the concept of a “convalescent home” is not a popular option when parents age and instead they are welcomed into the child’s home, and the children take care of their elderly parents. In the U.S., when someone ages to become a senior citizen, they are generally seen as somewhat of a burden and respect for them wanes considerably. The United States of America idolizes youth. The elderly become the butt of the joke. It is my personal belief that generally, we can and should do a better job of honoring, supporting, and respecting the elderly.
I have been fortunate to have had close relationships with several elderly family members who are no longer living but whom I still cherish deeply. I was at the bedside of a beloved dying family member and I can recall my heart feeling like it had shattered into a million little pieces knowing he wouldn’t be on this Earth much longer. But the lessons these elderly family members have taught me guide me daily. Perhaps it was their proximity to death that gave them the profound realization of life’s true value and truths. Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned from the elderly in my family that have shown me the beauty of having them in our lives.
This article is dedicated to my uncle Ruben, Abuelito Faustino, and Abuelita Socorro. I miss you always and I send you all my love in heaven.
Lesson #1: All You Need Is Love
When my uncle was experiencing pain and in hospice, there was something about him that seemed at peace despite the circumstances he was in. In those moments, it didn’t matter what promotions he had ever received, the size of his bank account, or the amount of clothes in his closet. The only thing he wanted was to be near his wife and children every day—especially in his last days. This is love. It’s what matters most in the end. Being loved and giving love are what stay with us until our last breath, and in my own personal belief, this love is eternal.
Lesson #2: We All Make Mistakes—What Matters Is Forgiveness
Life can be frantic and precious at the same time. Sometimes, we get so caught up in the minutia of our daily routines that we forget what a gift it is to be alive. The elderly don’t, though. They are keenly aware of the beauty of living and seem to have a better perspective on what truly matters in life. Disagreements, insecurities, jealousy, and mistakes, although a part of life, should not stop us from living a life of happiness.
On the contrary, my elderly family members have demonstrated that forgiveness is actually what sets your heart free to soar and love unconditionally. A few days before my uncle passed away, he shared with us this message: “I don’t care what you have done in your life or the mistakes you have made. I just love you so much and I want you to be happy. That’s all I have ever wanted. Don’t worry about me.” I have never forgotten these words—they fill my eyes with tears each time I think about them.
Lesson #3: Oral Histories Are Irreplaceable Gifts for Future Generations
Our elderly family members and friends carry a wealth of knowledge and stories. When they pass, these oral histories go with them if they’re not preserved in some way. The last thing we want to feel is regret that we cannot remember that story our great aunt once told us about her journey immigrating to this country, for example. Oral histories are timeless and priceless.
Let’s learn to be better listeners and listen to our family members’ stories. Making a concerted effort to document these valuable oral histories in writing or by filming them will become cherished heirlooms. Companies like Storyworth help capture written family histories by emailing a new thought-provoking question each week and the company captures answers in a hard-bound book. Or simply ask a family member to share some stories and record them with your phone.
Their stories are our stories and that of our children’s. Their stories of challenges and triumphs are what define our paths and those of future generations. In this way, we will forever keep their memories alive.
Lesson #4: There Will Never Be Enough Time—Live Life to the Fullest With No Regrets
By the time the elderly have reached the twilight of their life, they may share that they have lived a full life. In fact, my grandfather became a world traveler after he retired and embraced visiting other cultures. It brought him joy to live his life to the fullest and not wallow in regrets and disappointments. I’ve learned from him to take risks, explore worlds outside my own, and cherish every minute life gives us.
In the end, we can never have enough time to be with our loved ones, so it’s best to appreciate every moment we do have with them. Once you’ve lived a full life, my elderly family members have shown me the realization that you only get one chance to bask in the beauty of life. Live a life of love, happiness, kindness, and hope.