A New Perspective From the Old

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Today is the first day back at school after a week off and I’ve never been as eager to deal with children again.

I spent most of the past week tending to my 85-year-old aunt and uncle who live about an hour away.

He is in good shape and able to take care of himself, but she’s been in hospital or rehabilitation center since taking a nasty fall in late November.

At first the problem was a broken arm.

Now she is losing her mind.

It is odd how many of the same skills I use daily with my students I now use talking to my aunt and uncle.

He’s always been a deliberate person, considering options from every angle before making a decision, but now he processes slowly and remembers less easily, so waiting for him to make a decision requires every bit of patience and gentle prodding I can muster.

My aunt’s once focused mind is now lost in a world of its own creation. Her increasingly bizarre statements show she is no longer the person my uncle married 50 years ago this past Valentine’s Day.

Listening to my aunt is exhausting.

I’ve always said that I get energy from my students and that is so. Dealing with the elderly, I am discovering, has the exact opposite effect, rendering me  an old battery trying to start a car on a very cold winter morning.

Don’t get me wrong; I am happy to be able to help my childless relatives. I’m the oldest nephew and my uncle, a major figure in my childhood, has remained a reliable guidepost throughout my life.

Even so, dealing with my elderly relatives is far more difficult than dealing with the most difficult students.

I care deeply about my students, and not just their academics. I try to be for them what my uncle was for me; someone I could depend on when things got rough, someone who helped me learn that I did not have to be the person I often saw being modeled for me at home.

I tell my students that all experiences produce learning, but that we have to capture it and connect it to what we already know.

I enjoy working with my students, but I never thought of them as a relief before.

Being there for my relatives this past week has given me a valuable new perspective on what I do every day.

I will try to remain open to the lessons that new perspective offers.


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3 Responses to A New Perspective From the Old

  1. Steve Brown says:

    Kudos for providing the care to your elderly relatives. You are probably more enthusiastic about your students because you know that what you do for them now, will last a lifetime. They are full of promise and possibilities. You are making an investment that will pay off. In the case of your aunt and uncle, it is probably more discouraging because you are just getting them through the day.

  2. Thanks for sharing this personal story. I am sorry that you are watching some that are so close to you face the challenges of growing old.

    Your feelings about being energized in school ring true for me as well. Sometimes I wonder if I need school as much or more than the students. Interacting with students refreshes me each day.

    Dealing with the real world outside of school…not so much.

  3. Tony Burke says:

    I know what you are going through having gone through it with my wife’s mother and now my mother. Being a caregiver to an ailing and aging senior is one of the most challenging things anyone can do and having the patience to do it well is is a real gift. One of the things we can all do for those caregivers in the family is to support them in every way possible and to give them time to refresh, because as you know, that is critical. I saw a recent stat that said 40% of alzheimers’ caregivers end up depressed because the job is all consuming and they do not get enough time for themselves. You are fortunate in that you have the children in school to give you a break. Children can be energizing and can “take you away” for awhile from the daunting task of caring for elders with serious dementia. Best of luck and keep me posted please.

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