When I was pre-teen I used to have nightmares about dying - not the actual act itself but what comes afterwards. I just couldn't comprehend nothing and trying to quantify it just made it worse. My mum used to work in an old people's home and I loitered there before and after school sometimes. They are not very cheerful places, usually someone is yelling 'Help!' and the smell of warm toast, old people and that sweet bouquet of decay is enough to make you want to shut the door behind you and never go back.
A couple of years later I volunteered at an old people's home, just making the tea and talking to the residents while episodes of Airhawk played in the background. That's really all the semi-lucid ones wanted, someone to natter to about the state of things today and what it was like in their life time. I often think the elderly are kept at arms length in an effort to forget about them when in fact they still have a great deal to offer.
Different cultures look after their ageing relatives differently. It is quite normal for Mediterranean families to have several generations living under one roof all enjoying Grandma's secret meatball recipe whilst here in the UK often the elderly are left alone, bereft of family and a reason to celebrate life. Of course I am generalising - you may visit your grandma every week. I know I don't. I also know that I have witnessed lonely people sitting in that chair by the window wishing for a visitor and never, ever getting one.
Ageism strikes in different places for different reasons. Women in the media spotlight like those reading the news or giving the weather report were, until recently, kept looking fresh and youthful, replaced regularly while their male counterparts carried on regardless. Things have changed a little but age is still seen as a negative attribute. It is still seen as unusual to change your career track later in life and those who risk it all to go back to school are deemed mid-life crisis material.
With the soaring cost of living many are having to work for longer or indeed when they are retired from their previous work you'll find your grandparents scanning your shopping for you at your local supermarket. Is there anything wrong with that you might ask - well, they take longer and often try to engage in conversation which is unheard of these days. Grandparents are also being encouraged to become the primary carers for their own and other grandchildren as both parents struggle to go back to work. A good idea in theory but who is implementing the fitness and competence tests?
As we ourselves get older the threshold for what is seen as old moves higher and higher. I feel the same now as I did when I was in my twenties but I feel quite sure that my step-daughter and her teenager friends see me as an out of touch fossil. The ever quickening pace of technology plays a large role in leaving an entire generation behind but I think it's important to know where you came from, to give that generation the respect they deserve and to give your Nan a ring once in a while. Before you know it, they'll be gone and you'll never forgive yourself.
Age is just a number - what really matters are those little acts of kindness and those opportunities to just sit and have a cuppa and chat about how fast the world is changing. It won't be long before you sit in that chair.