Disrespect for the Aged

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Rational Thinking?


  Old age is a very difficult time of life.  We are denigrated, ridiculed, not taken for "full."  We are viewed as mentally ill children without the love and understanding that infants receive.  We are expected to be rational adults.  We are no longer beautiful or easy to be challenged.  When we look into the mirror, we see a worn face.  Our recollections are numerous.  We have forgotten much that occurred in our long yet seemingly short life.  We have difficulty remembering names, no matter how much we try.  We feel incompetent.  We try hard to be giving, to be responsible, to be strong.  We are frequently the scapegoats of middle agers and of the young.  We give as much as we can, yet we are afraid of being poor, of being impoverished.  We try beyond our strength to fit in.  We are not considered interesting.  The new century is full of new "learnings" that are often beyond the doing of our overused brainpower.  We are living in a world that is strange, a world of computers, of electronics, of twitters, kidders, and shivers.  Our offspring are uncaring and busy with their lives.  They denigrate us or treat us as undesirable children.  Whatever our abilities wer, they are not good enough in the "new" world with its challenges, its expectations.  We are expected to give regardless of our means.  We are expected to fawn over infants without being allowed to participate in our needs or our equlaity, our knowledge, our attitudes.  We are not permitted to be active participants in joyful events.  We are tolerated.  As Jews, we are expected tob e helpful servants who can service, can do, give regardless of our abilities or means, be available when needed but not trusted when others are available.  We are not taken for full; our human rights are infringed.  If we attempt to be true friends with our beloved grandchildren, we are stopped, embarrassed because we are considered imbeciles who will damage the opportunities of our progeny.  We are "once removed" into the closet of stupidity, lack of knowledge, of understanding.  Our offspring are permitted to embarrass us, to not care to understand us, to denigrate us.  They are permitted to shriek at us if they disagree with us.  They do not have to apologize.  They can give us some trinkets, some flowers, a few cookies to keep us grateful.  They want to make sure that they will get what is "theirs" after we are rotting in our graves.  They have forgotten that we were once parents who raised, who loved, who cared for them, who helped them regardless of the cost or energy.  They diminish the elderly Mom or Dad.  "Fürs vergangene gibt der Jud nichts" (the past is irrelevant, worthless).  The old ager is considered a nuisance who may be able to be placated or not, since it does not matter.

  If they are friends with their grandchildren, the younger generation are reminded that they, the parents, know much more what is or is not for their "children."  They attempt and frequently succeed in dominating their adult child and interfere with the relationship by giving material goods and reminding them that they, after all, are the parents, and the old are useless imbeciles willing to do them harm by their ignorance, their appearance, their way of life.  After all, if they were such interesting humans, the grandparents would be rich, give without regret, and constantly follow the edicts and directions of the grandson or granddaughter's parents.

  The older generation is rejected, ridiculed, and dismissed.  The generation before them considers them a burden, beleaguered if they pay attention to them and their children; considered overwhelmed by the very sight of the older adult.  Praise awaits them for every good word or "deed" that they do for the nuisance that was once their parent.  To ask the younger one a question about their life or their family is considered an intrusion.  The commandment to honor your mother and your father that you may live long on earth is long forgotten!

What must be remembered is that those who are now the younger generation will be repaid for their arrogance, lack of conscience, and unacceptable deeds as they grow into the status of the elderly.

Addendum:  The “Miracles”  We Have Created

 As we ponder about the Neveres(sins) that our children perpetrate we would like to retaliate, to ignore them, to disinherit them, to live our lives as if they had never existed; to live our lives as best as possible without the psychic pain they cause and have caused when our thoughts revert to our youth.  We remember the little girl that snuggled up to us, whose diapers we changed, whose milk we sterilized, whose hunger we stilled, who depended on us to survive, that sweet little face whose smile brightened our day, the growing up years when we catered to boyfriends, to please our little cherub who was once so helpless and dependent on us.  We see the little boy whose very smile changed our day; who believed in a magic mountain where vehicles needed no driver and would take us to a remarkable spot where the unusual was occurring.  We see the little genius who could read at age four, who was sitting on a beach playing with his bucket of sand, never worrying that he might not be able to be found as his parents sweated and searched with hearts pounding and anxiety overcoming them. We remember how we protected them all from the evil that surrounded them; how we threatened their boisterous classmates by becoming instant police officers to prevent further bullying; how we held birthday parties, vacationed and had such Naches (pride and joy) watching them grow.  We recall how I took our little girl for “tea,” how her small head with the new hat made her feel like a “lady.” How we watched over them all and protected them from all evil and always loved them because they were special, they were ours and we wanted them happy, always and forever.

  As they grew we taught them as best as we could.  We provided friends when they  could not find them alone.  We entertained them as much as we could.  Wherever we went they came with us.  When they were ill we were with them to cheer them.  They were not alone! They were protected by us, their parents and their “nannies,” the hired help that were with them when Mom and Dad needed to work to give them what necessities they needed.

  They were taught to be strong, good and respected Jewish children, with the joys that awaited them, the yom tovim (holidays) that they anticipated and celebrated.  They were children who were very important and whose needs came before all else. 

  Like all parents, we were not perfect, although we did all that we could to raise them into independent, self sufficient men and women.

  As aged parents can we really comfort ourselves with an age old proverb, especially when they denigrate and belittle us:  “What I aspired to do and could not achieve, I comfort me!”?


 Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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