Ignoring the Old

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Frag den Chole, Nicht den Rofe

(Ask the sick one, not the physician)


The person who is ill knows much better how he feels than the physician or the healer.  The pain is the patient’s and he can describe the suffering that is his.  This is as true in emotional/mental pain as it is in physical illnesses.  We only know superficially how a person is hurting/suffering but we do not really know how much something hurts, how much he has suffered, what went wrong, and why and how are his problems  affecting him. That for which one person is bearable leads to suicide for another.  Each human being is unique and each feels his pain in his special way.  No two folk have experienced a situation in the same fashion.  There are many examples that come to mind.  The holocaust  survivor is much more sensitive to certain comments, innuendos, rejections, and much more.  He/she remembers the Hitler youth who spat on him; the threats of destruction, the stones thrown, the “Juden Bänke,” the signs that Jews are not permitted to sit in the park; the  signs Juden unerwünscht (Jews not wanted); the endless threats; the sparsity of food, the hunger, the revulsion which ultimately he turns toward himself and believes the unimaginable threats and denigrations directed at him.  The grown up person who recalls that she was called unspeakable names, how her hair had been pulled and her body been beaten by Hitler youth, how she had been called repugnant because she was Jewish; how she had to hide to avoid being annihilated.  The saleswoman at a fair who called out: “Immer lecker, immer lecker, für die Sarah, für die Rebekkah” as she held up ice cream cones which the Jewish child could not buy because it was only offered to non Sarahs or Rebekkahs.  Compared to the unimaginable atrocities that occurred to the survivors there is pain that all people feel at one or another time in their lives.  Only they know how it feels to be denigrated or how particular situations affected them emotionally.  There are many such situations which occur on a daily basis that can be described.

Many parents have raised a number of children into successful adults.  It is not unusual for these adults to have no respect for their aging parents and only make requests that would leave these folk impoverished with threats of abandonment.  Some adult offspring treat their folks with disrespect and dishonor, and the victims feel like worthless animals who are being “put down”/annihilated; often a widow is treated with disdain and labeled with terminology that gives the impression that the victim is “domineering,” an embarrassment due to her wardrobe, or some other label that has her appear like an undesirable human.

It is difficult for a person who is healthy, respected and satisfied with his or her position in life to empathize with the “chosen one,” the one that has been labeled with the anger of the hostile human being who needs a reason for his aggression and /or rejection  of the human being in question.

The older adult who has raised his/her offspring is frequently ignored and placed in a corner, not responded to, and barely conversed with; he feels like a pariah who is worthless, ignorant and shunned.  He feels denigrated and useless no matter what his accomplishments have been, nor how he supported his brood.

The only gratification that the older adult can have is that someday those who have denigrated, ignored and shamed him will have the same fate as his.   Yom Kippur is a reminder that all people have feelings regardless of their age, their income, their gender and their beliefs.  It is time to change hurting those who have given us life, those who have protected and raised us, and those who have given of themselves: bechol levovche, bechol nafchecho ufchol meodecho”(with heart, soul, and hands).


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

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