When Old People Cry

By Ken Wells - 02/24/2022


Series Three: Blog Eight

When people age, a couple of things seem true. Some seniors get crabby and crusty. This type of senior focuses on pessimistic complaints about joint pain, politics, technology, how things used to be, and a lot of other things. These folk are hard to be around. They push people away from them. They cry on the inside and bitch and complain outside so you can’t see the fear or the folly about being less significant to a society that prizes youth and warehouses old people.

I notice that other old people cry a lot. They cry for many different reasons. Loneliness, obscurity, nostalgia and fear of fragility are only a few. Dementia triggers tears for no apparent reason. Visit someone who has been warehoused because of dementia and inability to perform self care. They may sit in a wheelchair in the hallway and cry while people pass by. If you ask why they are crying, many don’t know. So I want to offer why I think some people cry a lot when they get old.

Things taught about God didn’t make sense. Throughout life God was supposes to make the old years golden if you obeyed God’s commandments and lived a good life. So you did. But, here you are sitting alone in your house that’s way too big, with too much or not enough money to survive. All your friends are dead or in the same place you are. Family only has time to be nice because they have their own juggernaut to balance. As health declines and loneliness burns a hole in your soul, the things you were taught about God seem distant and insufficient. The pace and rhythm of the world no longer includes you. So you cry.

Spent your entire life trying to do more to keep from being less.  As you sit in your wheelchair, or your lazy boy staring out the window, you think of the rush of life and all the important things that had to be done but nobody remembers or cares. You shake your head about the senseless weariness of it all. You were a big deal. People came to you for leadership. Once, you were a celebrity in the world you lived. You had power and clout. But now look at you! The world has passed you by. You thought they couldn’t make it without you. Yet, your company is twice as big as it was when you were there or has been sold with no trace of your input whatsoever. Your family not only makes their own decisions, but they now make all the significant ones for you as well. So, you sit and stare, listening to echoes of past voices who told you this is the way it will be, and now you can’t believe it. So you cry.

Decided to stuff feelings and be stoic throughout the younger years of living. Now you feel a ton of emotions. Regret, that you weren’t different. Sadness, but you don’t know how to grieve. Anger, but you only numb out, unwilling to sit with the discomfort of injustice and things that didn’t work out. Then you isolated from your feelings and today you don’t know how to recognize what’s inside. There’s loneliness, shame, hate, and a ton of resentment. But, you’re emotionally constipated. You don’t know how to share the feelings that are inside. Your past embrace of machismo has failed you. You are empty. So you cry about things you cannot change.

The legacy you left your kids is a checkerboard of hypocrisy. You told them not to lie but you lied to get ahead all your life. You lied to your committed partner about addiction and everything that triggered a conflict. It was always do as I say and not as I do. Now you’re helpless to stop the game of repeat in the lives of those you love the most. Jim Croce’s tune of “Cat’s in the Cradle” keeps echoing in your mind and you can’t stop it. So you cry.

You never took time to grieve the life you lived. Your parents screwed you over. Yet, you never took the time to clean the wound deeply enough to change the way you live that was different from how you were treated. James Baldwin said it well: “It’s not the world that is my oppressor. For what the world does to you, if it does it long enough, you begin to do it to yourself and you will do it to others as well”. You didn’t receive the love and care you needed from your caregiver. You tell yourself that you addressed the issue in therapy years ago. But as you reflect, you realize the ways you treated your kids were just like ways in which you were treated. There was a time you could hide behind being a breadwinner or big shot at work. You may have even instructed and helped others to address their family pain. Yet, today, you have regret as you stare out the window and reflect on the pain you have not grieved to completion. You can’t redo what might’ve been. So you cry.

You see the preciousness of every moment, every life, and every experience of living. You were so busy making a living that you never took time to notice the life around you. Your grandson finally learned to ride his bike without training wheels! Your granddaughter finally pooped in the potty! Things you never noticed when your kids were little because you were chasing the ring of material gain. As you stare out your window you notice a squirrel gathering nuts interrupted by starlings angry for intruding upon their turf. They literally chase the squirrel away. You feel compassion for the squirrel and anger toward the starlings. In the past, you never had time to even notice the interchange. Now you notice the life force in every living thing around you. You are aware that your time on earth is brief. It has always been limited, but until now you didn’t take time to reflect on the brevity of life. So you cry.

The Grim Reaper is visiting your neighborhood and you know that he’s gonna knock on your door someday soon. Throughout life, you rubbed elbows with the Grim Reaper. There was your best friend who drowned in the river. Grandparents, parents and siblings who passed away. COVID fatalities make you think about the possibility you might be next. But, you pushed all that away and pressed on to complete goals, gather money, and look forward to the next vacation. But now, mortality and finitude stare back at you as you peer out the window of your life. You have always said you are going to die this way or that. Kind of a macho declaration about life. But today you realize that the Grim Reaper makes all those decisions and you have none to make. You don’t get to say when or where or what you will feel. Just that when the Grim Reaper knocks on your door you must answer. So you cry.

As you read this blog, you may be still young and crushing it in all that you do. You may be celebrating your “invincibility” in the world you live. Take a deep breath, and listen to the cry of a senior who made many of the choices you are making right now. Possibly their tears will trigger your transformation to make peace in your heart with the world around you. It’s not too late. Remember, the Grim Reaper rules and he will come knocking on your door sooner than you think.

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