At the beginning of this course, they asked us to describe what our lives would be like when we are 80 years old and what would need to happen in our lives to achieve our ideal 80 year old selves. When first posed with this questions, my thoughts immediately went to my Hip Hop dance instructor who earlier that week had told us, "I still want to be dancing when I'm 80, and in order to do that I need to stretch." For some reason these words echoed in my head while thinking about the assignment. Initially, I wrote that I hoped that I had invested in my relationships with my friends and family enough so that I would not be alone by the time that I reach 80.
At the time, I did not really reflect on why I was so afraid of being alone at the age of 80 but I realized the answer when speaking with some elders from the Gary and Mary West Senior Center. When I was speaking with some of the elders as they ate lunch, they told me about their children that lived in the San Diego Area. When I asked if they saw their children often, they replied that they did not and I decided not to press further with my questions. Their response made me think of my great-grandma who is currently living in a convalescent home.
My grandma was born on February 29th, 1920. Although technically she was born 96 years ago, if one were to follow strict birthday rules, she will be turning 23 in a few days. My great-grandma is the woman who brought my mother to the United States from the Philippines. Without her, I would probably not be here. My great-grandma lived completely independently until she fell and hurt her hip a few years ago. Ever since then, she has lived in a convalescent home. I am not able to communicate with her because she mostly speaks Tagalog, but from the way that she carries herself and speaks with my mother I can tell that she is a strong and wise woman.
Now that she is getting older, my family and I try to visit her as often as possible. However, with our busy schedule and the fact that she lives in Los Angeles and my family lives in Sacramento, it is very difficult to see her. Whenever we go to visit her, she always asks us if we are going to take her home to her single-bedroom apartment in Hollywood. I can tell that it hurts my mom every time that she has to say that cannot take my great-grandma home. These are the moments that flashed into my head when I was talking with the seniors at the Gary and Mary West Senior Center.
When I reflect upon my initial answer to the "Where I want to be at 80 years old" question, I still want to have meaningful relationships. However, I no longer think that I will be able to achieve this simply by investing time in my friends and children. I realize that there needs to be a societal change of thinking. Although convalescent and nursing homes are great resources for elders who need consistent medical attention, taking elders away from their homes and communities can be devastating. In order for me to continue my meaningful relationships with friends and family when I am 80 I need to have the freedom and power to do so. My great-grandma invested time in her relationship with my mom and uncle, which is why they come to visit. But my mom does not have the power to take her out of the convalescent home and my great-grandma does not have the power to leave. Although I understand that she needs to stay there to receive care, I also know that she wants to feel independent and to reconnect with the community that she was a part of before she was put into the convalescent home.
This year my great-grandma will turn 23. In two years, I will be the same "age" as her. If I am blessed to live as long as my great-grandma, I hope that the way society views seniors will change from dependent patients to independent elders with power to make their own decisions and wisdom to share with the younger generations.