A woman of age

When did aging get associated with stupidity or loss of intellect? Here in Ontario it seems that for women who age, especially women on their own, a general assumption is made that they can no longer make decisions for themselves.  I’m not talking about women on their 50’s or 60’s, it’s more women who are in their 70’s and on up.  And it’s typically their own kids that start to treat them like they are mentally deficient.

We are in a  society where age is not valued.  For years the mandatory retirement age suggested that at 65 years of age you ceased to be a productive, valued member of society.  Mandatory retirement at 65 was lifted in Canada in 2012; however, the stigma about older employees in the workplace is still entact.  The younger generation have been raised to believe that an older employee is an impediment to progress and productivity.  That older employees are stuck in the past and offer no real value to the future – the legacy of mandatory retirement. Thankfully the mandatory age has been lifted.  It actually forced a large part of society into poverty.

Our messaging in the workplace translated to outside of the workplace, and more especially so for women.  Years of ingrained stereotyping about menopausal women and post menopausal women suggested that there was a mental instability resulting from loss of fertility, ‘mood swings’. Heck up until the 1960s in some civilized countries  menopause was still viewed as an insanity that women were afflicted with.  Perhaps this factored into the wage inequity, the belief that women were born flawed and consequently had limits to their capacity for intellectual development.  Regardless of why, the wage disparity exists, the perceptions of menopause as a physical deficiency still exist.

Put them together:  mandatory retirement (you’re old and have no value) + you are a woman 65+ (been to the crazy land of menopause and back) + as a woman you likely earned far less than a man = somebody better look after you, because you can’t do it yourself, emotionally or financially.  We are moving away from this view, but it takes time, patience and persistence in looking for the systemic imbalances related to long held notions.

Then, individually, we have a responsibility, as we age a lot is tied to the actions we ourselves take. Sure it’s easier at some point, especially when you are on your own, to say to friends or family, ‘I can’t think about it’, or ‘I don’t know what to do, tell me what to do’, or the ultimate transfer of power: ‘you decide for me’. It’s when it gets said perpetually that the dynamics can change. Much depends on how you allow your relationships to evolve. Know your motivations, if you play the ‘poor me’ then you will be treated like the ‘poor me’.  But in some instances it’s the mature children who come in and steamroller the parent into submission. There’s no choice involved. Whether it’s a lack of time, patience or concern, the child makes the decisions, the parent allows it to happen and, consequently, the parent becomes the child in all aspects of decision-making.  It’s why does the parent allow it to happen that’s important.

Is it fear of being alone?  Is it because it’s easier?  When do the dynamics in the relationship start to shift?  Is this a financially-driven decision to cede over one’s autonomy to another?  Is it because there aren’t enough supports in the community to ensure continued independence?  I have to look for studies in this regard, to see what’s out there.  But for those of us who are getting older I suggest watching this video about a man who retired to start a whole new adventure, and didn’t miss a step in his enjoyment of life.

Then there’s the others

It’s easy to become preoccupied with my own thoughts.  The kids try their best to understand what I’m going through, and I try to understand what they are going through.  We all agree each of us has our own challenges and sorrows.  There are times though when I get so angry at how insensitive people can be, and frustrated too, because I am powerless to change it.

Today was a classic example.  My sons live a distance from me, consequently I don’t see them too frequently.  My daughter I see almost every day.  As a result I feel pretty in tune with her state of mind; not so much with my sons.  I know that as Christmas approaches they are all reflecting on the enormity of the loss, their loss, and my heart breaks for them.

Today, one of my sons sent me a message that almost made me cry. He has a co-worker going through a similar situation, a bit more prolonged of an illness than Kevin’s (my husband and his father) was, but with the same eventuality – death is looming near.  Consider how hard that atmosphere would be to someone already grieving.  It’s a very small office, five or six employees, and my son has to go to work every day and every day all the talk is about is death and dying.  I imagine that it’s like someone constantly picking the scab off a cut that is trying to heal.

He can’t escape from the dark clouds that hover in his workplace, and like most people who haven’t lost anyone near and dear, these coworkers seem to have a morbid fascination about talking about it.  Can you just feel the knife twisting over and over – my son just can’t avoid it.  And he’s surrounded by people who think they “know” what it’s like. That’s been his norm since his dad died; closing in on nine months.  Then today, the co-worker brought in some treats, treats for everyone but my son.  No biggie, if it is handled properly, but it wasn’t.  It became a joke around the office – I have to shake my head in disbelief.  Whatever happened to empathy?  Would it be funny if it was one of them left out?

So, what did I tell my son after he shared this story?  I told him to handle his “funny” coworkers like his father would have.  And how would that be?  Fairly directly as well as explicitly. It would go very much like this, “F*ck you, assholes,” and it would have been delivered with passion and emphasis and straight in the eye. The thing about Kevin was, he didn’t fear words, they are only ordered letters after all – it was the delivery that mattered.

Long ago, when the kids were small Kevin had told me that some things you can trust a school to teach, but other things needed to be taught at home. There was no way his kids were ever going to learn to swear at school, he’d teach them himself at home.  Funny thing though, he’d tell the kids it was okay to swear but just never around me.  I actually bought into it too, and was shocked to find out that they were all quite colourful in their language.

After hearing my son’s story today, I’m glad that his father gave him the ability to express himself. I am also glad that I gave him the filters to know what is appropriate and what isn’t, because I know that he is just too polite a young man to ever “handle” the situation like his father would have.  My son did see the humour in my advice as well as recognize the honesty.

Kevin was one of a kind, and together we raised very good kids.