Young Lady or Wise Elder?

It seems like only yesterday that I had my first real job working with Elders and their families, and started learning the lessons that would lead me into a career that has become my passion. It’s hard to believe that time has passed so quickly, and that I’ve been on this road for almost thirty years, gathering knowledge and expertise in the field of aging and caregiving.

One of the first things I learned was to never “talk down” to an Elder by calling her “Dearie” or “Honey,” or to think of Elders as “cute.”

Imagine my reaction yesterday at a local bistro when the cashier referred to my silver-maned husband as “the young man” and to me as “the young lady!”

It was weird.

And insulting.

I’ve worked really hard for a very long time and taken some hard knocks along the way.  My first reaction was that I don’t want my experience and wisdom invalidated by a patronizing label.

My second reaction, the one that was sort of underneath the first and that I’m ashamed to admit, was my uncomfortable awareness that what the cashier saw before her was my own inexorable aging.

I truly think there is great beauty in the faces of the Elders I know. I love spending hours talking with them, looking them straight in the eye, and listening carefully to their stories.

I don’t know why I’m uncomfortable with what I see reflected in my own mirror; maybe I thought maturity would have a glow about it, a kind of softening that comes with wrinkles and graying hair. Maybe I’m just in that mid-life place where people tell me I look tired even when I’m not, and the mysterious beauty of true Elderhood is still to come.

Either way, I’m not a “young lady” anymore, no matter how you look at it!  I have chosen to embrace my own Aging and to celebrate the gifts that it brings, even as I gather the bumps and bruises, scars and wrinkles of life’s bittersweet journey. 

Above all, I will continue to work toward changing a culture that celebrates youth to the exclusion of Elderhood, and I will never call an Elder “young lady.”

Lisa Kendall is a clinical social worker specializing in gerontology, and is an Eden at Home Educator committed to changing the culture of care for Elders and their care partners.  You can learn more about Eden at Home and the Eden Alternative at www.edenalt.org.

4 Responses to “Young Lady or Wise Elder?”

  • Ms. Kendall, I am a licensed counselor and the majority of my clients are seniors. I have quickly seen my work with older adults become my passion, and I share your crusade to herald the importance of seniors in our culture. Please continue writing and sharing your thoughts – I commend you.

    • Thank you for finding my new blog, for your comments, and for your work on behalf of seniors. I hope you’ll come back often as I learn more about this powerful new way to connect and share my work with others, and feel free to pass along this site to your colleagues and clients! I’m hoping to add new features soon. Take care, Lisa K.

  • I love your blog. I am reminded how much my elderly mother hates being called “honey” or “deary” and it is odd how often you hear that especially from nurses in the hospital! I am 54 years old and the other day a man working at a local store called me “young man”…what was interesting was that he was clearly much older than I was! I am not sure if I should have been insulted or flattered! Thanks for your post!

    • Thanks for your comments, and for finding my new blog! I guess how the “pet names” are received depend in part on where they come from! I can forgive the very young folkls at the local cinema for not being able to discern whether or not we get the senior discount (husband’s silver hair is a bit confusing!), and I never mind if an Elder calls me “honey” or “dear!” Hope you’ll check back often and continue to share your stories! I’m setting up a website, too – should be available at http://www.lisakendallcounselor.com

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