The smell is unchanged, the expressions familiar, despite the new faces.
Some speak English, others do not. Yet they are all waiting for the same thing; their family.
“Hello,” he calls out into the busy corridor of nurses and visitors. None are there for him.
“Hello,” he says again moments later. You’re tempted to wander in.
He’s been calling for days.
It’s undeniable; the hospital is a cold place. Institutionalised. Artworks on the wall failing to disguise what the old white paint has seen.
Walking into your grandmother’s room, you see her alone, though neighboured with three full beds. Neither lady speaks the same language.
“Hi taita (grandma),” her eyes brighten as she praises the arrival of company. Your face is covered with kisses.
Conversations are had, stories are told and emotions released. Eventually, she forgets who you are, despite carrying her name.
You remind her and she cries over her fragile memory.
She is developing dementia.
“Maalesh taita (it’s ok grandma), mat taatleh hum (do not worry), hayde b ji maal umr tawil (this comes with a long life),” you encourage.
Before you know it, visiting hours are over, and you’re uneasily telling grandma that you have to leave. She will sit awake in the dark as others sleep.
With each day it becomes more apparent to you that this woman is losing grasp of her old strengths. It’s a harsh reminder of a journey we all inevitably face. But you’re not sad. You know that your parents worked hard to ensure that you built a strong relationship with your grandmother. So caring for her now, as before, is natural; not guilt-driven obligation. She still has a few years up her sleeve, and you plan on treating her just as valuable as always.
However, not everyone is comforted by this feeling. Many have fallen victim to the self-indulged YOLO lifestyle that endangers the future of intergenerational relationships. For them, many respond by clenching to what ounce of life remains in a loved one, later regretting the time wasted and the memories unformed. Some are forced by parents to make the effort to visit, and show respect when doing so. Others simply do not care at all.
As Generation Y gains the tools to facilitate social and cultural change, it is cause for concern as to what will happen to our elders. Undeniably, society’s shape is transforming simultaneously with the practices of its population, causing diversification through cross-cultural and intergenerational associations. So, it is important to ensure that Gen-Y upholds traditional notions of elder respect.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 9% of Australians were the age of 70 years or older in 2008. Longer life expectancies and decreased birth rates are expected to generate increases to 13% by 2021, and 20% in 2051. As a result, there will be a greater demand on care and support services for older generations.
Do not disregard such information as simple statistics. To the contrary, they represent a generational obligation, substantiated by medical and social contributions. The youth are potential future providers of prolonged life expectancies, and with women in the workplace, lower birth rates. So, it is Gen Y’s duty to facilitate for this ageing population, morally and emotionally. The concern is not with policy or support services, as there is substantial policy initiative driven by government. It is the moral approach to this issue that lacks support. Rest assured, your grandparents prefer a visit from you once a week, over a daily visit from their employed carer. In fact, a study of long-term care facilities found that what elderly residents most wanted was respect, and this determined their quality of life.
Infamous for being the lazy generation, it is absolutely critical that Gen-Y ensures that the aged population is respected and not forgotten, during their years of stability and fragility, by our generation, and those who succeed us, simply because the system will take care of them. This isn’t like your bedroom, your mother can’t clean it for you.
Interestingly, the approach to respecting elders varies by culture. For instance, Lebanese society, like many, observes little reliance on formal measures of aged care, depending heavily on the support of family. It is a custom that has matured through generations of elevated respect for elders and valued affection to all family members.
With ease, the government has absorbed such tradition, as policy-makers hold the view that extended family be the main form of social welfare. Further, as a result of familial bonds, geriatric physicians and primary care are scarce, despite the great quantity of general physicians in Lebanon. Further, the population of approximately 4.2 million Lebanese people is serviced by only 36 nursing homes, most of which are understaffed, further suggesting the minimal external assistance being sought.
Whilst migrants have clutched to tradition when settling abroad in countries such as Australia, integration into new culture proves difficult in avoiding adjustments in children. Naturally, second generation migrant children are faced with conflicts of standards and expectations. For some, the custom of having grandparents live in the family home has continued. Others are separated by a 20 hour flight, turning to weekly long-distance calls. Many more have misplaced their worth for older family members, visiting only on Easter and Christmas.
So what is it that changes in the succession of generations? One explanation is that Generation Y is faced with a greater multitude of diversity than their parents. This includes exposure to the liberal atmosphere boasted by educational campuses, relative decreases in parental supervision and greater peer influence contrary to family traditions. Further, societal constructs placing strain on women to join the work force may be diverting the time that traditionally applied to the care of loved ones. Whilst this provides for traditional changes in migrants, it fails to address personal morality and familial value across all Sydney-siders.
A theory arguably worth noting is one developed by YSS after many train rides, much time spent on social networks, and a keen ear for music. Let’s call it, the iCulture. “I can’t be bothered”, “I don’t care”, “What do I get out of it”, “I have better things to do”; The self-absorbed, shallow and naive mentality that one will only gain from satisfying personal wants. These are the Gen-Ys who believe that their elders are boring, unintelligent, and smell funny. They are the same individuals who have more selfies than family photos, preach the YOLO life over Luther Vandross’ “Dance with My Father Again” and put parties over psyche. They are the ones who conveniently forget that their grandparents babysat and spoiled them as children. These very individuals will raise their children to forget them one day too.
There is something so valuable about those who preceded us, and in order to foster a relationship with them, their worth must not be ignorantly disregarded. Older generations have lived in a time we know nothing about. They have already learnt life’s lessons, and seen the world endure many ups and downs. They are not out of touch, nor are they judgemental. Your grandparents were young once too, and raised your parents when they too were young and reckless. Ask elders about their youth, and you will hear them giggle mischievously. They have seen it all, ultimately becoming the wisest people you will know.
So please, don’t wait until your grandfather is in hospital to see him. Don’t wait until grandma has developed dementia to form a relationship with her. It is important to ensure that you do not forget your elders when they need you most, for you will feel the hurt when they forget you.
If the last 1244 words haven’t convinced you, allow me to try the iCulture approach: imagine yourself as an 80 year old. Now think about how you would wish to be treated by your future children and grand children. So why should your elders deserve any less?