No Words Can Describe It
“How those fires burned that are no longer, how the weather worsened, how the shadow of the seagull vanished without a trace. Was it the end of a season, the end of a life? Was it so long ago it seems it might never have been? What is it in us that lives in the past and longs for the future, or lives in the future and longs for the past? And what does it matter when light enters the room where a child sleeps and the waking mother, opening her eyes, wishes more than anything to be awakened by what she cannot name?”
( Mark Strand POETRY January 2011 p. 268 )
“Old man, it's four flights up and for what?
Your room is hardly bigger than your bed.
Puffing as you climb, you are a brown woodcut
stooped over the thin tail and the worn-out tread.
The room will do. All that's left of the old life
is jam-packed on shelves from floor to ceiling
like a supermarket: your books, your dead wife
generously fat in her polished frame, the congealing
bowl of cornflakes sagging in their instant milk,
your hot plate and your one luxury, a telephone.
You leave your door open, lounging in maroon silk
and smiling at the other roomers who live alone.
Well, almost alone. Through the old-fashioned wall
the fellow next door has a girl who comes to call.
Twice a week at noon during their lunch hour
they pause by your door to peer into your world.
They speak sadly as if the wine they carry would sour
or as if the mattress would not keep them curled
together, extravagantly young in their tight lock.
Old man, you are their father holding court
in the dingy hall until their alarm clock
rings and unwinds them. You un-stopper the quart
of brandy you've saved, examining the small print
in the telephone book.
The phone in your lap is all
that's left of your family name. Like a Romanoff prince
you stay the same in your small alcove off the hall.
Castaway, your time is a flat sea that doesn't stop,
with no new land to make for and no new stories to swap.”
( Anne Sexton ‘Doors, Doors, Doors’ )
Adult children and their parents often have trouble talking effectively. Small disagreements can be irksome and frustrating; if they simmer and grow, they can poison your last precious months and years together.
What causes these misunderstandings? According to David Solie, author of How to Say It to Seniors, they occur in part because the needs and developmental tasks older parents face are starkly different from — and at times even conflict with — those of their middle-aged children.
Conflicting life stages
As a culture, we tend to view our elderly parents as essentially obsolete — like old cars destined for the scrap heap. But Solie and other geriatric experts believe that aging can actually be a period of growth and personal development. Understanding and facilitating the developmental needs of your parents can make
this stage of life a deeply rewarding one — for you and for them. But it can be difficult for middle-aged adults to support their elderly parents in this process — in part because they’re focused on their own developmental issues.
For most people, midlife is a time of independence and mastery. You’ve gained confidence and a clear sense of what your values are, so this stage of life is focused on consolidating your gains and taking on new responsibilities. At the same time, midlife is a time to nurture and give back, whether by having children or engaging in mentoring or social activism.
As an adult in middle age, you move quickly and efficiently through the world, completing tasks and taking care of your many responsibilities, looking ahead to the next mountain to climb. Your elderly parents, in contrast, are letting go of duties and responsibilities as they settle into retirement. As their physical health
and independence fail, they try to hold fast to the areas of life they still control. At the same time, they’re looking back and trying to understand the significance of their experience and what they’ll leave behind.
It’s these different perspectives that can lead to breakdowns in communication between you and your parents. By understanding the pitfalls, however, you can learn to talk to your elderly parents in a way that helps to close the communication gap.