Perhaps it’s the sun or the lifestyle but spending time in Spain has completely changed my perception of growing old.
My Indonesian culture embraces caring for our parents (as well as other elderly family members for that matter). This includes taking them to the doctor, doing their shopping, cooking for them, doing their laundry, maintaining their homes (housekeeping), etc… Furthermore, it is very normal for us to welcome them into our homes once it becomes clear that they cannot live on their own anymore. This tradition has to do with the respect and gratitude we have and feel for our parents, and the nurturing love they bestowed upon us as children.
It can, however, come with some challenging consequences. One’s mother or mother-in-law, for example, will often take complete control over ‘your’ household, which may cause some added stress or tension to say the least. Similarly, fathers or fathers-in-law often become the wise elder, frequently mediating and smoothing out the wrinkles created by the new ‘head of household’..!
There are many wonderful advantages too, I hasten to add. Live-in grandparents love to spoil their grandchildren and make for great permanent babysitters! This, in turn, provides more opportunities for some much needed ‘me-time’ ..! Furthermore, sage advice and life experience are readily available at any time. I could go on and on about the many benefits although I must also point out that the concept of privacy is something that will be hard to come by in this new type of household!
Unfortunately, this type of tradition is difficult to maintain in the Netherlands, which is why I was deeply saddened when my dear mother’s health necessitated that she be moved to a nursing home here. I was thankfully able to retain many of our Indonesian ways; for example, my mother had her own food and snacks, I did all her personal laundry, the cleaning of her room was taken care of, and she had her own bedding, cutlery, glasses, plates etc… I was also able to make an entire schedule for my siblings, aunts, friends, and paid companions so that my mother was not ‘alone’. Many of my friends exclaimed, ‘Alone? But your mother lives in a nursing home’! Yes, I would reply but this is the Indonesian way…!!!!
Now, let me get back to how I began – to Spain. My biggest surprise has been seeing so many happy, joyful, active, high spirited, and positive elderly people! It has made me wonder, ‘what’s happening here’? When I walk on the beach at 7.30am, I am not the only one. Many elderly people are out there too – at all times of the day. I see them walking and animatedly talking with their spouse, friends, children, grandchildren or even their dogs.
In the mornings I see them having a typical Spanish breakfast with coffee, at 2pm I see them having a sherry with some tapas while enjoying each other’s company, at 5pm they have a coffee with a pastry and when I am almost ready to go to bed, I see them again with another glass of sherry, wine, or beer whilst happily eating more tapas and busily chatting with each other.
Once I saw an elderly couple sitting on a bench listening to Nat King Cole; so romantic! Again, it makes me ask, ‘What is happening here?’ Have they experienced something like the elderly people in that lovely film Cocoon ? Is it the sun that feeds their hearts and keeps them young, enabling them to live so independently? Or is it the human and social interaction they enjoy that helps them feel that they are still a valuable part of society?
Could the secret to growing old really be as wonderfully simple as this..?
by Grace Simon-Kellerman