A little look at why it´s taken me 30 years to realise how amazing elderly people are! 

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The It´s been over 4 months since we came back from our six month wonderful, incredible, exhausting  travelling extravaganza and, honestly, what a relief it was to be in one place and stop the daily search for the next bed, meal and destination.. First world problems, hey…

Even though the backpacks have been hidden away, we´ve still been really keen to keep visiting NGOs in the local area, not least because much of our funds came from friends and family in Madrid (Gracias!). We visited a homeless charity over the summer – check out the article about it all here -  (Spanish only until I get round to translating it, sorry!). Most recently we´ve been to visit an organisation supporting elderly people in Madrid with friendship and support from local volunteers: Amigos de los Mayores.  This visit has been especially important for me; it doesn´t really focus on my interest areas, it´s a local Spanish NGO working on local Spanish issues, so far from my International Development background, but (and this is a big ´but´) they´ve given me a new perspective on a few things.

Oldies, but Goodies.

A creeping realisation has come over me in the last few years about how important, lovely and full of interesting stories and advice elderly people are. This sentiment was never a given for me: I never really understood the appeal of grandparents, having sadly never met my dad´s parents and only seeing my maternal grandad  intermittently during wonderful childhood holidays to Spain (where he lives) or at various weddings and family parties back in England. There was also a granny, Brenda, who we didn´t see much of. We called her ´plain granny´ – which sounds pretty rude thinking about it- only to distinguish her from ‘Great Granny’, Alice, an old lady who wore purple tracksuits,  dyed her hair red religiously and enjoyed a brandy or two!

I´d have loved to have known her as an adult, I bet she could teach me a thing or two.

There was also her husband, Ron, who I don´t recall much of as he spent most of his time upstairs in bed. They both died when I was about 9 or 10. It was normal to my 10 year old brain: they were old, old people die.

My "plain" Granny, Brenda with her five children.

My “plain” Granny, Brenda with her five children.

Friends´ grandparents have passed away over the years and using the same 10 year old logic, I never understood why they got so upset.  I never understood that connection my friends had with their parents´ parents. Luckily, recently, I´ve spent time with other people´s grannies (my step mum´s mum, my boyfriend´s grannies and wonderful elderly people living in Old People´s homes in Madrid during my time spent with Amigos de los Mayores) and now I´ve worked it all out: the elderly are awesome. You probably already knew that, but here´s why:

  1. They open the door to the past

I was at my dad´s the other day looking through old photos for a family party when I stumbled across an amazing door to the past.

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This is a photo of my dad´s dad, my grandad, also known as Kenneth. As I said, I never met him, but I´d actually never seen a photo of him before either and this photo was the spitting image of my own dad, so the moment was quite confusing and ultimately very special. In the next 10 minutes I learned that my Grandad fought as a rear gunner in the Second World War, traveled all over the world and often got a bit moody if he hadn´t eat recently (something I know a lot about!). I felt immediately like I knew him, like my family just got a bit bigger and like I wished I could have a chat with him.  He was never given the luxury to grow old, but he still has stories to tell.

  1. They have lived. A lot.

Just the fact that the elderly been alive as long as they have been means they know a thing or two, and just because they´re a bit slower than you, it can take 3 hours to do the week´s food shopping*, or they take forever to finish their Sunday lunch, they deserve our patience and our open ears because they´re got a lot of hilarious, moving, incredible stories to tell if we just take the time to listen. They lived through wars, depressions, adapted to huge technological advances, many will have had and brought up more children than we would ever consider rational, and they´re still here and still growing. We can all learn something from everyone, and there´s no group with more to teach than those who´ve been lucky enough to grow old.

 * (Yes I´ve been there, stuck in a supermarket with Granny June, or Granny-pants as her actual daughter, grandchildren, and now I kindly call her. She´s my step-mum´s mum, very kind and bought me a coffee and a cake for my patience, so I´ll let her off :) ).

2.a Some things I´ve learned since taking the time to listen:

-          How, as a young mum, Petronila, Alvaro´s maternal Granny (pictured below),  took an orphaned child in to her own home for a few years after a particularly scary incident where he´d fallen (or been pushed, she couldn´t remember) down a well. Her eyes lit up when she spoke about him.

Petronilla celebrating International Day of the Elderly last weekend with Alvaro

Petronila celebrating International Day of the Elderly last weekend with Alvaro

-          On meeting Alvaro´s paternal Granny, Lydia, she looked at me and (to my delight) told me how pretty I was, and then quickly declared ´I used to be beautiful!´ before showing me all her youthful photos and telling me about all the men in her town who fancied her.

Still beautiful, Lydia

Still beautiful, Lydia 

-          How my great grandad (told to me by my mum, it has to be said) was the “Chief of works” (so basically The Boss!) on the Barbican Centre in London, for which is was awarded “The Key to the City of London” . One of the perks of this award is being allowed to walk his sheep toll free across London bridge. Score!

  1. They speak their minds (and this can be hilarious!)  

Spending one afternoon with my boyfriend’s family in their little town near Toledo, Lydia, pipped up with:

Why haven´t you had a child yet? Children are life´s greatest gift”

I was just about to agree with her profound statement, when she added pointing to our room:

“Why don´t you both just pop up there now and make one. I won´t tell anyone.”

We politely declined.

  1. I´m not the only one who thinks so

“The Wisdom and experience of older people is a resource of inestimable worth. Recognising and treasuring the contributions of older people is essential to the long-term flourishing of any society”          - Daisaku Ikeda

Sadly many old people don´t have the family or friends around to listen to their stories, take them out for a coffee or patiently help them with their shopping. Luckily for the elderly of Madrid, Amigos de los Mayores connects local volunteers with their elderly neighbours to keep them from the loneliness that plagues many older generations.  I´ve spent time with them in their office, out on day trips with elderly people and speaking at events to raise more awareness. They´re a great organisation who deserve a lot of credit, so as a small token, we´ve given them our last £100 from the money you help us raise. Hurray, THANK YOU!

Great day trip with some of our elderly friends last month

Great day trip with some of our elderly friends last month

19Find out more about them here – www.amigosdelosmayores.org – and if you live in Madrid, go volunteer with them, you won´t regret it!