Five Things to Remember When Dealing With Your Elders

FFF fall leaves 2It’s Friday and I was all set to come up with a Fave Five in honor of the occasion but I had a little epiphany this morning and so I decided to come up with a different set of five.  It all started when I headed out this morning to run some errands.  I needed to drop off some packages at the post office and then head over to the local office supply store to make some copies.  Since I had an empty toner cartridge, I figured I’d take that with me and drop it off at the store because they have a recycle program for ink cartridges.  Now my mood was rather sunny despite the atrocious weather here but storm clouds were on the horizon.  Yes, all that changed when I got up to the check-out counter at the office supply store.

Here’s what happened.  I started to ask the clerk if they still accepted empty ink cartridges for recycling but before I could even finish my question the clerk abruptly cut me off.  He said something like, “Huh?  What?  Slow down.  What are you saying?”  So I loudly, slowly, and deliberately repeated my question, using the same voice that I used to use on my kids when they were toddlers and were reaching for something they knew they weren’t supposed to have all the while looking at me defiantly.  You know the voice…the one that says…..”I’m going to count to ten now and if you don’t move away from that cooky jar by the time I reach ten, Mommy is going to spank you.”

“Oh, sure!”  the guy blithely says.  “Do you have a Rewards card?”  I did and I gave it to him.  Then it was time to pay.  I held up my debit card and told him that I wanted to use this as a credit card (my hubby INSISTS we go through this charade so that we get back a few cents from the bank each month, although the funds come out of our checking account either way).

“Slide your card through the card reader,” the guy said (I knew that but I ALSO knew that clerks tend to want to know ahead of time if you are wanting to use your card as a debit or a credit card).  Then, before I had even finished swiping my card, he said in a loud, annoyed voice, “You have to press Credit.”

“I WILL when it appears,” I retorted. ( Sheesh.  I’m not an imbecile.  You can’t press something before it has even showed up on the screen.)

“Now, do you want your receipt with you or in the bag?” he asked, staring at me.  “I’ll take it, thank you,” I answered, being careful to speak slowly and enunciate clearly.

Suddenly, he was all smiles.  “Have a great day!” he cheerily responded as he shoved the bag into my hands.

I walked out of there feeling humiliated.  And then, to top it all off, as I tried to make my way out of the parking lot, I was cut off by several cars which cut in front of me and made me miss the green light  so that I ended up sitting through another whole light cycle with nothing to do but stew.  By the time I got home, I was crying.  Yup, it was one of those days.  I thought, as I drove home, that I wouldn’t have been treated like that when I was cute and in my 20’s.  But suddenly, when you reach midlife (and now 60 – yikes!), it’s like I’ve become invisible.  Clerks act like I’ve taken leave of my senses, people cut in front of me at counters with no apology, cars cut me off, waiters flirt with the young things in the next booth while my soup rapidly cools on the counter, waiting to be delivered to my booth.  And most of the time, I let it pass because I don’t want to make a scene.  I was brought up to be “nice.”  Sometimes I think it’s the curse of my generation.  On happier days, I think it’s one of our saving graces.  Well, all of this rambling prelude to say that what happened today, a minor thing to be sure, gave me a little glimpse of what it must feel like for MY elders, many who are now dealing with major issues like turning over the keys of the car, or moving to a nursing home, or losing the ability to even bathe or bathroom without help.  Imagine how they must feel.  So, here are five things I think we can all remember when dealing with folks older than us:

Mom and Daughter1.  Treat each person with respect. Unless a person is particularly odious, it is a simple thing to do.  I think we all respond better when treated as though we count for something.

2.  Don’t assume that just because someone is older that they are a complete idiot when it comes to technical things. Believe it or not, I DO know how to open an attachment  in email and I know how to use a debit card reader.  In fact, a good approach is often as simple as saying something like, “You’ll need to send that as an attachment to the rest of the group.  If you need any help, just let me know.”  Then….if they DO need help, don’t take over and do it all for them.  Help them learn how to do it themselves.

3.  If you are having problems understanding someone, phrase it in such a way that the elder saves face and you share the problem. For example, how could that clerk at the store have better handled my initial question, if he didn’t understand me?  If I had been him, I would have said something like, “You know, I just didn’t get enough coffee this morning and my ears are still asleep.  I’m sorry but I’m going to have to ask you to repeat that.”  Now you’ve used a little humor AND you’ve raised the possibility that the problem was on your end.  That would have let the customer save face while still letting him know in a gentle way that perhaps he or she was speaking too quickly or too softly.

4.  Be a champion for those who tend to get lost in the shuffle. If you notice an older person who has been waiting patiently at a counter and then observe someone cutting in front of them, you might say to the clerk, “You know, I believe that this lady was next in line.”  If you see someone struggling to pull a cart out of the row of shopping carts while others hurry by, take the time to stop and offer your help.  There are so many ways we each can be mindful of those around us who are quietly going through life, coping as best they can but who could use an encouraging word or friendly gesture here and there.

5.  Remember that you, too, will one day be old. If that doesn’t help temper your attitude toward the elderly, I don’t know what will.  I know that it is a foreign thought to most when they are in their teens and 20’s and even 30’s and I suspect this is because we are so good at isolating our elderly.  Many of our young people are growing up without seeing the daily challenges that are part of growing old.  They don’t have a clue.  But sooner or later, we’ll begin to realize that “someday that could be me!”  When that happens, it could cause a major attitude adjustment.  After all, doesn’t it really boil down to treating others the way we’d like to be treated?

To see what others are posting for their Friday Fave Fives, visit Susanne’s blog at Living to Tell the Story.


5 Responses

  1. I absolutely agree with you, Dee, especially on #5. I imagine that the rude young clerk will grow up to be a rude old cleck-and never learn. I remember going places with my mother who because of physical problems used a wheelchair. Clerks would look right past her as if she didn’t exist and ask me what we wanted. I’d turn to my mom and say something like, “What was it you wanted, Mom?”, so she could speak for herself. Now I try to look wheelchair bound people right in the eye and talk with them; it humanizes their situation for others to see them as PEOPLE.

  2. Excellent, excellent advice.

  3. Good advice and good reminders. Have a great weekend

  4. Great post and reminder. Thanks for stopping by my blog. You commented on the hairspray I love. It is called Big Sexy Hair!!! Isn’t that a fun name for hairspray! And, seriously, who doesn’t want BIG SEXY HAIR!! I used to have alot of natural body in my hair but now, in my 50s, my hair has to be coaxed to by fluffy and full! This stuff really works. It is not cheap but it does not take alot. I bought it at the hair salon inside our Walmart. It is in a bright red bottle and I also go the brand’s root volumizer. I use it with wet hair, spray in next to the roots and rub it in. When I dry my hair, it has so much more volume. Somethings they sell them 2 for, so check it out. I hope you like it as much as I do! Blessings.

  5. I’m sorry that happened to you Dee. But what excellent suggestions in keeping our elders lifted up. Kindness is such a simple thing we just need to apply it and ask ourselves how would we feel. Thank you for sharing these.

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