When my grandmother died, my uncle said 'Now we are elders'.
Somehow, in their fifties, in other words, thinking of themselves as middle aged, my uncle and his siblings had become elders. They did nothing to achieve this. I t happened because with the death of my grandmother, there was no one left alive from their parents' generation. That was all.
They had no preparation of course. No training or social sanction or rite of passage. A gap in the generational stream had opened up and they just naturally filled it. Nothing was required of them. In fact, once my uncle acknowledged it, the conversation moved on to discuss more important things such as money and what to do next. There is little call for genuine eldership in our society and my older relatives had no particular desire for it anyway. Life went on.
My parents are dead. I have three living aunts and uncles but I am aware that soon I will become an elder. The gap will open up, and I will step into it, along with siblings and cousins and so on. I wonder if it will be any different. Will the younger generation look up to me? I doubt it. They are no fools, especially the ones in my family. I will need something to be looked up to for that to happen.
I used to work with people with intellectual disabilities, and one of them was a man in his late fifties. His mother had raised him with the fear of God and the desire for duty. When she died, he was bereft. I am an orphan, he said, and he was right.
He set out to find new parents. He decided, not without sophistication, that his sister would be his mother and his brother would be his father. He knew that they were not his parents and could not replace his actual mother and father. But he had a crashing need for place holders. Someone had to hold that role for him, or he would disintegrate. He could not subsist in the orphanage of his mind.
When our parents die, if we are older adults ourselves, we become both elders and orphans. We grieve like that. Neither state, elder or orphan, gets any traction with the society around us. Both are slightly old fashioned words. As orphans, we are pulled back slightly towards our childhoods, asking who will help us now or who will judge us now. As elders, we are pulled forward into somewhere we probably don't want to be. We don't want to be old and we don't want to take any responsibility for it. We are sceptical and disappointed. I think this pull-between-states leads to stasis, and turns grief into resentment sometimes.
I absolutely don't blame the young people in my life for their distrust of my generation. We have been crap role models. We have had little to offer them and have left them to themselves. So I would like to become an elder. I would like to step consciously into the state of eldership, and find others who are doing that too. I suspect we will have more to give than we think.
The picture is taken from outside a 'retirement village' house. It's a dire place, in my opinion, but the lack of trees makes for wonderful big sky dawnings.
Led by a dream, literally, I have used my past personal and professional experiences to walk consciously and spiritually with death. These blog posts have been written over several years, as life has changed for me and my purpose has become clearer.