In considering the life experience of an older person, it is essential to know about the developmental stages of human beings. Erikson’s theories of development give a good general overview of the various developmental challenges and breakthroughs which people have throughout their lives, from conception until natural death. Older adulthood is a time when people are confronted with having a sense of generativity or feeling a sense of despair.
The older adult who is accomplished and is able to look back on life knowing that one devoted oneself to good causes has generally a good feeling of generativity, while the older person who has a sense of failure in regard to one’s life endeavors, shame in regard to not having contributed enough, is often left despairing. At this point in life, in the later years of a person’s development, it is just as common to find people who are satisfied with their lifelong contribution as it is to find people who are dissatisfied with what they have for others.
In speaking with Margie, it is clear that she is not sure if she has done the best for her children, because she is alone in an assisted living community without many visiting relatives. Margie is an 82 year old woman who lives in an urban assisted living apartment building. Although she has met some friends in the community and enjoys the indoor garden and parakeets as well as the weekly Catholic Mass celebrated by a local priest, she is saddened by the lack of visitors she receives.
A small woman with dark grey and black hair and hunched shoulders, Margie moves around the building slowly and with a seemingly idle or nondirected stride. She pauses often to look around the room, as if searching for something. She says that out of her five children, only two of them come to visit regularly, and that is about once a month. I ask her if she feels deserted or ignored, and she says yes. In considering her relationships with her children, she often wonders if she was too inattentive with them, if she didn’t care about them the right way.
I understand that she thinks that if she had formed better relationships with her children, then they would be closer to her now. I can sense this painful feeling sharply in her presence, and I cannot do or say anything to counter her feeling. Perhaps she’s right. I allow Margie to talk about her family members, her husband, siblings, and especially her children. She takes photographs from her room and points to her grandchildren, lovely people, I say. In asking Margie how she feels being an older person, she says that it’s ok. She doesn’t feel as good as she used to feel.
She’s tired. I get the sense that there is an overarching umbrella of depression which covers her and follows her everywhere. I ask Margie if there’s anything society should change about how it deal with older people, and she says that society shouldn’t forget about them. She has the sense that her children have forgotten her, and she wonders if the mothering care she provided for them as children wasn’t enough to keep them devoted to her needs as she ages. At one point, tears roll down Margie’s face. “What can I do, an old lady, to make my children love me more?
I just don’t know. ” In speaking with Margie, I have to wonder if it’s truly her fault. Could it be the fault of her children? Did they change, get swept up in capitalism, forget their duty to care for their older parents? She’s too upset to ask her these questions. I ask her if she’s like to take a stroll through the garden together, and we do. Older aged people need as much or even more care as any other individuals. It makes sense for the younger generation to remember the needs of their parents and older relatives, to help them and to provide them with care.
However, it is also important for people in general to recognize that if they want their children to be around for them in their later years, then parents and need to form strong relationships with their children, honorable and respectful relationships which can carry them throughout the span of time. Generativity in later years is marked by security in personal relationships. The successful and happy older individuals are the one who are now reaping the benefits of what they have planted. As Margie says, “The birds all stick together in that one tree, and they’re happy. ”