I was 6 or 7 when both my grandfathers died. From my vague memories, I remember them as being polar opposites. One of them liked to watch his grandkids sing and play, the other preferred silence and discipline even though he obviously cared. I never saw my grandmothers but I was jealous of the stories my older cousins would narrate. I had a few great-aunts, but I rarely saw them, and time would take them down like dominoes. There were many occasions, and there will be many more where I’d wish I had the ‘grandparents’ experience. And then I ended up visiting a center for patients with Parkinson’s disease, and I was assured that maybe I can actually get close to the experience.
The experience from my visit was quite different from some of the latent expectations I had. I thought I was going to go to a dingy little establishment crammed with grumpy old people, soiling themselves and randomly yelling out blasphemy- ok maybe that might be a tad exaggerated but it was not too far off. However, when I got there, my friends and I were given the warmest welcome. It didn’t take long to be aware of the wholesome, loving atmosphere we were in. I stepped out of my comfort zone and made the effort to speak to some of the patients as well as some of the event facilitators. After that, let’s just say that it is now part of my weekly schedule to visit the center.
I sat myself next to a certain Uncle Tan sitting by himself. I may have interrupted him while he was going through his smart phone- that’s right; he was using a smart phone quite confidently in what appeared to be his 80s. I asked him to tell me about the Moon Cake Festival. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect him to show some displeasure but I was wrong. He let his smart phone be and told me a tale of how these cakes were used as a scheme during a Chinese revolution to pass secret messages. There was an inexplicable sense of eagerness and care coupled with a faint smile as he tried telling me the story, and it was something I wouldn’t have gotten out of Wikipedia.
Next, my friend and I sat next to an Uncle Lock, who was slouched on a chair and made sure he spelled his name out, so we wouldn’t get it wrong. Uncle Lock was also busy on his smart phone. Also in his 80s, he was activating the data package and was well aware of how he could select the best deal. Once he had achieved this task, he opened his Youtube app and played his favorite songs including It’s a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong and My Way by Frank Sinatra. As the video played, he sang along cheerfully. He was such a nice guy and showed us that he had a sense of humor. When asked if he liked the food at the center he smirked and said the cooking was lousy, he then continued to eat his rice and vegetables. I was amazed by the level of independence he strives to maintain, be it with technology or eating his food. At the age of eighty-something, his heart didn’t allow him to succumb to his unfortunate condition, and that was a special lesson.
The last patient I spoke to was a petite Aunty Ella in a bright purple top. She was sitting by herself waiting for someone when I approached her. She began telling me about her very adventurous friend who had visited many countries. She implied that while she was very impressed by her friend, she was more than okay with not being just as ambitious. She accepted her abilities and expressed that she was happy. Even though she would rather not go jungle trekking or island hopping like her friend, she still narrated a rather interesting past of hers. She told me about her job as a sales manager before being diagnosed. It was honestly not a field that I was interested in, and yet I kept listening because she sounded so passionate and knowledgeable about it. When she realized my friends were ready to leave, she was aware that I had to leave too and cut her story short. I was surprised by how considerate that was and promised to return the following week for her to continue her tales.
These were just three of the many people at the center. I talked to a few more people although briefly, and they completely overturned my previous opinions. Society tends to corner elderly people, and as a whole we believe in certain stereotypes about them. We only use them as props to pay respects at important events and we rarely recognize what more they have to offer. My visit has convinced me that they are people with passion, humor and wisdom. As if that was not enough, they continue to be all of those things while battling an extremely uncomfortable illness. It hit me hard how much we take our youth and our normal abilities for granted. I cannot wait to return every week and help them out however I can, and in return receive an invaluable grandparent-experience.
Chamie is a psychology student at Monash who attains peace by bowing to the wonders of art, while tackling an unruly monster named Thesis. He values feedback as much as he values dessert.