As the parade route approached, I captured my first glimpse of the Grand Marshal. He was a 93-year-old seasoned World War II veteran who exuded confidence, honor, and pride. Accomplished in ways that many of us will never experience; a true hero. It was Memorial Day 2016, and the Grand Marshal was my Uncle.
My Uncle is the oldest living World War II veteran of the Pelham, New York community. As he passed by with the other veterans, I felt a tangible connection to the past. Shaking their hands and listening to their stories is like having the pages of our history books spring to life. We are beyond fortunate to have these people in our lives. More importantly, we are indebted to our veterans.
As I watched and listened, I was soon reminded of my grandfather, who passed last year, and who was also a World War II veteran. I recalled the countless hours I spent speaking with him, not only about his war stories but life, in general. How fascinated I was to learn about life during the mid-twentieth century. Not only did I learn valuable life lessons, but perhaps more importantly, I was spending time with a loved one.
As an elder law attorney, I am witness to countless individuals, both clients and non-clients, who are deserving of our respect and attention. So often, I visit clients in their homes where they may be living alone. In other cases, it may be a nursing home or hospital setting. For some, it is priceless when you offer them a forum to talk and share their stories. Statistics show that individuals decline at a more rapid rate, both physically and cognitively, when social interaction is at a minimum. Talking is healing in many ways.
Even if not living alone, poor relationships, combined with our fast-paced society and advancements in technology, can leave some of our elders feeling like they are at a party with no one to talk with. How often do you spend time, quality time, with your aging relatives, assuming you’re fortunate to still have them? We all have or had that relative who could use more attention. Consider whether you would be able to sit in a room, day after day, with little understanding of technology (no texting ability) and sparse one on one contact with others. Many of our elders experience this feeling daily.
So I’m dedicating this piece to the intangible side of the practice of elder law. The side that has nothing to do with being an attorney. Make an effort to spend time with those in need of companionship. Encourage your friends and relatives to do the same. It takes little effort to ask someone to tell a story, any story, about their past. It could make that person feel alive. Equally important, many of our elders have forgotten more than you have already learned. Learn from them. History has a way of repeating itself. Finally, respect and honor those who served our Country.
My grandmother always told me, “You get back what you give.” If you are blessed to live to a ripe age, you too will be looking to tell a story someday. Hopefully there is someone there to listen.