On Monday I went with the missionaries to visit a new convert. I thought they’d said that her grandmother had died recently so imagine my confusion when we entered a… I don’t even know what we’re calling them these days. I suppose it was a retirement home. After the missionaries set me straight (it was her granddaughter that had died) I spent awhile trying to understand why the place made me uncomfortable. It seemed neat enough (if a bit dark where we were) so it was not the fault of the building itself. I was reminded of my discomfiture when my Young Women’s group had visited a nursing home for Christmas and how totally out of water I’d felt when I visited my grandmother in the hospital.  I think “out of water” and “at a loss” are not only good phrases to describe how I felt; they also point to the root of the problem: unfamiliarity.

I don’t think retirement homes are the best idea we’ve ever had. There are advantages and I can understand the human urge to be near “your kind” so to speak but on the whole I think society is being weakened and not only on this end of the spectrum. I am continually amazed by otherwise perfectly competent adults who claim to have no idea how to deal with children. Didn’t they have siblings? Didn’t their friends have siblings? Didn’t they babysit for money as teens? For heaven’s sake, can’t they even remember their own childhoods?

We are becoming unfamiliar with the most basic aspects of mortal life.  We lack coping methods and mechanisms.  What should be natural — like knowing how to hold an infant or how to care for a sick parent — has become unknown and stressful.  I’ve always known I wanted children so I’ve sought chances to be around them and to care for them.  They don’t scare me because they are a known quantity.  Conversely, I’ve hardly ever been around the infirm and elderly and they do scare me.  I don’t know how to act, what to do, what to say (or what not to say)!

There are steps I can take to overcome that weakness.  I can (and plan to, once I have a dependable schedule) volunteer at a nearby hospital.  Unfortunately I don’t live close enough to my grandmother to visit her but I try to call her every week.  As long as I’m alive and capable, neither my parents nor my in-laws are going to live anywhere but home until its medically necessary.

I just can’t help but feel that a society that so divorces itself from the basic aspects of life is shooting itself in the foot.  If I find elderly people daunting and scary now, how will I feel when I become one myself?  It’s not a case of “there but for the grace of God go I.”  We are all destined to go that route someday.  Women who are pregnant search out other moms for support; students canvas family and friends for advice as  they try to choose their path in life; why are we choosing to remain ignorant about this important part of life?