There needs to be a way to help the aged, disabled, and others disadvantaged that does not leave them feeling pitied, marginalized, trivialized, or a confounded nuisance. This needs to be done in our personal lives, of course, but I also believe there needs to be a community outreach involving many good-hearted, well-trained people as well. – These people are all of us in coming decades or in the death grip of catastrophic disease or accident which could come at any time. – perhaps that it the problem, of course. – to give them much real thought as to what they are really feeling and needing is to confront the reality that it could happen to us.
People are thrilled when they first learn to dress themselves, get their first job with their own money, get their first apartment and decorate it the way they want to (at least within their budget) and a lot of other firsts. Then, as decades wear on, changes occur that that attempt to drag them, kicking and screaming, back to a place of disability and dependence. That first go-around at toddler time was not bad. Great big wonderful people were delighted to hold the hands of cuddly little folks and a warm, fuzzy feeling came with that.
As adults, it is not always that way – Others still (ostensibly) in control of their own lives smile and smile as they do their charitable work, but sometimes the recipient reads their true feelings beneath it – a glance at their watch, a sigh, those visits that come like clockwork (rigidly scheduled to fit between other grim “obligations”), the “sure I’ll drive you there, but that wheelchair is SUCH A HASSLE! – Well, what I meant was, it would be good for you to get a little exercise with the walker.”
Even if others wanted to help, most people are made (or conditioned) to be independent and in charge and ever moving toward higher and higher goals, distinguishing one’s self academically, in a career, in the arts, in competitive sports, etc. – It is humiliating and grotesque to feel hung-up like a side of beef in a slaughter house after all that work, worry and planning to get where one is (or was) and the very prospect of it fills most with a terror tantamount to that of hell itself.
The Bible says “as a man thinks so is he”. – I believe that the best way to help them is to encourage them see themselves as valuable and competent individuals to the greatest extent possible. Maybe they can remain in their own homes with just the occasional help from outside. – Let them share their fears, desires, talents (that could still be used and championed), memories, wisdom (they often have a lot of this). Let yourself enter their world without imposing yours on them. How would you feel if it were you saying these things? What would you want the hearer to do or not do? Are they reading impatience or criticism in you eyes?
Be there for them when needed (physically or emotionally), but without hovering over them as though they were total incompetents requiring a keeper. How far can their own initiatives take them if they are genuinely encouraged (not condescended to or patronized). If they cannot walk, can they paint or write. If they are alone can they make it a productive and joyful solitude instead of loneliness. Perhaps they need others their age, but maybe they also need others of different ages. – Age discrimination must be abolished in the same way we have attempted to abolish other bigotries. It is the shame of this nation!
The highest ideal is to do what is is right just because it is right and to love others as we do ourselves. – But if that is not enough for some, consider that “What goes around comes around.”