Before I walked into the senior center, I did not know what to expect. I never really interacted with the elderly much. I never got the chance to see my grandparents and most of the old people I encountered were usually my dad’s acquaintances. I would let my dad do the talking in those situations because I never felt like I had to interact with them. The visit to the senior center was different because I was expected to have conversations with elderly people I had never met before.
The moment we got into the building, a peculiar smell hit me that reminded me of hospitals and I immediately thought: “I hope I never die in a place like this”. The smell itself did not bother me as much as the fact that it sends a reminder to the tenants every morning as they awake that they are not at their homes anymore. A reminder that they will wake up everyday for the rest of their lives in an institution.
The first person I talked to was an elderly lady named Elaine. She was very kind and seemed to enjoy talking to us. It seemed that she enjoyed our company and she would tell us stories about her life. She was most interested in talking about her youngest son who decided to move to Minnesota to live close to her. She mentioned that she has two other daughters and another son who all lived down South and it was obvious she wasn’t happy about it. What struck me the most was how worried she was about her son’s marriage and how she was talking about her daughter-in-law. I was struck by the fact that the lady was 94 years old and she still worried about her son just like any other mother but she thought that her son did not listen to her advice. Somehow I could not help but think that his not listening had something to do with her illness.
In Islam, the elderly are sought out specifically for advice. They are revered for their knowledge and wisdom but in today’s world values like this seem lost. In today’s time, past accomplishments mean nothing once you are past your prime. This is most evident in America where people who were adored in their primes by many for their talent are forgotten once that talent starts to fade. People do not look at what you did; they look at what you’re doing at the moment and judge you accordingly. I witnessed what that was like when I visited the senior center. Those people all used to do something with their lives; they used to have professions, hobbies, likes and dislikes and some of them had families to take care of.
The elderly still have hobbies, likes, and dislikes but the environment is no longer the same. Parents that have spent their entire lives taking care of their children are not taken care of with the same level of devotion when it’s the kids’ turn to take care of the parents. It would be very hard for me to accept this happening to me when I grow old. I would much rather die young before having to experience growing old in a place like the one we visited. This is not a criticism of the people who work or live there but it is my own opinion. The building itself was fine and I’m sure the service was too but the fact still remains is that the patients and the caretakers are strangers to each other and they don’t owe each other anything. There are no lifelong bonds between them and sometimes the patients come at a time in their life where they could barely speak and it is hard for them to form new bonds with their caretakers.
I would like to think that I could control my own destiny but that is up to Allah. I can do nothing unless Allah makes it possible. However, I can try to raise my kids so that they know how to respect their elders, hoping that when they grow up they would not put me into a nursing home.
The people who were in the nursing home might have raised their kids wonderfully and the kids might have tried their best to accommodate their parents but for whatever reason couldn’t, so I can’t judge them and say the kids nowadays are cruel to their elderly parents. I also can’t say that the elderly people in the nursing homes must have worn out all their relationships with their relatives because that would be wrong. Moreover, they don’t hold the same values as Muslims do so I do not know if this is what they consider the right thing to do and they are just going by what they have been taught to do. Maybe the parents are happy where they are and maybe they planned it with their kids. All I can say is I would not want this to happen to my parents or myself.
After my observation at the nursing home, I am even more determined to take care of my parents. I have always wanted to take care of them and at least show gratitude for what they’ve done for me since there is no way I can pay truly them back. One of my main goals in life, if I were to become wealthy, is that I would spend that money on my parents. In fact, I would not consider myself the least bit successful if I have lots of wealth but fail to take care of my parents. In class, we learned about the Seerah (life story) of the Prophet (SAW) and we went over a Hadith that has been repeated many times. It was about a man who came to the Prophet (SAW) and asked him whom he should treat with best companionship, and the Prophet (SAW) said: “Your mother”, and repeated that three times before he finally said: “Then your father”. When considering this Hadith and how much a mother is valued in Islam, it is even more inconceivable to me to put my parents in a nursing home. If I’m given the opportunity in the future, insha’Allah, I would buy a house for my parents before I even buy one for myself or my own family. One of the authenticated supplications by the Prophet (SAW) was to not reach a point in life where one could no longer take care of himself because of old age. It is natural order that most things reach the height of their glory and then decline with time. People wish for a long life but I wish more to remain healthy and functional until I expire. We will all reach a time where even the most basic things will become a laborious task. I hope I am living with my children then, and I hope they take good care of me.
Abdullahi Guled is an 11th grader at Al-Amal School in Fridley, MN