How to be an elder

I am awash in the sea of paper that follows me around. Decades of shy pleading to come for a swim.

It turns out I am my mother’s daughter after all, worried that our skin won’t hold up in the ocean of tears we cried getting to the shore.

The papers are vast and deep in content and in context.

Some bring me to my feet to embrace their beauty. Others, to my knees in their plaintive bid to remember, to be frugal, to be ordered.

Both types are muted messages. Muted messages that whisper “I was here.” Messages that span time and distance, their power made all the more sorrowful when I remember at what cost they were purchased. Messages all the more sorrowful for their silent, “Please forgive me for leaving traces of myself.”

In the end, this isn’t a poem or even a will or a testament. This is more like a trail maybe pennies, some small markers, little hints that say, “Don’t follow me—I’m lost.”

We are 92 and 65, seemingly adrift in her dementia and in my rage against it. I want to blame everyone, in general, and the man who beat her for 10 years of her life, specifically, as if he caused all of this—all of this—including my crippled hanging on, instead of standing up and letting go.

I hear, “Grow up!” Think, “I am supposed to be an Elder.”

I tried it when I was still a single digit child. It didn’t work then.

What about now, the still small voice who lives on the nib of a pen, whispers. What about now?

I look at her “LARGE BLUE BIN” list as if it holds the answer. I look at the list, neatly printed in her hand, with her pen, written on the upside down back of the sheet from a complimentary pad from the grocer she liked to shop at, when she was younger, when she was independent, when she was as close to her own woman, her own person, as she would ever get.

it says, in a cramped font that’s supposed to look like handwriting, “We treat our customers as we would like to be treated” followed by a faint ®

and again,

“Quality and Freshness Since 1929 ®”


“We aren’t the best because we are the oldest, we are the oldest because we are the best.” No ®


I’m not surprised there’s talk of this oldest and best business. After all, I sat down to cry about how hard AF it is to even begin to begin figuring out “How to be an Elder” *©

Yes, I am awash in that sea of paper. It’s slow going – I never seem to know what treasure or loss I may find.



(Opposite Entrance

stumbles me. I imagine her writing it, so she could remember, imagine her tucking it away together with the measure conversion chart printed on the back of the calendar for the year 2000 at a glance – imagine her probably forgetting where she placed it, after all, after all the time we spend trying to figure it out, trying to figure it all out, trying not to let on we don’t have a clue, ashamed, as if it’s all our fault.


Drinking helps for a while, until it doesn’t. Dementia seems a more permanent solution to forgetting we don’t know how it works—when we come across list like this—when we don’t know the answer to, “Do we toss the list of things that go in the large blue bin opposite entrance, do we place it with the candles the candle wax the spray bottle tops the shoes the cloth the straws the sponges?

Or, do we cry and howl and give it to the fire we’re building to burn this shit down, to make way for a place where we’re not lunatics to care, to make clear the way that we desperately must travel, to prepare to know one day—and one day soon—How to be an Elder, ya, and one who’s about to kick some serious ass in this world, so our daughters and our sons need not wait for the permission slips or make any apologies to do the same.






* How To Be An Elder © Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés


About Leslie Holt

Writer ~ Artist "Any complaint in regard to this article must be accompanied by this tag."
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