My dislike for and discomfort with being around old people continued into adulthood. I was definitely an ageist. As punishment for that bad karma, most of my patients in nursing school were old women with impacted bowels. That’s why I chose to work in the nursery when I got my first job.
When I started at Kaiser, though, my ageism slowly transformed into admiration and respect for the retiree volunteers who staffed the Health Education Center.
This was a group of vibrant, healthy senior citizens fully engaged in the world around them. They served as wonderful role models for how to age successfully and continue to have a meaningful life, regardless of the number of birthdays they’d celebrated.
Judith, a former school counselor, taught me to use all the skills I had gained through my working years to remain a contributing member of society after retirement.
Susan had activities planned for every morning and every afternoon of the week. Because of her influence, I created an active schedule of exercising, volunteering and seeing friends after I retired.
Jean and Tom were world travelers, going on several vacations a year and telling me about their adventures when they returned. Having limited time to travel while I was working, I was encouraged to see that it was never too late to visit the places you’d always wanted to see.
Another volunteer, Sam, always appeared for work in a jacket and tie because he felt he should present a professional image to the public. I honored him every time I passed up my jeans and T-shirt and put on work clothes for my hospice volunteer job.
Every year while I worked with these volunteers, I feted them with daffodils from the American Cancer Society’s Daffodil Days. Now I think of them all with great fondness whenever I see daffodils, and I silently thank them for showing me a completely different picture of “old people.”