October 28, 2020

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We must remember our responsibility to our elders

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Opinion

IN this troubled time, the elderly are suffering far too much. They have paid far too high a price for getting old. Too many of the nursing homes they have been placed in have not been caring responsibly for these precious community members.

Why they ended up in these places is not the issue. Care is the issue. These elderly people comforted us when we needed comfort, they loved us and taught us our values. Now when they need us the most, they have no voice, and society has neglected them in the most heartless way. I am so disheartened about the news we have been getting about their treatment and the neglect they endure during their last precious days.

It’s bad enough that if they get COVID-19 they have to be isolated; from what we have been hearing, even before isolation, many are neglected and left on their own.

They have given us so much and most don’t ask for anything in return. They need attention and love, as well as proper medical care. Love is not a financial cost; it is a human responsibility.

I live in a northern First Nation, and when we were young we learned about responsibility from our grandparents. We knew where we could go when we needed protection. We knew that our grandma would give comfort and safety. She taught us the value of caring, loving and sharing through what she did. Both of my grandparents were generous and kind, but it was my grandmother that we were closest to; when we were hungry we knew where we could go to get fed.

I think about my

grandmother and all the values she taught us, including the need to be kind and respectful.

Life was not always easy living on my First Nation, and many times we would be hungry.

My grandmother was blind; and when we arrived at her house, she would feel our arms and say in Cree, "You are thin, you need to eat more," and she would take us to her home-made kitchen table and feed us what she had. She didn’t scold when we made a mess on the table; she would get a cloth and hand it to us — no words spoken — and we knew what to do. We wiped up our mess and tried not to make a mess again.

I think about my grandmother and all the values she taught us, including the need to be kind and respectful.

Her kind ways always warmed my heart and I loved watching her as she went about her work. Although my grandmother was blind, we never considered her as not being able to see. Her senses were sharp, and she always knew where we were and what we were doing. She was a very wise, smart and generous grandmother, but the generosity went both ways.

She was diabetic, and every day one of us children would run over to her house to give her required insulin. We were far too young to be administering needles, but she trusted that we would do the right thing and we always did. The needle always went where it should go.

Her trust in us was unconditional. We helped her to stay healthy and she helped us to become stable, good members of society through her example and her love. When I look back now, I know that we learned about reciprocity as much as we learned about caring.

Perhaps not everyone had a similar positive experience with grandparents, but we all have a collective responsibility to older adults who worked hard to build Canada and create caring communities. How can we, as a society, turn our backs on the elders who made the country strong and, in turn, made us strong?

Doris Young is a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Treaty 5 territory. She is a retired educator and a strong advocate for elders and social justice. She is a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation Health Board, a past board member of the University of Manitoba and the Health Sciences Centre. She has been blessed with three wonderful grandchildren.

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