What is it to grow older? It seems so simple; we age gracefully, adapt to change, remain productive and useful all while our loving family takes care of us until our life ends. And the end, it’s quick and doesn’t drag on.
Thats the plan, right?
I have been fortunate to have been a part of the lives of two Grandmothers on my Mother’s side. Her Mother, Marge and Marge’s Mother, Ruth.
Ruth was always kind, small in stature and who, of coarse, drove the largest car that Cadillac ever made. I think she sat on pillows and phone books to see over the steering wheel. I remember when my Mother and Grandmother had to gang up and take her car keys away. She was in her 90’s and was quickly losing her vision and hearing. She lived alone up until the end at 99 and passed away quietly in her sleep. She would tell me that she was tired, tired of being essentially deaf, blind and…alone. My Mother and Grandmother (Marge) were always there for her but she missed those that shared her “mileage” as everyone she had known had passed away. She would say that she wanted to “go”, sooner than later. It was 1999.
Today, my Grandmother (Marge) is in her 90’s and is living with my Mother. I’m very close to her and am quick to chastise my Mother when I feel my Grandmother is not being treated “right”. Recently, she (Marge) was able to fly out and stay with us. I’m noticing significant changes. Her hearing is failing and she is now legally blind. Walking is difficult and I’m uneasy about leaving her alone. History is again repeating itself.
It was different with my Grandmother (Ruth), I didn’t have to be so involved. Today, my Mother, like her mother then, now shoulders the load while I’m receiving an education in caring for the elderly, in two week doses 2-3 times a year.
Of this, I have learned three things; 1. I need to lighten up on my Mother, she has an incredibly difficult role, 2. That I have very little patience, am intolerant and somewhat selfish with my time and 3. My Grandmother, while essentially blind and mostly deaf, hears, feels and sees everything, especially my impatience and frustration with her. It’s familiar and heartbreaking. I feel like I’m failing in my role. I want her to be 20 years younger. I want…
Relevance. That word now haunts me. She wants to help, to be needed and tries hard to contribute, but what is easy for us is nearly impossible for her, which again adds to her already mounting level of frustration. Conversations are challenging and focus mostly on the past. The world seems to have left her behind. Any suggestion that she could see 100 is immediately rebuffed.
Frustration. She is keenly aware of her growing limitations and becomes agitated when her sight or hearing denies her a good book or being part of a conversation. She feels isolated and without options. Is this my Mothers fate? Is this mine?
What is it to grow older? It almost seems cruel when the body breaks down before the mind. Alzheimer’s at least has the courtesy to deny its victims of their self awareness. Neither condition is fair and I have nothing positive to offer in opinion. They are robbers in the night.
The “plan” seems more the exception than the rule. We’re destined to break our children’s hearts by providing them with a front-row seat to our eventual physical and mental decline.
I have Parkinson’s disease and am descended from a line of relatives who often live into their 90’s. With this combination, I am afraid of the burden that I may bring to my children. I need to be relevant, to be needed, to leave before I become a burden. My family history suggests that this is unlikely. I’m afraid to age…Im afraid to linger.
What is it to grow older? It is…