Tag Archives: aging

Lessons In Dying

Alzheimers-300x127My husband and I are in that stage of life when the care of our aging widowed mothers becomes a more pressing concern. Hubby’s mom lives nearby and he tries to visit with her daily. She’s 91 years of age and was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about a year ago. I mentioned her in a post last fall.

Almost every day when he comes home from visiting with her (he usually drives over to her assisted living facility after his workday ends), he provides a brief report of their conversation. She rarely remembers his name now, though she remembers he’s her son. When he offers hints about his name, sometimes she’s close, but the memory has difficulty filling in all the details.

She also remembers she’s a mother of other sons, but their names don’t come easily either. The other day, she told my husband there were people coming to “do drugs” outside her door and they would also be in her apartment for the same purpose. (I wondered if she might be hallucinating. She has before.) Eventually, she managed to say “carpets” and the story made more sense. The carpets were scheduled to be shampooed.

Then there’s my mom. Anticipating her 88th birthday this year, my mother doesn’t suffer with Alzheimer’s; her challenge is macular degeneration. (I’ve mentioned her in numerous posts on this blog. Remember Bobbie Pringle?)

A couple weeks ago, I had an early morning scare with her. It was before eight a.m. when my phone rang. I saw on the caller id that it was my mom’s number, so I answered saying, “What are you doing up at this hour?” (Truth be told, she’s generally up long before I am.)

telephoneNo answer came from the other end. I kept the line open thinking maybe she’d set the phone down for some reason. After talking loudly into the speaker for several minutes with no response, I hung up and dialed her number only to get a busy signal.

That’s when I started worrying. What if she’d dialed me and before she could speak she’d suffered a heart attack or something? The thought of her lying on the floor unable to speak into her phone while attempting a call for help disturbed me immensely!

Unfortunately, I live six hours away from her! Eventually, I called my sister (who lives within a half hour of Mom). My sister drove over, determined everything was fine and texted me the news. Of course, I felt like an idiot, having bothered my sister, but know I would have felt much worse if something adverse had happened to her and nobody had checked to make sure she was okay.

[I know we’re not the only ones in the world concerned with aging parents. I know there are numerous people handling situations much worse than what my husband and I encounter with our mothers … and I would never minimize those really difficult situations of others.]

When we had a previous scare with my mom, I wrote this sonnet. It speaks (generally) to the bond of parent and child and the reversal of those roles as a parent ages. The nature of Alzheimer’s certainly qualifies it as a juggernaut. Aging is that by itself and the daily possibility of death is like an unwelcome companion lurking in a dark corner of the room.

Macular degeneration is no less a juggernaut, just a different kind of aging challenge. The ever-present risk from a fall … or trusting one’s sense of touch when taking medication (is this the correct pill!) … or setting a flammable object on a hot burner … when a person’s virtually blind, small things suddenly take on complexity.

Touchstone, learning to die, mother, daughter, elderly mother, sonnet, poetry, poem

Sonnet: Touchstone

My mom has aged remarkably well, keeping her inner vision and verve for life bubbling over even as her eyesight has diminished. I think she still has much to teach me in her final years (many more years, God willing) … including how to continue aging well and eventually how to die without regret.

I hope I’ll remain a conscientious and devoted learner.

Everything Old Is New Again!

2014-Typography-background-[Converted]The day after tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, the ending of an old year, quickly followed by the fresh new start of another.

At times like this, I’m usually a bit nostalgic. Nothing momentous has happened in 2013 to make me wistful for its continuance, nor do I have any earthshaking plans that cause great anticipation for the New Year. Still, I ponder the old and warmly embrace the new.

I recall my first New Year’s Eve as a married woman. Our December 20th wedding had given us time to have a short honeymoon, to spend a few days of Christmas with my family and then to return to our rented living space, a sparsely furnished half-house, just in time for my Beloved to report for duty working the busy New Year’s Eve (and morning) shift at a nearby country club. (He waited tables, cleared dishes, etc.) Of course, he told me not to expect him home again until the wee hours of New Year’s Day!

Spending my first holiday alone was something of an eye-opener for me. Though I hadn’t thought much about it until the reality set in, my overriding emotion was how “unfair” it was (1) we weren’t enjoying the evening together and (2) I was stuck at home without even a small party to attend! In my self-centered opinion, his boss should’ve given this newly-married man the night off … so he could be home with his still-blushing bride!

I remember lying on our creaky bed thinking I wasn’t sure I cared for this new life we were beginning. He was acting responsibly; I wasn’t especially eager to do the same.

Naturally, I also thought about other New Year’s Eves I’d experienced in my single days … usually out on a date with someone who delighted in taking me to an upscale dinner and dancing or a concert. This marriage stuff (not to mention the alone time) paled by comparison.

There was, I realized, absolutely no point in staying up until midnight … the idea of “ringing in the New Year” didn’t appeal to me at all! And celebrating the New Year after my husband finally returned was unlikely. He’d be tired … and I was already grumpy.

The small town in which we lived was located in a dry county and the citizens mostly rolled up their sidewalks around 7 p.m. and retired inside to watch television or read a book. (We didn’t even own a television.) I might have opened a book, but I was feeling so sorry for myself, I couldn’t even be lured into reading.Crying-Out-CIO-Cruel

Instead, I engaged a full-blown pity party that lasted until I eventually cried myself to sleep. (What a baby I was!)

In spite of time spent indulging my selfish alter-ego, I also did some business with God that night. I grudgingly acknowledged my grown-up life had begun and agreed there were going to be plenty of tasks and duties (responsibilities, ugh!) I probably wouldn’t care much to do, but I had to admit going back wasn’t an option. I’d best get on with making the transition from spoiled-rotten young woman to a mature individual who was determined and would refuse to shirk responsibility. Wow! That really made me cry.

It’s not that I didn’t want to be a grown-up, but I was scared I wouldn’t be very good at it! I was comfortable having my parents carry those burdens for me, making decisions on my behalf. (If there were missteps, I never knew about them.) I had so much to learn. What if I was a lousy adult? A horrible wife?

What if I failed?

Of course, I did fail, plenty of times and at plenty of things. I learned, my Beloved learned, we went on. We began to grow up a bit more every single day. When our first child arrived, we took gigantic steps to grow up! (We never realized how selfish we both were until we had a helpless infant in our arms and understood she was completely dependent upon us!)

Thankfully, those days are behind us now. But we haven’t ceased growing up. I’m old enough now to understand growing up is something of a continuum. As a child, I guess I thought by now I would have attained. Instead, I recognize I’m just further down the path than when I was sixteen or twenty.

Back in January of 2012, I posted this poem, Sonnet For A New Year. The sonnet reflects something about my approach to the New Year in general. We move away from an old year with relief and sometimes regret. We move into a New Year with expectation and mystery. And every change of the calendar reminds us:  everything old is new again.

In 2014, this is my wish that God may give you a Happy New Year and the rich blessings only he can bring!

Peace, Baby Boomer

The current circumstance of Baby Boomery continues to draw my interest. Yesterday’s post brought back some memories of things forgotten … and nostalgia can be fun!baby-boomers

But make no mistake about this era: it was not (as some younger folk seem prone to believe) an idyllic age. As with every generation, we experienced both the best and the worst of our time. We have nothing but our own experiences from which to draw … and no basis for comparison with any other time. As to tags like best and worst, I won’t speak for my peers but I’ll venture into personal opinion about what I remember. 

The “best” of that time may have been the prosperity that allowed us to enjoy such abundance unknown to previous generations. We were blessed. Our horizons were expanding into space, technology was just in its infancy but with so much potential.

Most likely the “worst” would include all the ugly incidents and tragedies that were seared forever into our memories. Some were our own private Hells while others were terribly public and seemingly all-encompassing. I don’t have to enumerate them here. A Google search is more than adequate to dredge up all the details.

Baby Boomers as a whole have often been fond of “causes,” including the so-called Peace Movement. We were, after all, the children taught to take cover under our desks (today, they’d call it “sheltering in place”) in the event of a nuclear attack. (As if crawling under one’s desk would save us?! Yeah, I know. We were naive.)

Today’s Baby Boomers (many of whom are at or close to retirement age) may have difficulty remembering those days. I offer the sonnet below to help clear away some of the fog.

Peace-Movement, peace, 60s, make love, not war, Twiggy, sonnet, poetry, poem, youth

Sonnet: Peace Movement

Whether it’s world-peace or inner-peace, no generation is able to corner the market on this precious commodity. Ours didn’t.

In his book, The Iranian Time Bomb, Michael Ledeen says:  “Americans are the first people in the history of the world to believe that peace is the normal condition of mankind.”

I’m guessing Ledeen’s observation wasn’t directed at the Greatest Generation.

Gloom, Doom and Boomer

There’s an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal called The Boomer Bust by writer extraordinaire P. J. O’Rourke. In his essay, O’Rourke cedes that Baby Boomers are “greedy” for money. Coincidentally, O’Rourke is hawking a book, this column being an adaptation from said new release, The Baby Boom:  How It Got That Way (And It Wasn’t My Fault) (And I’ll Never Do It Again)

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Now, as a Baby Boomer, I’m always interested in the subject − which I suppose O’Rourke would consider completely apropos, given our generation’s propensity to believe everything is about usit is, isn’t it? A Boomer’s world is the ubiquitous, irrepressible … me, myself and I … self.

Masterful wordsmith that he is, O’Rourke has captured the essence, warts and all (for they are legion) of Baby Boomery. I have to confess, his description depressed me − because there was no way to deny how reasonable his assessment is.

To be fair, O’Rourke’s column wasn’t the first thing to spark my near-suicidal gloom. Having just read Tyler Durden’s Zero-Hedge post The Other America:  “Taxpayers Are the Fools … Working is Stupid,” I was already teetering on the ledge.

I should have taken a break, found a way to refocus and regain my perspective, but no, O’Rourke is so compelling! I came in off the ledge to devour his post, hoping for a few humorous Boomerisms to counter the aforementioned Durden’s Gloomerisms. 

Should’ve known better. Back on the ledge I climbed.

“The world is our fault,” O’Rourke says of Baby Boomers … and I visualize his long, bony finger pointing directly at me … because I know he’s telling the truth! I am beside myself in despair! In fact, he echoes Durden’s theme:  “… we’re the generation who insisted that a passion for living should replace working for one.” Aargh!

I won’t lie. I hated reading O’Rourke’s observations but who would dare argue with them? He writes:  “If we hadn’t decided to be young forever, we’d be old.” Boom!

We are old − no matter how hard we pretend otherwise. I’ve posted about aging before (here, here). Funny how it seems to be a common theme for me! When I read O’Rourke’s The Boomer Bust essay, I immediately thought about the sonnet shown below.

Aging-Well, aging, youth, twenty-one, 21, wrinkles, implants, sonnet, poetry, poem

Sonnet: Aging Well

Those of us who are Baby Boomers thought we could change the world. (I’m guessing we haven’t been the only generation who embraced that slightly misguided but lofty goal, though we may have been the most shameless to do so.)

But I wonder … were we always too busy trying to change the world so that we forgot to cherish the small moments of truth, beauty and goodness that could have been ours to savor? That would be reason enough for despair.

Carpe Diem

For something a bit different today, I chose a slightly whimsical sonnet, one written a number of years ago … when I was much younger!

My-Prime-Meridian, aging, middle age, sonnet, poem, light verse

Sonnet: My Prime Meridian

It’s funny how as one gets older, the bar of “old age” automatically moves a few more years out from one’s present age. At least, that’s the way I think about it.

I’m part of that Baby-Boomer generation that latched onto a throw-away phrase attached to the so-called “free speech movement.” They said:  don’t trust anyone over 30. (This wasn’t my philosophy, but the ideology seemed to resonate with people around me.) Today, baby boomers are wa-a-a-a-a-a-y over 30 — by double or more! And I find it interesting to observe how the “free speech movement” remains mostly silent and invisible in the face of government-mandated  “speech codes” having been adopted on many college campuses.

But I digress

When I think of aging, I don’t actually suffer from cowardice (as the poem suggests). Rather, I’m usually inspired by my intrepid mother (now 87 years old). She lost much of her freedom when she voluntarily gave up driving. Her vision is minimal and her hearing has diminished yet she maintains an optimistic, buoyant spirit. Were I to look up the definition of contentment in a dictionary, I would suspect her picture is prominently displayed on the page.

With Mom as my role model, aging doesn’t bother me. I don’t expect to achieve Biblical status (Genesis 5:27 says Methuselah lived 969 years) but I like what Proverbs 16:31 says:

A gray head is a crown of glory;
It is found in the way of righteousness.

Forward to contentment!

On the Way to One Hundred

Several of my previous posts deal in some way with Beauty. In his superb book Restoring BeautyLouis Markos offers a striking paradox:  “… we are often more afraid of beauty than of ugliness.”

If beauty elicits fear, aging terrifies. As long ago as 1513, explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon searched for life-sustaining water, a legendary Fountain of Youth. An elixir to ward off aging is (to borrow a song lyric from Beauty and the Beast) a “tale as old as time.” Genesis 3:22-24 refers to a Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, certainly predating Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth.

Maybe it’s inborn, but most of us don’t like aging … granted, some people handle it better than others. Young people think they’re immortal; older people generally know they’re not, but that knowledge doesn’t set in with comfortability. Why else do people post selfies on Twitter with comments like:  Seventy is the new fifty? Focused as it is on youth, our culture rejects the reality of aging, believing a nip here and a tuck there will somehow nullify the effects of aging.

I like what Proverbs 20:29 says:  “Young people take pride in their strength, but the gray hairs of wisdom are even more beautiful.” (This quote comes from the Contemporary English Version.) Tying together the two concepts, aging (i.e. “gray hairs of wisdom”) with beauty, probably seems counterintuitive to many in today’s youth-oriented culture. But the verse says those “gray hairs of wisdom are even more beautiful” than a young person’s strength. Ponder that, if you will.

My poem below, Turning Fifty, speaks less about beauty than about aging, a sense one has that the sands in the hourglass of life are dwindling at an ever more rapid rate. Others who write may identify with the dilemma I present, but I think the poem is as well understood by non-writers, because the concept of aging is universal.

Turning-Fifty, distractions, aging, self-discovery, sonnet, poem, poetry, goals

Sonnet: Turning Fifty

Turning FIfty is a Shakespearean sonnet. As mentioned in another post, I’ve set a goal to write 100 sonnets − in hopes of gaining some mastery of the form. The Bard managed to write 154 sonnets; to date, I’ve got 56, and probably another 20 in process.

I’ve also got the gray hairs … I hope they’re indicative of wisdom, but that’s for others to assess. I often tell people I’m on my way to 100 (not just sonnets), but to celebrate a century of living. Think I’ll make it?

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