by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
The trouble is, time won’t stop. And who can guess what lies ahead? You look around and assess what you see among the people you know. You periodically consider your own health and finances and how your parents or other relatives handled aging. Sometimes you are forced to face circumstances that shape your choices – again, finances and health figure hugely.
Preparation May Be Forced Upon Us
On our wonderful street in Toronto, ten years ago neighbours had a series of meetings where we talked about various models of sharing property in some fashion that would allow us to remain a community and help each other into agedness. In the end, it was pretty well decided that the best answer was perhaps to stay in our homes on the street and follow the example of our older neighbours, mostly immigrants to Canada in the 60’s, who keep an eye daily on how each other is doing. We’d be each other’s support group and hire medical resources as needed. I think we were somewhat relieved to arrive at that conclusion because it didn’t require fresh reserves of energy (to build or design anew) and we could remain among friends, Olive-based AND beyond. And our grown children would be likely to enjoy coming back to visit on Olive.
And then the first crack in the vision showed up. A differential in finances. Dave and I moved away, after 33 years there, to a street where we are strangers because we can live here within our means, which we could not do indefinitely in Toronto. There’s less stress on my heart, which suddenly entered as another issue; I’ve discovered that lots of rest and quiet is balm to the body.
A Shift in Paradigm
I’ve given ourselves as examples of one Shift factor – a couple of circumstances bringing new realities to light. Oops. We’re really getting older. The world tipped a little, with retirement and health factors becoming concrete and spurring a few decisions. The elderly were as much my compatriots as my 20-years younger friends.
One of my dear (younger) friends back in Toronto stopped enjoying birthdays a decade ago. When I visited older friends in their nursing homes, she didn’t want to hear about their lives because, she said, aging is a dismal process to not be dwelt upon. She for sure didn’t want to identify with the infirmities and the loss of mastery of the body. I didn’t blame her for I was loving these very senior friends but not yet identifying with them.
Now I see that it’s the luck of the draw. No one knows what will befall us as we move toward the 80’s and 90’s. And we all know sprightly, intelligent, funny, creative, much-older people. It’s just that we can’t determine that we’ll have the means to be one of those.
Is Any Preparation Possible?
A couple of things that we can maybe manage. Be sure to have a doctor who believes in active pain control. “Stay ahead of the pain” – great mantra. Do at least one thing that one enjoys a lot, every day. Check bitterness anytime it rears its head and knock it out with remembering anything that one has ever learned about love as the beating heart of the universe. (A lovely little quick read for anyone not uncomfortable with religious non-judgmental thinking is Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived). Don’t expect the worst; enjoy things that aren’t necessarily the best.
I would add “find someone else to help”, but there are times when that just comes to you, like a gift. A chance to lend a hand that comes naturally, from the heart. Otherwise, there are indeed volunteering opportunities, as much a chance to get out among people as to exercise kindness.
Chance, unexpected opportunities, a bit of planning (getting one’s name down on a list or two for desirable affordable seniors’ living facilities – luckily they take your name up to 10 years ahead of when you expect to need a spot)- there’s a great variety of options. Unfortunately, few are available if you suddenly need them. So there may be short periods of being under-supported or meanly housed.
Maybe learn how to ask friends for help? If it’s only going to be short-term, you’re not becoming a burden.
Not a Walk in the Park
This has been a gentle ramble among thoughts about aging. I know it’s not that simple. The saying, “Old age isn’t for sissies” isn’t just cute. It’s too true. Self-pity doesn’t work. I read an e-mail this week from a 99-year old friend who is preparing for her big party in June – a very lovable person – and had to laugh. She’s wonderful! I last e-mailed her in August so she’s a few months late answering. And what a treat that she did. Her life is her gift. That’s what growing old can do for you!