Monthly Archives: March 2013
From the poem Time on the blog: poetry, photos, and musings, oh my – by lea
Whatever time is left
Use it up
Wear it down
Regardless how thin
The fabric becomes
It is rich with the sounds
Salty with tears and
This excerpt from Lea’s poem describes my life at seventy-nine perfectly.
On Wednesday, my ninety-one year old friend Barbara, who is on a walker from a painful hip surgery, admitted her despair from feeling useless. But as we shared lattes with a younger friend, who lives with a slow growing cancer, we laughingly imagined walkers like baby walkers and crinoline skirts to hide them, perhaps even small secret porta potties built in. Then, in the parking lot as we attempted to help Barbara into the van, somehow she got stuck bent over half way in. We tried to gently boost her backside without hurting her hip, until the giggles overtook us. Frozen in place, the three of us laughed helplessly, humor overcoming even our fears of age weakened bladders. When I called Barbara the next morning to make sure she hadn’t been hurt, she started laughing all over again, insisting she had been laughing all morning just thinking about it, and even wished we had a photograph.
Thursday, I visited with my friend with dementia in a nursing home in Nashville. She had once again dreamed of her parents’ death as a present day event, and waked up frantic about funeral arrangements. Each time she grieves anew, I can only hold her hand and ache for her endless losses. But later, seeing the wonder in her eyes, when she listens as I tell one of the caregivers about her courage and faith and her kindness to so many in her life, I recognize a moment of grace even in the now worn fabric of our lives.
Friday, my alarm went off two hours early at four a.m. and I had the coffee made before I finally noticed the actual time. Later, I realized on my first stop of the day, that I had my coat on inside out. That night at a my sister-in-law’s birthday celebration in an upscale restaurant, I managed on my second trip to the bathroom, to go into the men’s room. Then, somehow I lost my coat check number in my tiny purse. Unfortunately, I don’t drink, so I can’t even blame it on something temporary. At least it’s fodder for blogs.
The Gold in the Golden Years are our friendships and shared memories, but perhaps most of all, the freedom to laugh at ourselves.
Laughter is carbonated grace.
When I first heard about the horrifying massacre of young children in Connecticut, my response was that I should buy an Uzzi and volunteer to guard the nearest school any of my grandchildren attended. Realizing that I have grands and great-grands in six counties and three states, I decided to start a movement to arm grandparents as guards in the schools of America. When I calmed down a little, reality reared its ugly head. Mental pictures of me (and those like me) forgetting how to get the safety latch off or shooting the maintenance person, because the glare from a window behind him made the mop look like a rifle, squelched that idea.
I’ve followed the responses and proposals in the media and on the internet and thought a lot about violence and counter-measures, that I’ve witnessed in my seventy-five years.
I don’t have statistics to compare the amount of violence in the decades since I first experienced it personally in 1954 (See post: My Introduction to Violence), but I remember the Kent State student shootings by the National Guard, innocent young black children killed over integration, a father shooting five or six elementary school children on the school playground in my neighborhood in Houston in 1959, The Texas University sniper killing students from its Campanile, and of course the killing of the children in the preschool in the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. If there seem to be more of these now, perhaps it’s partly because of increasing population, partly because of the impersonal anonymous climate of larger and larger institutions, and partly because we don’t imprison the mentally ill in insane asylums any more, but haven’t found a viable alternative for those who are a danger to themselves and others.
But with the killers being students, parents, outsiders, extremists, and even the National Guard, it appears to me that while we certainly have to try to make our schools safer, there really isn’t any way to prevent an insane homicidal/suicidal child or adult from killing groups of children. Groups of children are vulnerable in the school, on the play ground, going from building to building between classes, on school buses, waiting to load onto school buses. They are vulnerable at Science Museums, Chucky Cheeses, Disney Land, Park playgrounds, Zoos, Skating Rinks, Little League games, school sporting events.
Several thoughts confuse the issue of gun control. The guns that killed in these cases were not in the hands of known criminals. And some were ordinary guns, not repeating rapid-fire guns, and then some were bombs. And just about anybody that can read, can make a bomb today.
The problem calls for more than just arming personnel in schools or curtailing the sale of certain types of guns or turning school buildings into bunkers.
My concern is not just the tools of violence, but the hatred that fuels it, a hatred that now comes out in elections, in sports, in marriages, and even in the name of religion. What is the source or catalyst for so much hatred?
To find that answer, we can only begin by looking within.
The Gifts of Age: Part Five: If Old Age is Better than the Alternative, We Are All in Deep Doggie Doo
People talk about the stress of being a working mom, as if stress ends when either or both jobs stop. Who are they trying to kid?
Old lady stress is 24/7.
At night, as soon as you get your pillow nest all arranged to support aching backs and knees and burrow gratefully into it, doubt enters the room. Did I lock the doors? Did I turn off the stove? Did I switch the wet wash to the dryer? Did I take my pills? Yes, I think I did all that tonight. No, that was last night. Oh hell, I better go check.
Then, because your bladder is your only body part that’s gotten more active with age, there are at least three trips to the john every night. And since your early warning system is now deceased, these are made at warp speed, even on a walker. Panic is a great motivator. There should be an olympic competition for this. You wake up tired and wonder why.
The disconcerting end to what seemed like a reasonably nice day is realizing that you have gone all over town smiling today without your upper dentures.
It’s hardly uplifting to look up phone numbers in your personal directory, when it lists more dead people than living. And even after purging the lists, in six month’s it’s already back to gone again.
The first stage of dementia is becoming childlike in saying whatever you’re thinking out loud, then wondering why everyone is looking at you like you just farted.
The fact that you can’t introduce your best friend isn’t so bad, since she’s your age and can’t remember your name either. But when you mix up your grown son’s third wife’s name, it’s a whole different ball game.
When you see on face book that the younger members of your family are comparing miles walked or jogged each day, you think to yourself, If I had a pedometer, it would show at least ten miles walked each day looking for my glasses, my purse, and my coffee cup, coming back inside for my car keys, and going in and out of rooms at least three times each before I remember why I went in. No wonder I’m so tired at night.
Your new four letter word shouted frequently is WHAT? And a dinner party of peers is mostly everyone shouting WHAT? and then pretending to hear the replies. Though irritating, it doesn’t really matter much, since no one will remember anything by the time they get home anyway.
Cleaning gets increasingly complicated when vertical surfaces are covered with the latest in home decor for the elderly, post it notes. And there are also stacks of everything imaginable on all level surfaces, because now out of sight, means lost forever.
Sudden loud noises bring out homocidal urges you haven’t had since your kids were teenagers.
Your hearing turns mysteriously obscene, as you now confuse the initial sounds of words and can’t believe they are saying that on primetime TV.
Going to lunch with a friend involves a ten minute struggle to untangle the walkers from the back of the station wagon. And going to the mall with several friends is like a parade without a band, slow moving lines of walkers, the rolling kind.
When you express worry about some of the disasters being experienced by of others your age, your children encourage you to be thankful that’s not you. And you mentally add the word, yet.
Many weeks, if you didn’t go to so many funerals, you’d have no social life at all. And you remember that you used to wonder why your older friends were depressed.
When everyone’s talking about diets, you’re thinking, Sure. Like I’m going to give up my last pleasure in life, so I can look good in my casket.
Your grand and great-grandchildren are the bubbles of joy in the cesspool of old age, but also the barbs of reality. When sitting in your lap, looking up at you with their big innocent eyes, they ask, “Grandma, why do old people have turkey necks?”
And you grit your teeth and freeze a smile on your face, when your great-grandson proudly introduces his fiancee, the tattooed lady with enough metal appendages to set off airport security alarms.
There’s really only one thing worse than getting old, (I’m personally going to be really pissed if it turns out to be death). To me, it’s your husband getting old. Most of us thought if we married, we’d always have someone able to open jars, move heavy furniture, and clean the gutters. Another fairy tale bites the dust.
But other than these, old age is a piece of cake. Whenever you can get to the bakery.
I’ve mentioned that my husband and I both grew up in cities and that our move to our own hundred acre paradise was a lot like the old TV series, Green Acres. Dreamer that I am, I had a vision of a bountiful garden, horses, chickens, maybe a cow or two.
My husband did not share this vision.
The kids bought into the animals, but not the garden part. But, by using the art of friendly persuasion, threats and bribes, I got them to all pitch in and with the help of neighbors with a tractor and plow, we put in a half acre garden that first spring living in the wilds.
It turns out that all those delightful forest animals the children enjoyed finding and watching, are not a gardener’s friends. We began to learn the fine art of warring with nature. Reading magazines on being earth friendly, I fought the potato slugs with jar lids of beer. Humans are not the only creatures led to their downfall by alcohol. Evil though it may seem, since the beer actually dissolves the slugs, I convinced myself that they died happy.
Unfortunately,since we had an early drought and our garden was not near a water source, the only vegetables to survive were the potatoes. Go figure. My maiden name was O’Leary.
We had mashed potatoes, fried potatoes, baked potatoes, boiled potatoes, hash-brown potatoes, and eventually smelly rotten potatoes.
So the next spring we put in a garden about half that size , closer to a water source.
We did not plant potatoes.
We lost most of the lettuce and carrots to rabbits, but when the drought came, my visiting apartment bred brother got into the back to nature spirit and hauled buckets of water to save the tomatoes. The deer greatly appreciated his efforts.
The third year, I planted a tiny garden right outside our master bedroom’s sliding glass doors, next to a hose bib. I added shiny tin pie plates and windchimes to discourage nature’s predators lurking in the near-by woods. I figured that I could stand in my bedroom door in my robe holding a hose to water the cucumber, tomatoes, and carrots.
Still reading my nature friendly magazines, I used their recipe for a free safe fertilizer, called manure tea, made by steeping fresh horse manure in buckets of water.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think about our house having huge attic fans and walls of sliding glass doors instead of airconditioning. Fermented manure tea spread all around outside our bedroom quickly made rotting potatoes seem like perfume.
Though our tiny garden produced gigantic cucumbers and tomatoes and enough of everything for us, our neighbors, city friends, and all the deer and rabbits within miles, a week of sleeping in midsummer heat with all the windows and doors closed, also fermented a rebellion among my family. That’s when we decided that it wasn’t going to be our hundred acre farm. It was going to be our hundred acre weed and rock sanctuary.
Though one of the most positive aspects of reaching retirement age is the opportunity to travel, I wish I had photos of the incredulous expressions on airport security personnel when my husband and I show up. They look like, “Why don’t people like you, just stay home?” Their feelings may be justified since they spend twenty minutes patting down my husband, whose pacemaker can’t go through the x-ray machine, and about fifteen minutes examining my wheelchair as I limp through, at the same time others are dismantling our sleep apnea machines. I’m not sure what terrorist profile we match, but believe me, you are safe from us.
Back in our youthful sixties, we each took only a small rolling suitcase and backpack for eleven days abroad. This meant we could take it all as carry-ons and not risk the trauma of lost luggage. Now, in our seventies, we need an extra suitcase just for medicines, heating pads, sleep apnea machines, current converters, and outlet adaptors. The upside of my wheelchair is that we customized it to carry both me and the luggage. Of course, we look a lot like a traveling circus act. But that’s one advantage of being over seventy, who cares? One small warning to other wheelchair travelers however; all those lovely little bridges, that you have to cross every two blocks in Venice, actually consist entirely of stairs. A wheelchair with pontoons and a paddle would be my suggestion for Venice.
Traveling late in life has given me a new twist on the old joke, “What do you call someone who only speaks one language? An American.” My version is, “What do you call someone who can say, ‘Where is the bathroom?’ in six languages? Any woman over sixty ,who travels.” And I am currently creating a coffee table book of photos of my husband waiting patiently outside loo’s, el banos, il gabinettos, and badezimmer around the world and including a warning about the sale de bains in France that are ecumnenical.
I remember callously laughing years ago, when hearing about two young men on one of those farcical thirty minute tours of the Louvre getting on either side of an elderly woman and literally hauling her like luggage, as their group raced from Winged Victory to the Mona Lisa. That’s not quite as funny to me now, but I do try to bring a bit of lightheartedness into having to use a wheelchair in countries that lack accessibility in their transportation systems. When I have to stand up and struggle up long sets of steep stairs, I sing out, “I’m healed. I’m healed.”
Since I’ve never been compulsive about seeing every single thing there is to see, I don’t mind sitting in sidewalk cafes or under shady trees, while my husband and son are climbing castle ruins that are too much of a challenge with the wheelchair. Being a devout coward, I declined my son’s suggestion that we ask if there was a catapult available. Besides, I have memories of the time my husband and son, energized by several glasses of beer, attempted to run while pushing me up Mont Saint-Michel over its large cobblestones. We threw a wheel about halfway up. I decided then that the view from the bottom is just as interesting and tasty as that at the top.
One surprising travel experience was sitting in a row of white-haired, rosy cheeked Miss Marples in the theater at Stratford-on-Avon. I was the only little old lady to gasp aloud at sudden full frontal male nudity on the stage. It would seem that the English are at least a verbally reticent race. Or perhaps the Miss Marples had been coming to the play every day since it opened.
There was another experience that’s funny now, if not then. We stay mostly in clean, but literally ancient, B & B’s or small hotels that have lots of atmosphere, but limited plumbing. Once, at three in the morning in Vienna, I spent fifteen terror-filled minutes locked in a tiny bathroom down a very dark hall, listening to heavy breathing sounds outside the door. It turned out to be my husband’s snores echoing out the bedroom door that I had left open for a hasty return.
I confess that planning trips seems a tad less fun now that we tend to choose the countries we visit by the quality of their medical facilities. And shopping for insurance that will fly us home dead or on life support conjures up some daunting scenarios. Recently, just my husband was planning to visit one of our sons, who was staying in London for a month. Since I do most of the practical preparations for our trips and I’ve also reached the age where funerals are a frequent part of my social life, I checked out the pros and cons of return by urn, rather than by casket. When I suggested to my son that should the need arise, he bring Dad home in an urn, he responded with great outrage, “That’s a horrible thing to say. There’s no need to be morbid.”
I decided right then to make the trip with my husband, figuring that one of us would survive to deal with any morbid decisions. When we both returned, sans urn, from what felt like the best trip of many years of traveling, I began to wonder just what made it feel like such a wonderful trip. That’s when I realized that there’s an upside to imagining worst-case possibilities. This particular trip seemed so delightful, at least partly, from sheer relief that nobody came home in an urn.
I have been alienated from someone important to me for two years.
Everytime I tried to forgive, I just relived the hurt and injustice, and my resentment grew stronger and more entrenched.
Yesterday, I finally looked at it from a different viewpoint: How could I have handled my hurt in a way that could have given us an opportunity for healing and reconciliation instead of letting this fester into a poisonous wound?
I realized that a lot of harm could have been avoided, if I had been courageous enough to simply go immediately and explain how hurt I was and why.
I hope to do this now, but the conflict set off a chain of events that will now be much harder to heal than it would have been in the beginning.
I want to thank Kozo for his challenge to forgive in his blog, everyday gurus.