Friday, November 21, 2008
growing old is hell
My mother used to look me in the eye and say "Growing old is hell." She had been one of those heavy duty wonder-women in her youth, could lift heavy furniture with the best of them. Once a cousin marveled at how strong she was and called her "Tarzan" for the rest of his life.
Then she aged. Her health was poor, her strength was gone, her ambition went with it, and all the activities that had once been fun were gradually an ordeal. I would come over to her apartment to visit and end up washing the stack of dishes that were sitting in the sink. She had enough energy to cook, but not clean up afterwards. When she died, I found two dishpans full of dirty pots and pans under the bed in her guest room. She had not wanted me to know just how frail she was becoming.
I'm not there yet. I have a trick knee that gives me trouble from time to time, and a hip that rejects the cold damp weather, but mostly I'm healthy and still full of myself. I see small changes though. Irksome changes. Just recently I've noticed I've lost strength in my left hand. I can't open jars like I once could, not even with all the tricks I know. Damn.
As I've mentioned before, we have four elderly sisters living in the city, in varying stages of ability. One needs help just to walk around: to the bathroom, down the hall, to chapel. She uses a walker, but even with that she's wobbly and careens off the walls. So she is supposed to beep whoever is on duty, even in the middle of the night, to come and help her. She hates it. It upsets her to be a burden to her sisters... to have to wake them out of their rest to help her take seven steps to the toilet. So... she sometimes goes by herself and just doesn't tell anybody. We can tell in the morning if her walker is in a slightly different position, that she's been up in the night without help. Then the lectures begin. It's one of those lose-lose situations. Nobody's happy.
In December we will qualify for 24 hour care for her. It may help and it may not. Her sisters will sleep through the night, but she, who must rely on someone to watch over her, will still not regain her independence or sense of productivity. She will still think she is a burden.
I often get up in the night to use the bathroom... it's one of those growing old things. But I don't turn on a light. I'm barely awake, and have no trouble falling right back to sleep. How different that must be when it becomes a major production with a cast of characters. My mother had it right.