Tuesday, January 8, 2013

On aging...

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” 
― Robert Frost


I recently spent a day in a hospital with my mother and her husband.  My Mom is in her early 70s and he is 80.  I am not sure when my mother got to be 71 - I mean she was 45 forever in my mind, before she actually was that age and way after - and then all of a sudden as I see her with him, and as they struggle with moving I noticed she shrunk a little and sped to her 70s.  She is an active can't sit still type so she is very energetic but I see her wince a little when she wakes up and notice that she carries around a pill case that well is filled with a lifetime of hard work that beat up the body.  

My stepfather's hospital roommate was 82 and his wife 81. This couple had great energy between them.  Since it was a whole day, and if you have ever been in a hospital visiting or as a patient you know time drags on (and that weird hospital smell well - yeah - you got it - eww).  My stepfather slept a lot, which I think a lot of patients do  - maybe hoping to whittle away the hours until they go home, maybe due to their illness, or maybe because it is so boring.  The other gentleman and I got to speaking here and there.  An interesting man who was quite funny and from what he shared led quite the life.  He was in the hospital because the insurance company had sent him generic version of his diuretic and well it did not work as well (do not get me started) and he was just hoping he could get out soon and as he said "I have a lot of living to do and this is cramping my style".

In talking with him I realized how much we dislike aging as a society.  How much we fight it, Botox and plastic surgery from mid-thirties, and often pretend "nope not happening to me".  If we are not fighting it we treat it like the plague that has hit our house.  It is flung about like poo (I live with an 8 and 6 year old so this expression is often used) and just as vile every time weight loss is harder, waking up takes a few more minutes for the bones to settle, those lines on our face that mark us like the rings of a tree and it is never, ever associated with anything positive.  We pass judgement on anyone who is older (man or woman) who is with a younger (man or woman) partner - as if the only thing or attraction between these two would be money or status.  So many of us are afraid of aging that anyone who chooses the older person must have an ulterior motive.  Since that is how we view our own ageing well then how do our elderly see themselves, how do we see them?  We hope that they do not start to cross the street when the light is yellow, because they will shuffle and we of course cannot wait that minute at the green light, that they will at best go to an assisted living facility (and complain how they are wasting all their money there...or more honestly the inheritance from small to massive) or to Florida.  We do not want to say that someone in their 80s is old...really they are...because that is a negative thing.  

I have found that talking to older people and treating them like equals not the elderly can lead to some fascinating conversations ( oh my they had sex in the 1940s, there were protests in the 30s, it was always tough to raise your child) and stories.  It is ok to get older because no matter how much botulism you put in your face you are still ageing  - look at that great equalizer.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to keep in shape and out of hospitals, with looking your best at any age but there is something wrong when we make people ashamed to admit that they are getting to a natural state...older.  I have never lied about my age (well except ironically like most people when I was younger that I was older to get into bars or clubs) because it comes with all the memories, the loves, the kisses, the experiences that each of my years has had.  To lie would deny the years that already passed.  There are ornery old people but they were previously obnoxious young people so maybe for once can we just treat those of a different age than us as what they are ...someone who we have in our lives not defined by the candles on their cake 

If we can start embracing the fact that we will all age - and it may not always be pretty - and yes the body will not cooperate the same way - then maybe we will start to value those people who already aged and our own futures.  Maybe if we do not treat it like something to hide then we would stop trying to not spend any money on the population that added to coffers to begin with.  This population, and them baby boomers are a LOT of this soon, with it's experience is a natural resource for as the old adage (funny antiques are good except of people) says "those who do not know their history are destined to repeat it"...how about we try and repeat those parts of history that enhanced our world and avoid the mistakes we never knew about since we never asked?

“It's paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn't appeal to anyone.” 
― Andy Rooney

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