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³Getting old is no fun,´ my dad used to tell me, during his last few years, before he died at the age of 79. I always reminded him, ³There are many people who would have loved to have had that problem.´ So many remarkable people, in my lifetime, never made it to middle age, much less old age. It didn¶t matter if they were famous wealthy celebrities, or ordinary folks. This remains to be one of the real mysteries of life to me. Who is afforded the gift of time, and who is not blessed with such a privilege? There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. Many individuals, who were as worthy as anyone, to live a long prosperous life, were deprived of that opportunity, in a heartbeat, often at a
very young age. Meanwhile, others, who appear to be the personification of evil, live on, well into old age. A friend of mine from high school and I started emailing one another recently. He and I hadn¶t communicated with one other, since we graduated in 1967. We were discussing our high school classmates, who have passed on. To our amazement, there were so many. A number of them have been gone now, for a very long time. When we were children, my sister, our friends and I used to lament about people from our church who had died, and who were in their sixties: ³At least they got to live a long life.´ That¶s what we thought back then, when the life expectancy was much lower than it is today. These days, many of us Baby Boomers are dealing with our own aging, plus coping with elderly parents. Recently, I told my sons that I would want them to try to find another Dr. Kevorkian, if I ever got to the point where I had no quality of life. It¶s like my friend explained. She was a few years younger than I, and just recently passed away. After ten long years, she finally lost her brave battle with cancer. The cancer had traveled up her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed. From her bed at the local Hospice House, she told me that the doctor offered to give her treatments, which might prolong her life for two months. She opted to not take them, saying, ³This isn¶t living.´
It is very difficult to watch my mom¶s quality of life deteriorate so rapidly. She refused to have much-needed knee surgery years ago, and is paying the price for that decision. Until recently, she was able to get around on a walker. Now she is in severe pain when she tries to walk. Her legs and feet refuse to move for her, confining her to a wheelchair, totally dependent on someone else. It must be unbelievably frustrating to lose your mobility and independence. Often I am so disappointed with myself, in how quickly I lose my patience, in dealing with her. As a school teacher, I had to practice a lot of patience, so this is somewhat surprising to me, to see how quickly she upsets me. No matter what I do for her, it seems like she is never satisfied. She questions everything, like why I took a particular route, driving her to the beauty parlor. The roles have completely reversed now, for my sister and me, and our mom. The lady, who once bathed and dressed us, now needs our help with those tasks. It¶s obvious that she is so uncomfortable, in having to ask us to cut up her food. She is insisting on staying in her own home, even though she falls several times a day. Her face is usually black and blue, bruised from falling. It¶s a miracle that she hasn¶t broken any bones. People often scowl at me, when I take her out in public. They act as if I had physically abused her. Two caregivers come in for several hours each day, but she really needs around-the-clock assistance. Several of her friends recently moved into an assisted living home, close to where Mom lives.
I¶m not sure whether or not she would qualify to be accepted by that facility. One administrator explained that they require their residents to be mobile. She certainly doesn¶t fit into that category. About a year ago, my sister and I took her to tour another assisted living home. We wanted to see if she might like to live there. She begrudgingly agreed to go, but was clearly put out with the entire notion. The facility seemed like a nice place, with an exceptionally accommodating staff. Still, it somewhat resembled a scene from an insane asylum. None of the residents had the mental capacity, or desire, to carry on a normal conversation. Clearly, Mom, who is still as sharp as a tack, would have been out of place there. Since there is already a shortage of nursing homes and assisted living manors, one can only imagine how severe this problem will become, when many of us Baby Boomers will start needing those facilities. Now is the time for many enlightened and insightful developers to take advantage of the aging of our generation. They need to construct more self-contained walking communities, with one-story houses. Someone should get a head start on building additional nursing homes and assisted living residences, which will be dire necessities in the not-to-distant future. I often worry about how our country and our children¶s generation will survive, bearing the costs of Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare for all of us.
I can¶t imagine what a financial burden our generation will be, due to our sheer numbers. To say it will be a profound impact on the economy, would be such an understatement. My first encounter with aging came several years ago, when I was diagnosed with macular degeneration. This was such a shock to me, since I had perfect vision up to that point. I recall how matter-of-factly the optometrist explained to me, that one in every five people, who have the debilitating disease, will lose their eyesight. He never mentioned there were vitamins, which could keep the disease from progressing. Nowadays, it¶s difficult for me to recognize people, if they aren¶t in close proximity to me. I also have difficulty seeing to drive in the dark, especially in the rain, when the headlights reflect on the wet pavement. Thankfully, my disease hasn¶t progressed in five years. The vitamin regimen which my current optometrist has me on, probably contributed greatly to that success. The week before I retired, I went to the DMV to get my driver¶s license renewed. No surprise to me, I failed the vision test. I thought that was the kiss of death. To think that I had worked my entire adult life, then not be able to drive, once I retired. That would have been life-changing. It was such a blessing, when I passed the eye exam in the optometrist¶s office. He gave me a different prescription for glasses, and a note to get my license
renewed. What a relief that was. I had really been sweating bullets, thinking I may have my driving privileges suspended. At that point, I understood how my parents must have felt, when we told them they couldn¶t drive any more. For the last ten years, I have had to wear reading glasses. The hardest thing about that, is keeping up with where I placed them last. When I was teaching, my students frequently brought my glasses to me, asking, ³Are you looking for these?´ It¶s hard on my eyes, to spend long periods of time, in front of a computer screen. I am often embarrassed to see how many emails I have sent out, which were riddled with typos, even though I had proofread them numerous times. Just as in reading highway signs, I simply don¶t see some of the letters. These days, I often need two pairs of glasses to read, or carry out everyday tasks. Phone books require the two pairs, plus a magnifying glass. Publishers and manufacturers should make their products more Boomer-friendly. In my younger days, I used my sewing machine frequently. Now, threading the machine¶s needle is an impossibility. Like many of us, I learned of having arthritis in my knees a few years ago. I was going to a water aerobics class twice a week, and I hadn¶t the first inkling that there was a problem with my knees. After half an hour of rigorous exercising in the water, my knees started hurting and telling me they were tired of being jumped on for so long. Upon my first visit to a joint specialist, he told me I had arthritis in
both knees, as well as a Baker¶s cyst behind my right knee. With aging, I have developed several Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. I am such a germaphobe these days, constantly needing to wash my hands. Touching the door knob, to exit a public restroom, is something I avoid at all costs. Putting on lipstick is another one of my OCDs. I don¶t care whether or not my lips are pink, they just need to be moistened. I feel lost if I don¶t have my lipstick with me. I have a few pet peeves, which have intensified with age. The misuse of the pronunciation ³pitcher,´ when referring to a drawing or photograph, drives me nuts. And, have we become so lazy, as a society, that we are going to just drop the contraction, ³n¶t,´ from the phrase, ³I couldn¶t care less.´ Over the last few years, the phrase has gradually evolved to, ³I could care less.´ Doesn¶t that bother anyone else? To say, ³I could care less,´ completely eradicates the original intent of the phrase. It becomes a contradiction. What I miss the most about my youth, is having a limber body. Even though I exercise, by walking at least five days a week, and trying to swim frequently, this sixty-year-old body keeps getting stiffer and less agile. I miss being able to lean over and cut my toenails, without it being so difficult. About a year ago, I watched a television special on Alzheimer¶s. The show featured a man, who was in the early stages of the disease. He was standing in front of his bathroom sink, repeating the same tasks over and over. To my dismay, I
am right there, in the same situation as he was. I often forget if I have washed my face with my special cleanser, and more frightening, I forget to take my medications completely, or can¶t remember if I have already taken them. Another bothersome occurrence, is one I discovered a few months ago. I found bills, which I had written checks for, put stamps on, then placed them in the storage bin, between the front seats of the van. I had completely forgotten that I had written the checks, and prepared them to be mailed. When I finally discovered them, it was much later than their due date. The first bunch I found had been there for several months. Admittedly, I fit into the category of ³Cell Phone Refusenik.´ My TracFone, accompanies me on trips, in case of emergencies. I am just not interested in getting a cell phone. My problem isn¶t with cell phones, per se, but I really resent having to listen to other people¶s loud, private conversations, everywhere I go. It feels as though my personal space and privacy have been invaded. Not long ago, Mom and I were eating at a local restaurant. A large man, in the booth behind us, talked on his cell phone during our entire meal. He was extremely loud and his language was very offensive. No one in the restaurant was brave enough to confront him, and tell him to be quiet and watch his language. He was a pretty imposing character, and looked like he wouldn¶t take that suggestion too kindly.
I always like to imagine how ridiculous it would have looked, for all of us, as kids, to be carrying around and talking on the old black ³Banjo´ telephones, like the ones we grew up with. That would have really been absurd. Everyone would have asked, ³Why do they need to be talking on the phone everywhere they go, and all of the time? How could they possibly have so much to talk about?´ I used to have some pretty lengthy phone conversations, with boyfriends, but certainly didn¶t talk on the phone non-stop. One good thing about aging is receiving perks, like senior discounts at grocery stores and movies, and getting a reduction in the YMCA monthly membership fee. I have found the freedom of being retired to be a real luxury, especially since I had never had the privilege of not working before. Life is less hectic and not as stressful. As was predictable, my blood pressure improved greatly, with my retiring from teaching. Another benefit of aging, is getting more pleasure out of the simple things in life. All winter long, I enjoyed my daily treks through the deep snow, to the two birdfeeders. Listening to the numerous birds, who seem to be singing all day long, as a way of showing their gratitude, gives me great pleasure. Michael Feldman¶s humor and wit on his public radio show, ³Whad¶Ya Know?´ is something I look forward to every Saturday morning. During his two-hour show, my kitchen gets cleaned every week. I also enjoy listening to his
announcer, Jim Packard, and the arrangements from his talented music duo of pianist, John Thulin, and bassist, Jeff Eckels. On Saturday night, I am thoroughly entertained by the hilarious, complicated, convoluted tales by the masterful storyteller, Garrison Keillor. His public radio show, ³A Prairie Home Companion,´ is a delightful blend of talented guest musicians, his monologues and stories. My favorites are his Guy Noire episodes and the tales from Lake Woebegone, ³Where all of the women are strong, all of the men are good looking, and all of the children are above average.´ On the same station, Keillor¶s show is followed by ³The Mountain Stage,´ show, ³From the Mountain State of West Virginia.´ This awesome production is the brainchild of Andy Ridenour and musician Larry Groce. Celebrating its 25th year anniversary a couple of years ago, the show features an eclectic blend of incredible music. It is a wonderful venue for established, famous music legends, as well as up-and-coming musicians. I don¶t watch much primetime television, but my one visual treat every week is CBS¶s ³Sunday Morning´ show, with its bow-tie-clad host, Charles Osgood. This program has such an entertaining, uplifting blend of features on art and artists, music and musicians, news, and human interest stories. Nancy Giles and Ben Stein offer varying, insightful opinions and commentaries. Bill Geist¶s humorous stories often showcase some of the most bizarre events all across the country. I like
watching ³The Oprah Show,´ to get inspired by many of her segments and guests. Walking, swimming and taking hikes, are my favorite pastimes. For me, being out in the woods, communing with nature, is such a spiritual, uplifting experience. Staying at home makes me perfectly content too. Sometimes I¶ll put on oldies music, other times I¶ll listen to a completely different genre. The music selection, changes with my mood. As I relax in my recliner, and sip on a cup of hot tea, my two cats stretch out on my lap. I savor every moment. One day, I may pursue my lifelong dream, of moving to a beach community. Taking long morning and evening walks, beside the ocean, is something I think I could get used to. A few years ago, I purchased some jingle tap shoes, the real noisy ones. That was one thing I¶ve always wanted to do. I lay my big square of plywood down on the living room carpet, put on Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel¶s CD, ³The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World´, and have the best time tapping to their music. Of course, I don¶t really know what I¶m doing, since I never had tap lessons. It¶s still great fun and good exercise, anyway. That¶s one item on my bucket list to mark off. These days, I am passionate about affecting positive change in our world. Lately, I have been involved with people all across our state, in fighting a situation which we believe is unjust. It has been inspirational in dealing with like-minded individuals, who have dedicated so much of their time, energy and money to this
worthwhile endeavor. As a group, we were able to get legislation passed, which will benefit landowners for years to come. Social conditions, which seem to be unwarranted, or which need to be changed or challenged, will often get much of my time and attention. Just recently, I have started communicating over several websites, with former childhood neighbors and high school friends. Rekindling old friendships, has been a real pleasure for me. We have enjoyed sharing photographs, from our younger days. It is interesting, how it seems like the older we get, the need and desire to reconnect with our roots greatly increases. My favorite story, on aging, comes from a recent tour of a local assisted living facility. One of the directors of the place, was showing me and my sister around, and took us into several apartments, explaining the differences in size and costs. He showed us one room, and explained that the lady who had lived in that particular apartment for several years, had just recently moved out. ³She left, to marry her high school sweetheart. She was eighty-five,´ he mused. The moral of this story is: ³To those of you who think that you have missed the boat on finding true love in your life«It¶s never too late.´
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