“Growing Old Graciously”

“Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life.”

“…I’m old and tired in a lonely sort of way…”  JS

“…I used to fear growing old, until I realized I could wake up dead at any age…”  JS

Growing old is inevitable, much like death and taxes. Okay, that’s not exactly true, not everyone gets the opportunity to grows old, many are called home early on and never pass through the so called ‘golden years.’  But if your one of the ‘lucky’ ones with a strong heart and good genes, barring some unforeseen accident, you my friend, will grow old.  It seems we have no alternative, it’s just part of the trip God has planned for us.

So when are we actually considered to be old? Remember when we used to think that anyone over 30 was old? Hell, now I’m twice that! I’m guess I’m really old! Believe it or not a group of researchers with nothing better to do with their time have actually come up with a specific age that denotes when old age begins. Using some sort of massive survey system and census results they have determined that old age begins at the age of 68, that’s right 68! It doesn’t matter that AARP considers you a senior citizen at 50, or that you qualify for senior discounts at several restaurants and stores at 55, or that you can begin collecting Social Security at 62, you don’t actually begin to grow old until age 68. Of course we all know people who are old long before that and others who are still young  long after that.  Like I’ve always said ‘age is just a number.

Let’s face it people, whether we like it or not we will all be joining the ranks of the elderly, some sooner than others. Currently over 17% or approximately 53million Americans are 60 or older, 39 million Americans are 65 or older, that’s 13% of the U.S. population. A hundred years ago only 4% of the population was 65 or older. Americans are simply living longer, a result of dramatic advances in medical science and public health.  Researchers project that by 2050, 5% or one in five Americans will be 85 and older, up from 2% today. Ah the wonders of modern medicine.

I’ve always likened aging to being a passenger on a high speed, bullet train. You’re destination is uncertain and the route is constantly changing. The throttle is locked at full speed and there is no way you can stop it. You’re on a collision course with destiny and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. This my friends is life, our lives. At birth we board this train and don’t disembark  until we reach the end of the line, our demise.

Speeding through life we may pass through as many as 10 phases or as few as one, the final one. The phases are: Infancy(birth-2yrs), Child(3-9), Adolescent(10-19), Young Adult(20-29), Adult(30-39), Middle Age(40-60), Independent Elder(60-onward) and End of Life. There are also two optional phases that everyone hopes they can skip or at least put off for as long as possible. They are Vulnerable Elder and Dependent Elder. Both can begin anytime after age 60. Vulnerable Elder includes the beginning of frailty, loss of cognitive reasoning or multiple health problems and the need for some assistance. The Dependent Elder requires daily care and is unable to perform all personal functions. The person is totally dependent on others. In both these phases were pretty screwed over and our  quality of life is greatly diminished.

So, the way I see it, the idea of growing old graciously is completely gene dependent. If we are destined to live to a ripe old age we will either be fortunate enough to retain enough of our mental faculties and health to enjoy our old age or we will be dependent to varying degrees on the attention and care of others, be it family members, friends, or heath care professionals. Assistance and care that we may or may not even be aware that we’re receiving. God I hope I’m one of the lucky ones.

This month,  marks a year that my dad has been living with us. One year since he was told by his doctor that he should no longer live on his own and could no longer drive. He has always been independent and had lived on his own since my mom passed away in 1991, I know giving up that independence wasn’t easy.  My dad’s driven for nearly seventy-five years. He was a Teamster truck driver for over 40 of those years. I really thought that giving up driving was going to be major obstacle for him to overcome. I was really worried that he would be very upset and even angry, instead he accepted it very graciously and seemed to know that it was time to give up the keys. My dad doesn’t have any cognitive problems, but his body is failing him and has been for some time now. I’m sure he’d given plenty of thought to both eventualities and knew it was the best thing for him. 

I know this past year hasn’t been easy for him. He’s had to make several adjustments as have we, but he’s hung in there and handles things surprisingly well. I have to tell you, I never gave much thought to the possibility that my dad would one day be living in our home, especially since our relationship during my teens and early adulthood was a bit strained (and that’s putting it mildly) I guess I always imagined he would live with my sister. In fact if someone would have told me years ago that my dad and I would once again be living under the same roof, I would have laughed my ass off and insisted that there was no way that would ever happen.

But here we are today living under the same roof for nearly a year, and you know what? It’s really been okay. My dad is so mellow and cooperative. He knows that the things we do around here involving his welfare are done with his best interests in mind. I really thought it would be a  tougher go, but he’s made it go pretty smoothly. He’s got a great attitude about things. I can’t recall a single time he’s raised his voice to us, lashed out or become angry or upset. I take that back, I have heard him talk loudly and angrily at the dogs,especially when they bark continuously for no apparent reason,  but that’s about it.

Yeah, pop’s has a really great attitude. I must say he handled all the changes of the past year much better than I ever expected and even jokes about it on occasion! I can only  hope that when I’m faced with the problems associated with aging which I will, and my body begins to fail me and cause me pain, I am able to keep things in perspective and maintain a positive attitude. I really hope I can handle the things life throws my way in my old age as well as my pops does. My dad is living proof that you can grow old graciously…

Just a Thought…

JS

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