“Let’s go this way.”
“What is it?”
Sigh. “I don’t know.”
This was a conversation I overheard this weekend between a nurse and an older woman resident at the Nursing Facility where my brother lives. Like most residential facilities, the people who live there show a range of health, abilities and lucidity. There is another woman who likes to sit in the hallway to watch visitors come and go, and frequently asks “Could someone bring me some toast?”
The staff at this facility are amazing, caring and positive people. It is a clean and pleasant environment. And yet, none of us want to end up living in a facility like it in our later years — even though the odds are good that some day we will. We’d all like to stay healthy and independent right up until our last day on earth. But of course there’s no way for any of us to be able to predict what our senior years will be like. One of my BFF’s is currently trying to cope with the fact that her father’s dementia is progressing rapidly. She and her mother have had to move him to a VA hospital. When she visits, he does not always know who she is. Another BFF’s mother has multiple health concerns, including having to endure dialysis. She has some good days with a clear mind and less pain, other days she’s loopy and miserable.
For those of us real women in our mid-life years, interacting with the next generation is like looking into a mirror of the future… and honestly it scares the heck out of us. Of course, I have a lot I still want to do and experience, so I’m hopeful that I won’t have to take a premature exit from this earth. I’d really like to be lucky enough to grow old. It’s just the unknown of how those “old” years may shape up that has us on pins and needles.
My girlfriend and I recently enjoyed a beautiful sunny day roaming around a favorite annual arts & crafts fair. As we were getting ready to get on the shuttle bus from the parking area, we saw three women who were likely in their 70’s, also preparing to visit the fair. They were armed with big tote bags to carry their treasures, and other bags to carry anything else they may need for the afternoon. Each had on typical classic baggy oversized floral tshirts, shorts that hung to their knees, and grey hair clipped back with hair pins because it was a hot day out. They did not move quickly, but they were clearly happy to be together. My gf and I said to each other “you know that is us in about twenty years.” Although we giggled at the time, in reality I hope that IS us in the future. I hope that we will still be able to get out and about and enjoy fun outings together.
Of course, we all wish we could win the age lottery and be among the minority of seniors who seem resistant to infirmities and ailments. I have close family friends in their 80’s who still hike, play tennis, go boating, and host family and friends on a daily basis. They still drive from Florida to Maine twice a year. They are amazing, and I think to myself “when I grow up, I want to be like them.”
It makes me wonder. How do we roll the age dice? Who’s to say whether we’ll end up needing a nurse’s help to walk down a hallway while wondering why, or if we’ll end up climbing mountains in our later days? Sure, health history and heredity have a lot to do with it. But there’s so much that seems to be up to chance, like some kind of geriatric game of roulette. Why does cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s hit some of us and skip others? Which of us get to be the lucky ones with sharp minds and limited aches and pains? We just have to wait and see.
Since none of us have a crystal ball for the aged, we can only prepare ourselves for whatever may come. The best we can possibly hope for, no matter what, is to have moments of joy in every day. We can train for this by doing our best now to help the older generations experience moments of happiness, no matter how big or small. Share a smile, a laugh, a story, or make someone’s day just a bit easier – even if five minutes later they won’t remember it.
Then some day, if we are lucky, there will be someone there to do something nice for us.
Like bring us a piece of toast.