Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Reality of Getting Really Old

As I sat in the living room and then the dining room of Selfhelp, an assisted living facility in Chicago, I found myself projecting ahead and wondering which one of those old people I would be like in 30 years. The thought was sobering because they all have problems.

We were there to visit Zelda, my husband’s 98-year-old aunt, who has lived by herself all these years in the windy city. She is fiercely independent, even now refusing to live in this place permanently, despite the fact that she suffers from macular degeneration and can’t see worth crap. Other than the lost eyesight, she is in remarkably good shape for her age.

There was Henry, who had been a stained glass artist, but was now permanently confined to a wheelchair.

There was Vera, who doesn’t hear or see well, and who seemed to have forgotten 5 minutes after dinner that she had shared our table.

There was Felice, who could hear a pin drop at a table across the room, and proceeded to make comments to people that far away, some of them angry and hurtful.

There was Evelyn, who slowly ate her dinner and didn’t utter one word.

I could go on and on and on.

Some of these disabilities cause misunderstandings as happened at dinner:
Zelda: What differences are there around her on Saturday (Shabbat)?
Vera: What is a “diffunk”?
Felice (from a neighboring table): Can’t you just answer her question?
This went on for several rounds of questions until someone just changed the subject.

During dinner Margot’s phone went off with a loud ring “Grandma, answer your phone. Grandma, answer your phone.” Obviously her grandchildren set up her cell phone.

It was about 85 degrees in Selfhelp and no one seemed willing or able to turn down the heat. I was yawning from the heat and feeling overwhelmed by what we had experienced so we tucked Aunt Zelda in early and headed back to our hotel.

I just have to provide a picture of the elevator buttons, which have been covered up to keep those with idle fingers and feeble minds from playing. You have to be savvy enough to stick a pen-like device into a small hole to call the elevator.

My final thought was whether or not I would be able to beat the elevator system at 90 or whether I would be one of those it protected against.


You can read more about Zelda here or from my husband's post about Zelda.

10 Comments:

Blogger Mother of Invention said...

She looks so sweet. My choir sang at an old age home and it was bittersweet...touching to see the faces of some light up and clap or sing along...but sad to see a few just staring and handling their ID tags.

Hope you're the 90 year-old who can work the elevator and keeps conversation going at dinner!! Maybe you'll even still be blogging!

10:24 AM  
Blogger Aileen said...

What a sobering post.

I don't think too much about what I'll be like when I get to be that age, but I have begun to think about what my parents will be like.

(They are in the early 60's and of course quite young and active.)

It's a scary thought.

I hope that I age like my grandmother. She is 85, but acts 65. She lives alone in a cute house that she loves to redecorate and do projects in. She still hosts our huge family gatherings. When she travels with us, she's one of the first ones up and one of the last to go to bed.

She says her secret is to stay busy and active every day...AND to always hang out with a lot of young people. :)

10:27 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Bette Davis said, "Old age ain't no place for sissies." I don't know about you, but I plan to check out before I'm 90.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Delany sisters (Bessie & Sadie) both lived to be at least 100 years old, lived together most of their lives, never lived in a retirement home, never married or had kids, and were awesome women. They exercised daily, ate right, and their minds were sharp as a whip (they mentioned how people made them do mental health tests and would check up on them because people didn't believe they were still alive!).

Though the sisters have passed on a few years ago, their lives are ones that I'd like to emulate.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- I'm not sure "sweet" is the right word for Zelda. Maybe "amazing" or "feisty". As we were talking to her tonight, she sang a parody on "I left my heart in San Francisco" that she had written 30 years ago.

Aileen -- Zelda would agree with your grandmother about the importance of being with young people. Her biggest worry about moving into the assisted living facility is "living with all those old people".

Reya -- I would only want to "check out" if I could no longer figure out how to enjoy life. I hope this doesn't happen until I'm well beyond 90.

GoldenSilence -- I once saw a documentary about the amazing Delany sisters and their secret of long life. It mentioned that they did yoga every day well before it became popular.

11:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lawyer I used to work with told me that he couldn't wait to get old. He said he would sit in the park and trip kids with his cane.

I plan to keep running til I quit.

12:06 AM  
Anonymous jdont said...

My neighbor owns a winter home in Palm Springs. I flew down and played three rounds of golf with her. I have AMD and am legally blind. She told me where my ball went. I’m 78 and she is 93. She still can smack the ball and runs several apartments in Seattle. Getting old is a state of the mind.

11:28 AM  
Blogger steve said...

i don't know if I could beat that elevator TODAY!!! It made me dizzy to look at it!

11:36 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

OldLady -- I can imagine that you will keep running until you just give out!

Jdont -- Your comment gives me hope for growing old. Keep swinging and just don't worry about where the ball goes. How in the world did you find this post?

Steve -- It's funny how you so quickly get used to calling the elevator this way. I'll bet you too could do it!

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The people in my family live a very, very long time. Most on their own well into their 90s, but there have been some very sad stories. Falling. Dementia. Cancer running rampant.

I try not to think about it too much. I just try to live life fully now. For the moment.

10:54 AM  

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