I get angry at my parents sometimes for not modeling how to age gracefully and with dignity. In their 90s, maybe they are doing the best they can. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to live inside a body that fails a little more, day by day.
Mom once said her head tells her she’s 19. But her body is 92.
On the other hand, my mom is behaving badly. Once selfless, self-sufficient, and a patient listener, she now is totally self-absorbed. Mom does what she swore she’d never do, complain incessantly and talk only of her aches and pains—just as my grandmothers did in old age.
She rejects suggestions of activities to get her mind off herself.
She appears mildly interested in the doings of her grandchildren, then interrupts, “Will I ever get well?” Has her mind been on that all along?
Truthfully, my mom is wearing down her caregivers, ones more detached than I. They’re initiating discussions of “the next step,” a nursing home.
If she’s complaining with healthy, fresh food prepared on demand, her every need attended to within seconds—how will she do with institutional fare and waiting 30 minutes for an attendant to take her to the bathroom?
My mom still has my father, after nearly 70 years. All her children are living. Her grandchildren are healthy and smart. “Be grateful”, I say between gritted teeth.
But mostly, my irritation has to do with my own fears of aging. How will I behave? How will my daughters treat me?
I know how I’d like it to be: I’d like a sharp mind and a healthy body up to my last day on this earth. But if I’m not so fortunate, I want to be respected no matter the condition of my mind or body. If I’m forgetful, I hope I’ll be able to laugh at myself, and allow those around me to laugh as well.
Let me be at peace with what I am able to do, and what I’m no longer able to do. Speak to me like an adult—the same person you’ve always known. Somewhere within I will still be that person, even though I confuse my words, my dates and my stories.
Don’t whisper behind my back. If I’m behaving badly, or talking incessantly of ill health, call me on it.
But if I say it’s Wednesday, and you know it’s Thursday, don’t bother to correct me if it really doesn’t matter.
If you find I’m not joining in the family chatter, know that I’m happy just basking in the presence of my loved ones, of hearing the details of busy lives and growing grandchildren.
If you have to help me get out of the chair or assist me with toileting, let it be matter-of-fact for both of us. Let us get over any embarrassment. It’s just my body wearing down. That’s how life is.
In compensation I will have had a long life, many memories, years of joy and some of pain, perhaps some wisdom gained that can be passed on to the next generations.
I will be a little closer to eternity. Let me treasure long hours for prayer. Let me love and take comfort in being loved.
Knowing how I want to navigate old age, I struggle daily to practice respect for my own parents!
They’re never satisfied. They wear me out. I can never do enough. For sanity’s sake I keep repeating to myself, “I am not responsible for their happiness.”
How can two people be so much more demanding—emotionally and physically—than a toddler?
The Golden Rule is much more difficult than I’d thought. I have a lot to work to do.