Monday, July 28, 2014

It Ain’t No Train

The older I get, the more comfortable I get about myself and my age.  I didn’t expect that.  Counterbalancing that comfort level, however, is the growing feeling that I can almost see the finish line.  It is likely thirty or more years in the future, but it is there, I can sense it and I don’t want to get any closer to it.  It is that same nagging feeling you get in July and August when you realize the days are getting shorter even though they are hotter than they were in May and June.  Summer isn’t ready to let go yet, but you know it will.

This has been the most incredible year for me.  Growing friendships, fun activities that take me out of my comfort zone, new adventures, travel, professional development, and on and on and on.  I am the happiest I have ever been.  Running parallel with all of that is evidence of my aging, including a few new physical limitations I’ve never had, slightly increased challenges keeping up with my work peers, more gray hair despite my best efforts to hide it and conversations with high school buddies who are retiring.

As I write this, a dear friend of mine is on her way to the hospital where her mother is currently a patient.  Her mom was in a trauma unit at the other end of the state from her home for three weeks, then moved to a rehab closer to home, but now is back in a hospital.  This afternoon, while toggling between moments of dementia, confusion and completely clear thought, she asked her husband why he won’t just let her go.  He asked where?  She said just let her go and die.  Of course that is scaring my friend and her siblings.

I am one of those people who thinks I’ll live forever and I can’t imaging ever giving up, no matter how bad it gets.  Of course, that’s easy for me to say because I’ve never suffered all the things my friend’s mother has.  One of the most profound statements my own mother made during her last few years, while living in a nursing home she hated, was “I’m not living, I’m just existing.”  My mother went on to ‘exist’ for another year or two after saying those words, reaching age 95.  A stressful evacuation from Hurricane Katrina contributed to her death, but I wonder if at some point she decided it was just time to go.

I am sure that was my dad’s thinking a few years before, as he seemed to stare through the fog of dementia long enough to see his wife and two children were in the room with him and would be OK; we watched him take his last breath that afternoon, as if he was saying “I’m done, goodbye.”

Optimism is my usual attitude, sometimes blinding myself to realism.  Reality is that life ends; my brand of optimism guides me to embrace it every day, living like there is no tomorrow while simultaneously living like I have decades of tomorrows left.  Yes, I AM that complicated.

So I accept that there is an end, I acknowledge that I am now closer to the end than the beginning, but I am not in any way ready to reach the end.  And before I ramble to much more, let me close this post by quoting a line from a very obscure country song from the 90s … “I see a light at the end of the tunnel; Lord, I hope it ain’t no train.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I’ve Been Thinking A Lot About Aging Lately

My original vision for this blog and its predecessor Fifty Something blog was to observe and comment on growing older in the ‘baby boom’ era.  Boomers are generally those of us born between 1946 and 1964, the prosperous post-World War II years.  People born in 1946 usually have very different attitudes and perspectives than those born in 1964, but we are all united by the fact that we are the largest population segment.  In other words, we still rule the world.

Someone born in 1946 grew up in the boomer prosperity years but were influenced by predictable life patterns … marriage to one person, a long-term job with a company that offered a pension upon retirement, kids when in their 20s and grandkids in their 60s, family support in old age, etc.  People born in 1964 grew up in an era of later marriage, childlessness as an option, job changing, periods of economic boom and bust and boom, marriages that didn’t last, etc.

Nobody can predict the future, but our future is much less predictable than that of our parents and much more volatile than I could have imagined.  Our parents were great, but they did not prepare us for the uncertainty we now face.  And who could have predicted that we would live so long?

What do we do now?  I, for one, am way underfunded for retirement.  I can rely on Social Security, maybe, my union pension, if it remains solvent, and a 401k that is a mere percentage of what experts say it should be for my age.  My last divorce results in my no longer owning a home and the byproduct of a law with good intentions probably leads to my having to share what little retirement I have with an ex who doesn’t really deserve it because of all the other funding sources she also has.

I know I’m whining now, but this stuff is on my mind.  I currently have the best day-to-day life I have ever had and I fully embrace living in the present, maybe for the first time in my life.  But I am sure I have a long future ahead of me and actions as well as lack of action from my past will result in financial struggling in my future.  This does not make me happy.  And don’t we all have the right to be happy … that whole ‘pursuit of happiness’ thing that is part of American culture.

If my second marriage had worked out, I would now have kids in their 20s.  What would my advice to them be?  Live for today but plan for tomorrow.  Find a balance between those two often disparate goals.  I wonder if I can take that advice myself.  Time will tell.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Random Senior Moments

During the past week, I spent many hours with some people who are 75 to 85 years old. These include the mother of a close friend, the friend's step-dad and assorted siblings and in laws.  These elderly folks are wonderful caring people. And they are very needy. Are all older people this needy? Is this a foreshadowing of my behavior?

When I say 'needy' I don't mean the needs often surrounding obvious physical challenges related to aging.  I mean that some people in this age range are scared, judgmental, demanding, resistant to change in routine, fixed in their expectations and on and on. I don't say this to be critical or judgmental. At this moment, I am merely observing.

The mother of the friend is in the hospital recovering from a hip replacement. She is normally a sweet, caring 82-year-old. But she has had significant mood swings during the week she has been in the hospital. Those moods went from her funny sense of humor to verbal meanness to insulting staff and family to intimidating family members to stay with her constantly, despite the incredible inconvenience to them and the fact that she slept most of the time.

The spouse of the patient is in her age range and has also been demanding and somewhat negative during this ordeal. Is that because he is 'old' or is it just because he is genuinely concerned and upset? His concern is genuine. But his attitude is annoying at times.

Rewind twenty years to when I was in a hospital for two weeks. I was close to age 40, had no family nearby, had two close friends who checked in on me daily and I was afraid I would never walk again. I have an obsessive personality but I am also positive and I don't usually ask for help. I had a backup plan in case I really couldn't walk; fortunately I healed. The only 'demand' I made was for a friend to give me a ride home when I was discharged. I also asked my roommate for a little help cooking meals and I temporarily switched cars with her because driving my stick shift car was a challenge for a few weeks.

What would my behavior be if I was hospitalized at my current age? More importantly, how would I act if I was in my 80s?  This takes me back to a rephrasing of my original question: are seniors needy? Demanding? Selfish? Helpless? Is this our future? Or are boomers more self-reliant than seniors?

As is usually the case, I have more questions than answers. I feel bad that I used a friend's family as examples but as I said, these are observations. My own parents seemed needy too, but less so. Maybe that observation is one answer to my questions.