Do you know what I discovered this week? My body has been taken over by an alien, and it has gone into full-scale rebellion against my heart and mind. I woke up this morning with a Charlie horse in my ass that won’t quit, and all I did the day before was squat to remove two—say it again: two—stray weeds from my garden bed. I also have some type of weird crick in my back. I have no idea why it happened. All I know is that right before I temporarily turned into the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I must have pissed off the gods somehow when I had the audacity to wear my favorite five-inch heels to a social event for two hours and fifteen minutes. (The nerve!) Don’t even get me started about the Nazi torture that happens to me if something drops on the floor these days, and I crouch down to retrieve it. When my brain tells my legs “You can resume standing, now that you have the object in hand, Sweet-cheeks;” my body doesn’t budge (it sticks as if frozen into place), and some demon on my shoulder falls over in gales of laughter at the spectacle of it all! I don’t pick up anything that falls on the floor anymore. If WW (“White and Wonderful—my husband of 36 years) doesn’t pick it up, then it will stay there until the cleaning service comes (every other week). The last time I did try and pick up a dropped grape, I couldn’t get back up and had to do a barrel roll over to the stove and pull myself up with the ol’ right hand on the oven door, left hand on the counter, and a double-turn-grab on the freezer handle to set myself aright. Doing so knocked my back out for hours. OMG!
WTF people! Can someone tell me what is happening to my body?
I HEARD THAT! And I am not interested in getting older, thank you very much! This is not what was advertised. When I turned 65 a couple of years ago, I was told that I would be entering my “golden years.” The word “golden” implies that one will be “rich with splendor,” “radiant,” and marked with “splendor and grace.” Being unable to walk without a slight waddle from side to side because my joints are so stiff from sitting at a dinner table or after a long drive does not spell splendor and grace to me—I’d call it one pratfall away from disaster. I’m only 67 years old, for God’s sake. According to Hollywood, 67 is the new 47! I should be running marathons, going sky diving, and leaking my chubby-ass sex tape on the Internet. If these are the actions of my body at 67, what will it do at 87?
I am a Baby Boomer, and even though I “technically” know that death is inevitable, like most of my Baby-Boomer fellow travelers, I never expected it to happen to me. Because this is where all these aches and pains are leading: Death. Right? My body is slowly but surely breaking down and going back to whence it came—dust unto dust. As the great Martha Beck says, “I knew death was inevitable, but I had hoped an exception might be made in my case.” As I brooded over this nasty road I was traveling down, I decided to drive to Ohio and visit a friend who is twenty years my senior, and who lives in an independent/assisted living home. At 87, my friend seems to be handling the inevitable pretty well. I talk to her every week. She used to be a travel agent and traveled all over the world, but now she is stuck in the independent portion of the old folk’s home. But she never complains—is always cheerful—and I hoped she’d have some pearls of wisdom to help me with the last third of my life. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I discovered what I discovered when I talked to her.
ME: My friend, I am really having a hard time with this aging thing. Every day there’s some new thing happening in my body—some breakdown no one warned me about. How do you feel about being 87?
FRIEND: How do you think I feel? It sucks! I never expected to live this long. If you had told me when I was your age that I’d live to be 87, I would have laughed in your face. I am legally blind, can’t completely control my bladder (when I have to go, I have to go—right then and there—there is no such thing as holding it!), and I can’t hear unless people shout (even with hearing aids). Since my heart attack two years ago, I can no longer go for long walks. A long walk these days is down the hall to the dining room or across the building to the multi-purpose room to play Bingo. My everyday companions are the people who sit at my table for lunch and dinner. Two of them are nonagenarians and the third is an octogenarian. All three of them have lost their minds. I think the nonagenarians are having sex—at least they invited me to their wedding on Monday because they didn’t want to continue living “in sin,” but then on Thursday, the female announced that the wedding was off because she has decided she is a lesbian. Her befuddled fiancé looked like he was going to burst into tears and left the table to go watch TV. The octogenarian who sits at my table hides her jewelry and then complains all through the meal—each and every meal—that the shifty-eyed nurses have stolen her stuff. I tell her every single day right before I turn off my hearing aid: “Ain’t nobody stole your crap, Delores! You just forgot where you put it, again!” My only consolation is that my mind is still sharp as a tack. But as for all the rest of what is happening to me and around me . . . As the kids say: “It sucks, big time.”
Cat in the Hat on Aging Refrigerator Magnet from http://www.ebay.com
ME: Noooooo, say it isn’t so! But you took care of yourself. You ate right and you exercised. This isn’t fair.
FRIEND: Who ever said life was fair, Kiddo? I thought that was the number one lesson I taught you growing up.
ME: [Sigh!] What do you miss the most from your younger days?
FRIEND: Everything! Driving, reading, traveling, talking without a lisp—my dentures can’t seem to stay stuck to the roof of my mouth—a career, husband and friends (all dead, dying or losing their minds) . . . just about everything. By the way, tell your children to take care of their teeth. No one tells you how much you’ll miss those suckers once they’re gone.
ME: Any advice for me on this last leg of my journey?
FRIEND: Take it one day at a time, Baby. Count your blessings (gratitude is a great equalizer). Do what you can do, and what you can’t control (i.e., your leaky bladder, your teeth hanging lopsided in your mouth, and people sounding like guppies talking to you underwater)—don’t fret about it. If you can afford it, buy yourself stock in Depends, denture adhesive, and hearing aids. And always remember: When you wake up in the morning, and you don’t find your name in the obituaries, it’s gonna be a good day!
Used by Permission: Yaakov Kirschen, Dry Bones/Cagle Cartoons
A visit with my wise friend did not help me. I was more agitated than ever. As I tossed and turned that night in my sleep, I kept whimpering, “Dylan, you were right: I will not ‘go gentle into that good night … I will rage, rage against the dying of the light!’”*
As I thrashed about in my sleep, I dreamt that I ran into the specter “Old Age.” The androgynous person was seated on a park bench staring at me with an amused expression as I approached.
OLD AGE: Hey there, I hear you’ve been looking for me. What’s happenin’?
ME: What do you mean, what’s happenin’? You know exactly what’s happening! My body is falling apart. 75.4 million Baby Boomers and I have a bone to pick with you. Our bodies are imploding and we’re dropping like flies. I used to be able to run long distances (three miles every day and twelve on the weekends), teach all day standing in four-inch heels, leap tall buildings, and trip the light fantastic with my man. The last wedding I went to recently, I danced for two hours in two inch heels, and the next day I had to have a rubdown in Mentholatum Ointment and soak in a hot bath for an hour just so I could walk without doing the zombie crawl.
OLD AGE: Whine, whine, whine. Here, have a little cheese with that whine.
ME: Shut up, smart ass. And don’t even get me started about cheese. Did you know that somewhere during the last year I became highly allergic to cheese but didn’t know it? You know how I found out? At the same aforementioned wedding, while dancing to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk You Up” I shit my pants. Yessiree, crapped my drawers in my fancy-dance wedding outfit right on the ballroom floor! At first I thought my husband had farted, but he didn’t have his old man fart-face look. (You know that look old men get: “keep on dancing or walking, honey … nothing to smell here …”) It didn’t take me long to figure out that the cheese from the reception had done me in, and it was disgusting. I wondered why people kept breaking off conversations in mid-stream with me and moving all the way over to the other side of the reception hall in search of “some more of that delicious Vermont cheese.” (You couldn’t have let this happen to me in the privacy of my home?) So I can no longer eat gluten because I have Celiac disease; I can no longer eat sweets and starches because I have diabetes, I should stay away from salt and alcohol because I have high-blood pressure, and now the one thing I depended on that was safe to eat when everything around me contained gluten and sugar, you stole from me. I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, Old Age! You threw lactose intolerance at me—in the middle of a wedding! HAVE YOU NO SHAME, MISTER?
Every Baby Boomer I talk to hates you too, and they all have something that ails them. By the time 75 million and counting of us are in our 80’s, there’s not going to be enough nursing homes, walkers, hearing aids, or Depends that Social Security dollars can buy to keep us up and running. Let me shout it from the rooftop: I HATE THIS STAGE OF LIFE!
Use by Permission: Cardow, The Ottawa Citizen/Cagle Cartoons
OLD AGE: Hey now—look on the bright side. I haven’t been cruel to all the Baby Boomers. The Rolling Stones are still performing and they are older than you. Mick Jagger is 72 years old, 140 pounds, and still has a 28-inch waist. He can still jerk across the stage with one leg in the air while singing “I can’t get no satisfaction” and then segue into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” like it was the 1970s.
ME: Oh no, you can’t fool me. That bag of rock-n-roll bones probably has to soak his entire body in Epsom salts for hours after he performs. I bet you that Mick Jagger secretly wears a special designed Depends under those skin tight pants, too. Either that or he did so many drugs in the 70s that his bowels are pickled and his bones are calcified to such an extent that he feels nothing and he never poops. But I don’t believe he doesn’t suffer from you, Old Age. You’ve cursed him like you’ve cursed us all. Mick Jagger’s got the old age plague of a crumbling body—we just haven’t heard about the details yet.
OLD AGE: Well, I can appreciate your point, and I do understand your anger with me. You have every right. However, I am nothing but accommodating. Since you hate me so much, I can offer you an alternative. He’s just around the corner. Hey, Death—come on over and let me introduce you to a friend of mine. She’s dying to meet you.
Used by Permission: Cardow The Ottawa Citizen/Cagle Cartoons
ELEANOR’S “SELAH” (“AHA MOMENT”) ABOUT AGING
I am discovering that “life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.” I saw this quote on an octogenarian’s suitcase at the Seattle airport recently. It is so true. Every age has something to hinder it—every age has something that blesses it. When one is young, one usually has strength, beauty and power—but one generally lacks wisdom, grace, and the patience of a wizened old man or woman. Fortunately, I am not as narcissistic as I’ve portrayed myself in my satirical and slightly exaggerated story. I am falling apart at the seams, but I hope I’m doing it gracefully. I do get the joke. I know that gratitude is the key to growing old with perspective. Living in the moment is the focus needed to keep one self-balanced, and the “serenity to accept the things I cannot change”** is true maturity. Life is wonderful for me—not because it is perfect—but because I woke up this morning and my name wasn’t in the obituaries. It is a great day, in fact! I think I’ll go dancing tonight!
“You have to age gracefully. And that’s what I love about Keith Richards. That’s what I love about the Rolling Stones. They are aging gracefully. They are falling apart at the seams right before our eyes, and they are doing it gracefully. And that’s the most beautiful thing that we can do.”—Nikki Sixx
“It’s good to be here. Frankly, it’s good to be anywhere.”—Keith Richards (what he says every time he performs)
“A lot of people are living in a dream world – they want to deny that aging occurs or believe it doesn’t have to occur. They’ll hold on to this belief until the moment they die. The reality will eventually hit them.”—S. Jay Olshansky
“What helps with aging is serious cognition – thinking and understanding. You have to truly grasp that everybody ages. Everybody dies. There is no turning back the clock. So the question in life becomes: What are you going to do while you’re here?”—Goldie Hawn
ALL QUOTES FROM www.brainyquotes.com
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*Dylan Thomas, Do not go gentle into that good night.
** Reinhold Neibuhr, The Serenity Prayer
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