Aging parents, dementia, Alzheimer’s, senior care, Laurie Kendrick, losing a parent, aging

The Funny Thing About Aging

First of all, IS there anything funny about aging?    Probably.   I just can’t think of anything right now.

I can tell you this much—the aches and pains associated with aging are no laugh riot.    The weird smells and certain odd little hairs that start growing in the damnedest places don’t warrant a chuckle.     There are other issues…balance problems, vision and hearing impairments, the napping which you so LOATHED as a child, but crave past age 55 are all interesting phenomenon, but not funny,

I have an arthritic knee that hurts me every second of the day.   I have injuries from  a severe car accident 26 years ago that the passage of time has only made worse.   I have sclerotic lesions in/on my hippocampus within my brain, I tire more easily, I have balance issues, I can’t tolerate bright lights., loud noises…even loud music.    I can’t hear as well as I once could,  I can no longer drive at night, I can’t drive without glasses during the day and the thought of driving long trips alone scare me .  In the past nine  months, I’ve mourned the loss of very, very  close friends.    Death knows aging well because from the beginning of time, aging co-opted with death.    They shook their boney  hands in agreement.

But Death isn’t picky.    It loves the old,  but has  no qualms with  the young..   But those of us at a certain age may not obsess over our mortality, but the changes we feel mentally and physically, make it hard not to realize it’s an ever  closer eventuality.

As for me,  I’d rather be home and watching TV on a Saturday night and I’ve become extremely confrontational.   I’m talking well beyond shouting things like,  “And I would have gotten away with it to if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids!!!”   No, it’s beyond that.     In the past six month, I’ve made three people cry……one was a Marine.

With a few exceptions, I didn’t experience any these things as recently as five years ago.   But here I am.    It’s because I’m older and aging by the second……like you….like that guy oddly griping cucumbers in the produce section, as the woman singing an old Gary Puckett and The Union Gap song with the window down, stopped to your right at same stop light.

But as much as life physically hurts every single second of every single day, I wouldn’t go back and I decided  this well before the pains caused from my nasty car accident 26 yesrs sgo.   If I had a Fairy Godmother and in a poof of glittery dust and smoke, appeared before me, magic wand in hand and said she’d  grant me the ability to go back and relive my youth starting at any age,  I’d politely decline.    Now, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask if she could completely remove certain people from my past.      But going back?   No thanks.

Despite my whining, this piece was initially written for my niece who tuned 35 months ago.  June.    Apparently, I celebrated it with her, but I don’t remember it.    So, the rest is for Becky .

She’s a college educated woman,  married to a man not afraid to be a good husband and father to their six and eight year old children.     She says she’s content in life and as far as turning one year older, she says what everyone says about birthdays…..”it’s only a number”.

Well, it is…..and it isn’t.        My heart bursts with joy for the 94-year- old (a number) who can still swim six (a number) Olympic pool size lapse everyday ,    My heart aches for the 71-year-old (a number) to enduring the awful ravages of Alzheimer’s.

When I turned 35, it too was just a number, then fast forward 24 years—it was another number.    And it will be for Becky, too.

Aging is a slow process that acts rapidly.     Personally, I’m not bouncing off the walls with glee about being 58, but the thought of having to repeat everything that got me here,  galls me so that it makes being here worth it.

My life, like my niece’s, has been graced with certain flaws that ironically, have proven to be rather beneficial.   Failure wasn’t always an option….at times,  it was a necessity and with each one came new knowledge.      I’m not saying I failed on purpose, most of mine came in the form of bad decisions.    Entering into bad jobs or relationships perhaps subconsciously knowing I was repeating a bad cycle.    But as I stated, with each failure came new knowledge.    With knowledge comes wisdom and wisdom, serves as a doorman to open doors to gratitude.    And with gratitude comes a better life, whether it’s  lived out in a mansion in the Hamptons or in a dilapidated two room hovel in Compton.     It’s all about gratitude concerning who you are and what you have…..but not the stuff you have.   It’s about your contributions, the good you do; the satisfaction you get from doing something worthwhile.   Something beyond yourself.

And then you keep quiet about it.    Keep it to yourself.

I’ve learned that the hard way.    It can be very unfair to proselytize one’s gratitude or happiness, even the ability or willingness to do good.   You keep quiet about how much money you have in the bank, or the  “perfection” of your marriage, your wonderful, superhuman children, your terrific body, your health, that oh so glorious trip to Bali that’ll take you ten years to pay off.    You know, things like that and basically, every other lie on Facebook.

Which is why I’m no longer on Facebook.    And will never return.

It’s like being in high school…..we’re not all Seniors.     Some still have to go through our Sophomore and  Junior years to reach that level of education.   Everyone has to go through their lives as youngsters and middle agers… inevitably, and if we’re lucky to live long enough, as old people.

Becky lost her sister on Valentine’s Day, 1999.  My niece, Holly was 19, a Freshman at Baylor.  She died in a head on car crash that unfortunately, was her fault.   The young man she hit, suffered severe head trauma and his life will never be the same.  This incident continues to leave two families in a state of grief that even after 18 years, ebbs and flows, but the pain is still there.

One minute, Holly was driving back to college after a weekend visiting her cousin at Texas A&M.     In a heartbeat, Holly missed a turn, overcompensated and the world for the people who knew her and loved her, changed forever.

So, I urge you to embrace your present, the right here and now, dear niece,    I urge that of everyone.   I do that because you’ll go to sleep tonight and wake up 30 years from now.  Aging happens that quickly.    See?   A second has already passed since reading that last sentence.    And in this life, there are a very limited number of do-overs, providing you have the awareness to even try to redeem yourself should the situation arise.    Some  can walk blithely through life unaware of the disruption they’ve caused, the pain they’ve inflicted.

Others are more aware.   Others have lived a life talking and have reached a point where silence is gilded joy.     One person’s need for privacy and solo down-time might be deemed as neglect and abandonment by someone else.    And let’s take that further —- death for some (suicide) is the only solution for what’s thought  to be an extremely desperate situation.    For others,  it’s the scariest final act they know and could never do it.    Nor do they want it to be at the hands of others or some dreadful life thief like disease.    Would that we could all go quietly, peacefully in our sleep.

So, for the self- conciliatory belief that birthdays  are only a number well, they are, but it depends entirely on the number.   I would never say “it’s only a number” to someone turning 43 (a number) who has Stage 4 (also a number) liver failure.    Like your Facebook embellishments, please keep mindset that to yourself.

As for anything being funny about aging?     Well, how about this:     Three old guys, all hard of hearing, were playing golf one spring afternoon.   One says to another, “Windy, isn’t it?” “No,” the second man answers, “it’s Thursday.” The third guy, listening in, pipes up, “So am I! Let’s grab a beer.”





Inside Her Confusion

I had a few minutes alone with my mother at her rehab  facility.    It’s a nursing home, really…but ardly the sad, urine stenched homes for the elderly they used to be.  While it still doesn’t scream hope, it doesn’t scream hopelessness either.

But the reality is, my mother is  87 which means everything else about her is 87.     Muscles, eyes, lungs, toenails….everything.   I used to be bothered when she’d complain of being tired for what seemed like no apparent reason.     But that was just her age and my denial.

She’s not sure why she’s at this place.  She had a fall but has tried to explain eight different times with eight different explanations how she landed on the floor, but it wasn’t a fall, she insists.     It was, says every test and professional who has evaluated her.

We showered her with flowers,  cards and balloons on Mother’sDay.   Half of her grandchildren were there; that delighted her.    The rest  who live farther away will come later.

As her family,  we did as we were told–we bought familiar things from her home, which only confusesd her more.    Photos, her favorite pillows, her books.    She has scoffed  at this, telling us we’re wasting our time since she’s moving back home “tomorrow”.   Everyday, she plans to leave “tomorrow”.”.   She claims for the past serveral days, someone in scrubs or a white coat has told her she’s going home “tomorrow”.     So, everything we bring, she immediately  packs in preparation for going home tomorrow, a day that will most likely never come.

I watched her today and, listened to her speak and could barely control the rage and anger I felt at dementia.     It is like ALS in its insidiousness.   My mother is trapped in a body that moves, controlled by a mind that is fragmented.    Her brain has shrunk, as have the cranial veins that controls blood flow.    The myelin which encases the brain is thinning.    Her tests all prove what her confusion suggests.

She has moments, sometimes hours of keen memory that can go  back decades.  She can be remarkably precise.    Then in a flash, she has no idea who she’s talking to, or where she is.    Her mood is stable one minute, depressed and angry the next.

I’ve had a contentious relationship with my mother all my life.   The stork, we agreed had the wrong address with me, baby number three.   I’m the youngest  of three daughters.    I moved to this burgeoning Texas Hill Country city five years ago when my middle sister  who was here,  moved  to South Texas to start a new life..    I came here to seek redemption with my mother before one of us died,     In some ways, we came close to achieving it, in other ways, we came nowhere near it   But we managed to maintain a relationship that worked in its own unique, if not conflicted way.

We’ve had  massive fights ending in being incommunicado for years.     Prior to her recent fall and this oddly seemingly overnight increase in dementia.  I’ve had little patience with her and when she acted like a child, I treated her like a child,   When she yelled at me, I yelled  back.   I’d try to help her in and out of cars only to get screamed at, hands slapped, the whole  nine yards, but if I didn’t offer help, I was accused of agism.   There was no winning.  There was never any winning.

My Mother  can still be be vicious and cruel.   Her friends and associates, many cousins and our contemporaries  don’t believe me or my sisters when we’ve said she could be be mean; they say she’s the sweetest thing and such a little doll.     Well, as it happens she can be a very cruel,little doll at 87…..just as as she was at 79…60…50 and earlier.    She has her psychological and emotional demons that she both fought and invited in.

But in the grand scheme of things, none of that matters.   It takes everything you possess not to allow  a sad, tragic past dictate  an old, feeble woman’s present.   I can’t speak for my sisters.; they both have their own stories, but while I have a hundred reasons to do as so many adult children have……dump their parents at these facilities and never see them again.   They write a check each month, just enough to keep them fed and clothed and medicated and that’s the extent of their  relationship.

I used to think the people  who did this were such selfish, uncaring assholes.     I’ve since learned that very often neglectful  younger parents end up as neglected senior citizens.   After their horrible childhoods, writing a check is the most affection their children can muster, but   I….we….can’t do that to our mother.   The words, “I love you” don’t come easy  for any of us, but we honor her by making her comfortable and try to allay her fears and confusion.   That’s all our weaponry since “I love you” is hard to say,  it was never said growing up.      But she’ll get angry at us as she realizes her new normal is as abnormal as hell.    All we can do out best as a family is to try our best to make her last years  on this earth seem  reasonable to a woman who loses logic daily.

In addition to dementia, she has advanced kidney disease.     Other organs will soon follow them down the failure trail.   I know my days with her are numbered and my days of having coherent conversations will end even sooner.    So, I say all I can….all I’m capable off.    I’ll try to say more in the time I’ve got left.     Regrets after death can bea killer.

I feel extraordinary guilt for losing my patience with her. Time after time….for the fights, for not properly deflecting the animus flung my way that often comes with her bags, disposition and disease.   I feel bad for constantly rolling my eyes  and all the sighs I exhale due to her slowness, I’m sorry for feeling so angry at her refusal for whatever reason she chooses note to wear the hearing aid she so desperstely  needs.  I get angry at her obstansance;  at our parent/child role reversal.   I Remember getting angry at what were lies ten years ago and even angrier that they’re now delusions.

And then Imget angry at myself for being the single most heartless bitch for feeling this way.     But in some ways I must ask, did she give me an emotional option?

I need to fix things….like a hole in the roof before it rains.

I have several things  to say to  my mother in the next few days…important things that she’ll either understand or not, but these are things important for me to say out loud.   Things  I need to say and hear myself saying them more than she needs to hear them….at this stage anyway.

I  must apologize to her and forgive myself.