Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Not Loving Getting Old

When did we get old?

Wasn’t it only a few years ago that we all gathered around my parents’ kitchen table to talk about Dad’s heart attack?  And certainly it hasn’t been twenty years since I got that phone call at work from Mom—“I fell and I can’t get up!”  When did the ills that caused us to worry so about our parents, not so long ago, become OUR infirmities?

I have three brothers-in-law in their late sixties.  Honesty, I can hardly get my arms around the concept of my siblings being that age.  One BIL has already had a stroke and a heart attack.  The second has high blood pressure, diabetes, failing kidneys and two shot knees—one of which has already been replaced and is still shot.  BIL number 3 has peripheral arterial disease, can’t walk a block without the muscles in his legs relentlessly cramping due to lack of blood—which incidentally prevents him from being a candidate for a knee replacement, even though he cannot bend his left knee more than about 25%.  And he is about to go under the knife to have his carotids—70% to 90% blocked—roto-rootered.

When did we become our parents…and our children became us?

But our children are NOT us, are they? 

There are some days I wonder if my childlessness is going to be a liability.  Who will be there to watch after me, like we attended our parents as they aged?  Who will advocate for me through a health “care” system which was crumbling when my parents needed it, is a shambles now and only promises to get worse? 

But, then again, witnessing my sisters’ relationships with THEIR children, I’m pretty sure that dynamic doesn’t exist for them, either.  Our generation did not seem to comprehend that “parenting” was supposed to include preparing one’s progeny to take on the mantle of family responsibility when the older generation needed to hand it down.  Instead, our children are more likely to run far and fast into their own lives as soon as it looks like the old man and old lady might be a diminishing resource.  Witnessing this, I tend to adopt the opinion that perhaps I dodged a bullet when I chose to remain childless.  I don’t have anyone upon whom to project unrealistic expectations.  Best to know that as early as possible, I guess.

This moment of bewildered reality check was brought to me by a card we received on our anniversary last week.  It came from my late oldest sister’s husband—one of those above mentioned BIL’s.   It’s almost twenty years since my sister died, since BIL#2 faded out of the lives of the family of his wife. But not completely.  He never forgets a birthday or anniversary. For almost two decades, his missives have arrived like clockwork.  He’ll send pictures, newspaper articles about the latest wild animals to take up residence on his family’s farm in Michigan where he retired, ever-optimistic Green Bay Packer fan trivia…only, lately, his letters read more like medical reports. 

His last card:  “My health is not good…hole in right foot…swelling in calf and foot…doc says my kidneys are poor…managed to put a shoe on my right foot for the first time in ten months...blood sugar climbed to 350-390…  Haven’t seen the girls [my nieces] for over a year.  Boy, life can go to pot in a hurry…”

About ripped my heart right out of my chest.

This is not where we’re supposed to be!  We were supposed to stay young and vital for many more years.  Or, at the very least, step lightly into an active and comfortable old age.  There were supposed to be picnics, and camping trips, and train rides and ball games, and visits to the farm and Alaska and the Grand Canyon.  We were not supposed to be thinking about hospital beds and canes and blood thinners and insulin shots, heart attacks and clogged arteries…and children we never see.

Fortunately, there is one thing I know I will always have. 

I will always have my sisters.

Fifteen years ago, after Dad died, we went through such a rough patch that I could not have confidently made that statement.  It looked like we would never again be more than polite strangers who shared a childhood history.  But somehow—and it was hard…and it took time—we managed to reach out again and pull each other close, and tangle ourselves together inside this bubble of not-always-harmonious energy without which none of us would survive very long, I’m sure of it. 

I only wish the bubble was big enough to surround all the distant strays we love and long for.              

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