Weathering the Years

In youth the days are short and the years are long; in old age the years are short and the days long. ~Nikita Ivanovich Panin, Russian statesman

My neighbor doesn’t seem to sleep
His light comes on at four.
Sometimes outside the blinds I peep
And watch him pace the floor.

Behind his walker off he rolls
Back and forth and back.
His carpet must be filled with holes
At least in one small track.

He turns the TV on at five
And thus it stays all day.
Surely not a man alive
Can tolerate that sway.

He used to go to work, I guess,
Made time to have some fun,
Read a book, played some chess,
Chauffeured daughter and son.

I know he used to mow the lawn,
Raked leaves and blew the snow.
Now he seems to greet the dawn
With television show.

He doesn’t put on makeup
No breakfast does he cook.
So why this early wake up
From his quiescent nook?

I guess the older that we get
The more we know for sure
Our time, no matter how we fret,
On earth is never sure.

We think we’re busy when we’re kids
We’re always on the go.
When old age comes we’re on the skids
And life becomes real slow.

Note: Part true; part fictionalized. You can guess, if you’d like, which is which, but I’m not telling, in deference to those described!

 

The Neighborly Thing to Do

Several years ago, an older lady and her husband moved into my neighborhood.

They kept pretty much to themselves and soon earned the description “unfriendly.”

‘They won’t speak,’ one neighbor told me.

‘They’re not very neighborly,’ said another.

I’m ashamed to admit we were judging prematurely. For the husband was ill — terminally ill, to be exact — and the wife was his only caregiver.

She didn’t have time for over-the-fence gossip sessions. Or chatting on the phone. Or inviting other ladies in for coffee.

About the only time she left the house was to get groceries or transport her husband to a doctor’s appointment.

I know first hand what that’s like, how stressful full-time care giving can be. Especially for someone untrained in that area, someone who doesn’t choose to be a caregiver. Someone like my mom, who was Daddy’s only caregiver because he refused to have strangers in the house.

Life takes on a different appearance when you’re faced with a loved one’s grave illness. Besides the ever-present cloud of death, there are medical specialists to deal with. And procedures. And pain. And fear and worry.

The upside is you have a chance to bond, to spend quality time reminiscing, to selflessly give to another in imitation of the way God has given to us.

Still….

Earlier this month, my neighbor’s husband finally succumbed to his illness. True to form, he didn’t want any notice to appear in the daily newspaper, didn’t want to bother anybody. Most of us found out by word of mouth.

But did we convene on this poor woman’s porch, casseroles in hand, to mourn with her? No, we opted to “respect her privacy,” to give her time to grieve.

Taking the easy way out.

Was it the right thing to do?

Probably not. People need each other, and I for one felt great comfort by the kind, sympathetic things people did for us after Daddy passed on. We should have done the same for this woman.

I saw her the other day, and she’d gotten a little dog. Someone to take for walks, keep her company, and amuse her with its antics.

We chatted a bit, and she didn’t seem at all “unfriendly.”

Just lonely. And still grieving.

She’ll be that way for a while, but at least she’s trying. Can her neighbors afford not to try, too?

Weighing the Options when it Comes to Care for the Elderly

Earlier this year, one of my dear elderly neighbors slipped in her garage, broke a hip, and landed in a rehab facility. She’s been there for the maximum three months; now it’s decision time for her kids.

Should they:

  • Bring her home and hope she can handle life all by herself, or
  • Transfer her to a nursing home permanently

It’s not an easy choice. On the one hand, she’s frail, never really exercised, and lives alone. On the other, she owns a one-story home, is financially comfortable, still possesses her wits, still drives, and has caring neighbors to check on her. And her kids live nearby.

How old is “too old” to look after oneself? Eighty? Ninety? I’ve known people at twenty-one who were unable to tend to themselves, either because of mental or physical disabilities or because of sheer laziness. I’ve also known people at forty who were unable (or unwilling) to look after themselves. So it doesn’t appear to come down to age.

Still, all of us eventually (if we live long enough!) are going to face this dilemma, whether for our parents or for ourselves. I wonder how many have made provisions? How many have even made their wishes known to their loved ones?

My neighbor’s kids have been fixing up their mother’s home, roofing and painting and all that. They’ve done it on the sly, coaxing the neighbors not to tell their mother because they wanted to surprise her.

I’d like to believe they did it out of the kindness of their hearts (with maybe a tiny bit of weariness over hearing their mom complain the house was “as old as she was.”) I’d like to think she’d ooh and aah when she’d walk in, marveling over the makeover and eagerly anticipating the rest of her life in a like-new dwelling.

But something tells me she won’t get to see the improvements.

You see, one of the kids confided to another neighbor that they intend to sell the house and move their mom to a nursing home.

She forgets things, they said. She might fall again, the house is too big for one woman, she needs to be around other people.

Huh?

This is a woman who likes her privacy, who never really was a social butterfly, who was comfortable in her surroundings. She could afford to hire a caretaker — full or part time, live-in or not — to help out, to ensure her dignity remains intact, and to permit her to stay in her own home.

I wonder if her kids even asked her wishes or if they simply decided what was best for her (and easiest for them). Knowing my neighbor, she’d agree to anything that wouldn’t inconvenience her loved ones. She’s that selfless.

But most studies nowadays confirm that people tend to do better and live longer in their own home. Shouldn’t she be given that chance, rather than shipped off to a group facility where she’s surrounded by people lying in beds or sitting in wheelchairs, staring out windows and waiting to die?